I started as Music Director and host of Morning Becomes Eclectic in July, 1979. The first show I put on was the Reggae Beat, which soon became the most popular weekend show at the station. Roger Steffens and Hank Holmes, the co-hosts, had come to me that fall with some colorfully and carefully-illustrated cassette demo tapes. It didn’t take long for me to put them on the air beginning October 7, 1979.
Roger was a knowledgeable reggae enthusiast and seasoned voiceover pro; Hank had the largest collection of 45 rpm Jamaican singles of anybody in the world. It was a no-brainer. It didn’t hurt that we already were popular among fans of Caribbean music; we had two different hosts producing calypso, soca, and spooge. KCRW soon became a mecca for visiting reggae icons: Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Culture, Burning Spear, Freddie McGregor, Eek-a-Mouse and countless others would drop by when in town.
Bob Marley was the show’s first interview, and Hank and Roger toured Southern California with him for two weeks on his “Survival” tour in November of ’79. Reggae became hugely popular in clubs around town as a result; there were probably a dozen clubs regularly booking reggae.
Before long, The Reggae Beat – 1-5 p.m. on Sundays – was the most popular reggae show in the country, eventually syndicated to 130 stations around the world, including the Voice of America Africa Service. The show also earned a lot of money during fundraisers; I remember passing the $45,000 mark one year, a milestone for a weekend program.
Reggae Sunsplash was the biggest reggae festival in the world at the time beginning in 1978 in Montego Bay. Every year from 1981 through 1987, Roger and Geoff Cooper would host specials with two hours of highlights from each of the four nights of that year’s performances. Roger and Geoff would go each year, welcomed by the many artists who performed there who knew about KCRW.
In 1983, Eek-a-Mouse – who named himself after a favorite racehorse he bet on–gave a shout-out to KCRW in front of the 40,000 fans in attendance, which you can hear on a new cd/dvd combo being released on November 5th. Long before the internet, texting, email and cell phones, KCRW was ahead of the curve and was reaching new audiences beyond the range of our terrestrial signal. It’s well-known that music brings people together, and KCRW has been doing that with its adventurous music programming for many years now. Eek-a-Mouse’s shout-out 30 years ago is just one small instance of our reach and influence.
Here is the Eek-a-Mouse video premiere for his upcoming 2 CD/DVD Reggae Anthology: Eek-Ology, which will be released November 5th on 17 North Parade.
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