Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2 Summer 1981

On the R adio BY LYNN BABBOCH tS S i® iiH ^^ ’VE ALWAYS liked listening to the radio. When I was small and my mom had to leave early for work, she made sure the big console was turned to “Uncle Bob’s Squirrel Cage” so I could march around the house in time to the music. As I got older, I retreated to my room in the evenings and drew the radio music around me, and on the streets I joined my friends listening to rock and roll on tiny transistors with ear jacks. Over the years my tastes in music changed, and the limitations of commercial broadcasting began to interfere with my pleasure, but radio’s potential to feel close and intimate at the same time that it put me in touch with a community larger than my immediate circle of friends has never ceased to fascinate. For a city its size, Portland is blessed with a variety of good radio programs, and listeners who prefer jazz, funk,R&B and even reggae have hours of the best and latest available, thanks primarily to KBOO (Portland’s listener-supported, community radio), KOAP (Oregon’s educational and public broadcast system), and the few commercial stations that include vintage R&B as well as more contemporary versions. I feel especially lucky to have found three shows that serve up the kinds of music I most enjoy while expressing a point of view that deepens my appreciation and understanding; dependable, weekly shows that combine solid entertainment with a cutting edge of belief: Art Alexander’s “Ebony Nights” on KOAP, George Page’s “Jazz Rap” on KBOO, and Pablo Innis’ “Roots Rock Reggae” on KBOO. Although there are other local DJs working the same vein, these three shows exemplify for me the most stimulating use of radio in town. VERY weekend night, Art Alexander features the best of “great black music” from such artists as Harvey Mason, Noel Pointer, Deborah Laws and Quincy Jones, as well as more traditional jazz favorites from the USA and the Caribbean. Art is 26 years old, from New York by the way of the University of Nebraska (“Middle America was in vogue then”), and speaks in a rich, erudite baritone. Between carefully orchestrated sets, he provides a rundown of the local jazz scene, occasional Black Historical Notes, accouncements of community interest and local news (“know what’s going on before it happens to you”). Art always has a lot to say, but he’s careful not to intrude: “I know one of the things you enjoy about the show is that I don’t talk too much...” He actively boosts the interest of the black community, and is visible around town in roles such as MC for the NAACP’s Academic, Performing and Visual Arts Olympics in Portland. The music he plays always has a strong rhythmic foundation, and although he admits that it’s hard to cover all the bases, he hopes to reach listeners from 16 to 50. His shows reflect his intelligence, broad interests and dedication to the music. Pablo Innis At 39 years of age with a career in broadcasting that began when he was 16, George Page has developed a strong radio personality. Every Saturday afternoon at KBOO, his “Jazz Rap” features such artists as Bobby Bland and B.B. King, Marlena Shaw and Joe Williams, Count Basie and Clifford Brown, Jimmy Smith and Les McCann, Horace Silver and Gene Aamons. George also presents news and community service announcements (“I’m the guy who set up the KBOO Community Calendar... I set up the first Public Affairs Department”), and is a potent fundraiser for the station (“They wanted us to raise $280 an hour and I was averaging about $700-800”) with a large listenership (“I average between 125 and 200 phone calls every Saturday”). He is an unabashed promoter of his favorite local musicians and clubs, and expects others to live by his motto: Back What You Believe In—he doesn’t hesitate to go to them for money when pledges are needed. When asked why he does so well, he replied, “Because I don’t bullshit anybody.” Yes, George Page is a straight talking man of strong beliefs who can hold a position against adversity, becoming especially obdurate when white people take offense at his presentation: “I don’t do the show for whites. I’m glad white people listen; I appreciate that. But I do it primarily for blacks.” He is also capable of switching from his gritty street rap to more educated discourse should the occasion demand. George is a partisan, promoting some great rhythmic jazz and blues with the spirited energy the music requires. He realizes that a DJ or TV personality can be “a very strong role model; if you’re up there, you have the power to influence people.” Every Sunday at six in the evening, a sharp snare roll leads into the solid, spacious beat of “Roots Rock Reggae” with Pablo Innis on KBOO. Pablo, who has been in the USA for 10 years and had no radio experience prior to Portland, uses the handle Soul Rebel: “I’m an avid Bob Marley person; I get inspired when I listen to his words. He made ‘Soul Rebel’ when he was undergoing a very important change in his messages.... so Soul Rebel because I add a touch of soul to the program, and rebel because I’m coming out of the real revolutionary kind of reggae music.... ” It is definitely a black music, combining lyric poetry and a spiritual orientation with an R&B-influenced beat, delivered in a Jamaican patois whose imagery seems ideally suited to its message. In fact, I like reggae precisely because it expresses big ideas: “ Babylon shall be overcome/there’s more time, there’s more time/I-man stepping up/to the higher region” ... “ Jah knows, freedom is my thirst” ... “Raise your head, Mr. African, raise your head/Wake up, shake up, the dreadful times are ahead.” So reggae is music with a message. But its most powerful element is the beat. Reggae rhythms leave plenty of room inside the music, room for the heart to speak. It has a spacey, stoned feeling, and individual notes resonate a moment too long before they dissolve into the next. Pablo’s rap accompanies these sounds quite naturally, weaving in and out, similar in cadence, accent and tone, his voice a little heavy and raw, deep and close to your ear (“This is Soul Rebel.. .yaaasss.. .Pablo-I, the man from JA who’s here to stay... bringing it all to you... on KBOO”). Pablo mixes old and new sounds, bringing us the latest from Jamaica along with the more familiar. In this respect he sees himself as a teacher: “I repeat certain songs every week, drop a tune for a while, then bring it back. Then I get people calling, ‘A couple of weeks ago you played a song, but I can’t remember...’ And then you hit them with it the next week hence, and they are enthusiastic and say, ‘Hey, that’s the one!’ and that time, they’re going to listen." Pablo closes his show with “Peace Photograph by Lynn Darroch Clinton St. Quarterly 35