In the late 70s the refrain Dread at the Control Tower assumed cult status in what was arguably radio’s last golden pre-cable TV and Pre- Internet reverie.
Michael Campbell, the man behind that refrain and one of Jamaica’s most innovative and original radio personalities, is currently in the island, celebrating two siginficant milestones – his 30th anniversary as The Dread at the Control – and his father’s centenary.
Since 1976, music programming on Jamaican radio has not been the same due to Campbell’s trailblazing show, The Dread at the Control. For two years, he took the graveyard slot from midnight to 4:30am and transformed it into primetime listening by bringing what was then the novel concept of underground reggae to a mainstream audience.
In a real way the music was in transition from roots and culture/rockers to what would emerge in the post Marley period as dancehall, but which, in the late 70s, was still a nascent dub/DJ Sub-culture. Mikey Dread’s immensely popular show at the peak of the dub plate era, facilitated and highlighted this process.
Those were changing times not only for the music, but for night-time radio. With his ingenuity, he took the dancehall/street vibes into the homes of a new generation of music aficionados. The transmitter engineer turned discjockey cemented the emerging trend of “more music, less talk” (non-stop music blocks) by embellishing his selections with the introduction of fancy jingles and other creative sound effects.
Now three decades later, Mikey Dread has returned to his roots and where it all started – the recording studios.
Taking time out of a hectic recording session at Anchor Recording Studio a week ago, Mikey Dread reiterated that the 30th anniversary of his groundbreaking programme converged with the anniversary of the birth of his father – Simon Campbell. “Dat man born on March 6, 1906, and mi deh yah fi celebrate him birthday because mi love mi fadda yuh nuh,” Campbell enthused.
Continuing, he said, “Is 30 years since I started working on JBC, and mi a goh release a CD, coming out this year, featuring my shows, and a box set with all the tunes dem mi mek in the 70s and 80s. As part of the celebration also mi a goh tour Europe in May,” the Miami-based Campbell revealed. The celebratory European tour will take him to England, Ireland, Poland, Italy and France.
“Mi a tour with mi own band called Dread at the Control and it include horns. I’ll be performing as I’ve always done at universities, on some festivals as well as TV performances. But I’m working on a new album before mi goh England, and this haffi come out by May”, he added.
Reflecting on his JBC days when people would stay up all night to hear the latest reggae and dub vibes, he asserted that his was an effort that took reggae to another level, as in those days radio was programmed to fit into a foreign format.
“My show was from midnight to 4:30am and it went for two years on JBC. Before dat dem use to sey nuh body nuh listen to radio after midnight, but dat was because the music dem was playing, was boring. But me had di formula fi mek Jamaica wake up and jump off di map,” echoed Mikey Dread .
“Dem days” he continued, “as you know yourself, reggae was not the priority music on the radio stations. What I did was to find a target audience and project my programme towards that audience. And in doing that I captured a new constituency of listeners that was completely mesmerised by what was happening on radio.
My show put more life into night time radio as well as reggae music because people would just stay up and tape my show from it start til finish. Nobody nuh miss it (the show) because mi a play dub plate with sound effects weh nuh other discjockey could play,” he reminisced. The show’s phenomenal success essentially birthed the bootleg cassette trend.
After his stint on radio Mikey Dread ventured into recording, one of his earliest efforts being Weatherman Skanking in combination with Ray I (a remake is presently in the works) for producer Carlton Patterson, for whom he also recorded his best known song, Barber Saloon. He then migrated to England where he continued his pursuit in radio, but with more recordings to come, including another popular track, Love the Dread .
Campbell has, over the years, earned more than his fair share of bragging rights. While in England, after graduating from the National School of Broadcasting with qualifications in presentation and production, he continued to break down walls.
He was employed by the Central TV-London as presenter/researcher/narrator for a six-part television documentary series – Deep Roots Music that was aired nationally and across Europe. He created and produced Jungle Signal used as the soundtrack and signature tune for Deep Roots Music for Channel 4, UK.
Still at the control, Mikey Dread produced The Clash’s first production, Bank Robber/Rockers Galore UK Tour(on Epic Records) which charted at number 12 on the UK charts, the highest chart entry for that group.
He is featured in the video for the Bank Robber, produced by CBS Records. He also co-produced several tracks on Clash’s Sandinista album, voted the Best Rock Record in 1981 and for which he also co-wrote and performed on five of the tracks.
He then went on to produce the Japanese rock band Anarchy, visited and performed in Japan with The Mods. Toured Europe and Scandinavia as support artiste for UB40 for whom he produced ten dub tracks.
“The British people dem and the people dem around the world love me and respect me to the ground that I walk on. Since mi leave Jamaica , mi goh back goh study radio broadcasting in England at the National Broadcasting School. And mi have mi own live show on Channel 4.
Worked on Spectrum International Radio in Brent Cross in England. Mi is the first person to put a reggae programme in Holland called Rockers In The Morning on VPRO Radio, you can go on the Internet…people selling the cassette.
And mi also go to the university of Florida,” said the former student of CAST(College of Arts, Science and Technology) now University of Technology (UTech) and Titchfield High School, where he got his first taste of broadcasting on Radio Titchfield operated by the school.
With all of that, the Mikey Dread is still not prepared to rest on his laurels. His dream is to own and operate a radio station in his native parish. “Mi want a license to run a radio station in Portland. If Ochi (Ocho Rios) can ave one, mi waan one inna Porti,” he insisted.
Think it can’t work? Don’t sleep