By Chris Burrell
If you listen to WKDU regularly, you know that we don’t take reggae lightly – we currently have eight reggae shows on our schedule for the summer term. The only way that kind of support for one specific genre can exist is through cultivating a grassroots and dedicated listener base over many years.
The reggae marathon, which takes place every Memorial Day weekend, was instrumental in forming such a strong reggae listener base and connection with the Caribbean community in West Philly. Now in its 31st year, the reggae marathon is still going strong, as over 30 DJ’s from West Philly and beyond came out and fundraised in support of WKDU and the Red Cross Jamaica to be a part of the 100+ hour marathon.
On Saturday afternoon of the marathon, I was able to catch up with Clinton Fishley (aka Sweet Daddy Fish) to chat about the history of the event. Fishley has been involved with the marathon for 29 of its 31 years, and is heavily entrenched in the reggae scenes in West Philly and Germantown.
The reggae marathon started in 1983, when Hopeton Brown, General Manager of the station at the time, gathered DJ’s from Boston, Virginia, New York, Maryland, and beyond to connect through good reggae music and a charitable cause. The success of initial marathons was influential in establishing a large and dedicated listener base that has continued on today, where we still have numerous streams from Jamaican IP addresses each week. I phoned up my friend Duprex Snape of Jamcity Rock, who I go back to back with on Thursday nights, to get the scoop as to how reggae became such a big thing at the station.
“Once reggae was on the air, it just took off, and it was a way to stay connected to people – down in Jamaica and all over.”
Duprex has had his show, Jamcity Rock, on Thursdays from 6-9 PM for 14 years, and keeps a musical focus on the local scene and undisputed classics in the genre. One of the artists Duprex has supported on his show, who was also in the studio on Saturday, was Germantown artist Danny Roots.
Roots was born in Jamaica, grew up in East Flatbush Brooklyn, and made his way to Philly some years ago. He opened up on his musical upbringing to me, and recalled buying his first record, Dr. No Go, in Jamaica for 13 shillings and 6 pence.
This short blog post doesn’t come close to doing justice to the amazing work that these DJ’s have put in connecting the Caribbean community of West Philly through the thousands of hours they’ve logged on-air. If you’re ever looking to learn more about the genre, check out our summer schedule, tune into a reggae show, and call our studio to send BIGUPS to our amazing selectors.