No Long Talk: Daddy Ernie On Freedom of Choice: “Who Want Vex, Vex!”

Host of UK Radio’s Superjam Reflects On His Legacy

If you weren’t in London from the ’90s, you may not be aware of Daddy Ernie or the power of his radio show, SuperJam. As he says: “Who’s Daddy Ernie? Some black DJ who used to be on a station in Brixton that everybody used to wear big gold chains and rings.” What you should know is he’s one of the most respected and important British contributors in the history of Jamaican music. He’s also the only person in history to present a reggae show Monday to Friday on a legal radio station. And it was prime time from 1990 to (about) 2003/2004. The way things are, it’s likely he’ll be the sole claimant forever. Daddy Ernie’s SuperJam ran alongside Choice FM’s lifespan (1990–2013), becoming one of the stations most listened to shows and amongst the highest paid specialist DJs on the station.  Podcast After The Jump…

Choice FM was the biggest and best legal black radio station in London. A black owned station given a license to broadcast for London’s African and Caribbean community.”Choice FM changed the shape of radio in the UK,” he says on reflection. Choice played a crucial role in the success of dancehall’s first and second waves of commercial success in the UK (Chaka Demus & Pliers, Shabba Ranks, Shaggy to Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Wayne Wonder), future ’90s legends (Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Sanchez, Luciano, Sizzla, Capleton). as well as US superstars R. Kelly, Mary J Blige, Destiny’s Child, Chris Brown and basically every black artist.

Part of being the culture’s main voice includes covering sad times. Before the Internet blew up, radio is what the community relied on as a reliable source for information. As such, Ernie turned the platform into the equivalent of a social media timeline feed with calls from relevant music industry peers in Jamaica when icons Dennis Brown and Garnett Silk died. “Dennis [Brown] was like my brother. When Dennis turned 40, me and him spent the day together and he was quite obvious that he wasn’t well,” he remembers fondly.

Sadly, Choice FM deceased in Black History Month (October) 2013. They now call her “Capital Xtra”, better and more accurately known as “the station formerly known as Choice FM.” In a shocking turn of events, Ernie’s 24-year relationship with Choice FM ended on bad terms after he was called in for an emergency meeting to be told the station was re-branding as “Dance / Urban” and no longer required reggae’s services. The station’s management informed him that they believed “Afrobeats is gonna be bigger than dancehall.” Those were the last words Ernie heard before exiting the building in Leicester Square for the last time.

That final day followed years of getting squeezed out of Choice. It’s always thought that reggae shows are first to go on legal radio causing many to speculate if there’s an issue with the music’s quality. In addition Choice faced sell-out criticisms for about ten years leading up to the end. “Specialists are the first shows to get hit. And our shows were getting hit,” he says based on experience. “The saddest thing is that they’ve erased Choice FM completely off of the radio map… What they’ve done is a liberty! For the contribution that Choice has made to the radio industry in this country—liberties!”

The release of this chapter in the podcast series coincides with Daddy Ernie’s celebrating his 60th Earth strong a.k.a birthday (on 18th January) and there has never been a more extensive reasoning with him. Ernie has devoted over forty years to reggae—as a DJ/sound man, record shop salesman, concert host and most famously, radio presenter so naturally, he has a lot of career to be covered.

This is a story from the son of a sound man, raised in Harlesden (north London) who followed his father’s footsteps into music and became a leading voice in reggae. He reminisces on time spent with boyhood heroes turned friends (Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Alton Ellis), meeting future legends Buju Banton and Beenie Man in the ’90s, reporting the death of Garnett Silk and Dennis Brown, rise-and-demonisation of dancehall, return to popular online community radio on Vibes FM and his (under-celebrated) legacy. Also, how Choice FM changed British radio and if the station was too black to succeed.

Even if you don’t know Ernie or Choice FM, this reasoning should be relatable to fans of Jamaican music who wonder about the workings behind the scenes in radio, especially black radio. Daddy Ernie offers invaluable insight and is always brutally honest. In his own words: “I just say it how it is. Who want vex, vex!”

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