These two articles from the Daily Gleaner in 1969 reveal allegations of discrimination from Prince Buster against the two radio stations in Jamaica, RJR and JBC. Buster complains that his records are banned from airplay, and the response reveals the reasons why in addition to an explanation of how records are selected for play. They are an interesting insight into one part of the Jamaican music industry in an era gone by.
First, here is the first article, the allegation from Prince Buster published on January 24, 1969, followed by the transcription for easy reading.
THE EDITOR, Sir:— Kindly allow me the opportunity through your widely read column to bring to the attention of the public a situation which exists with regards to the promotion of my records over the radio stations. I must say that it is a situation which is causing me great concern and makes me wonder just where does the Jamaican stand in this society.
It seems to me that there are some agencies operating in this island to rid me of whatever deserved publicity I might obtain in my field of an entertainer as invariably my records are banned from our airwaves. And these records are neither slanderous, nor lewd, nor are they aimed at holding any individual to ridicule in the society.
Last year alone nearly one dozen of my records were banned from our two radio stations (as usual no reasons were given by the authorities for this action) and these included Ten Commandments which enjoyed high rating in the United States of America and the United Kingdom (not that I am saying we should pattern what these countries do).
Mr. Editor, without being immodest, I must say that I have contributed a great deal to the promotion of Jamaican music both in the USA and Britain, and my records have always been well received in those countries. But from the latest action it would appear that I have no honour in my own country.
The latest action directed against me concerns a release ‘Pharoah [sic.] House Crash’ which bears stark similarity to the No. 1 song ‘Everything Crash’ with the exception that the words Pharoah [sic.] House are substituted for Everything. This record has also been banned and no reason given.
I cannot help feeling, sir, that some personal attack has been aimed at me, for reasons unknown to me. And it makes me feel that Jamaicans should only pay lip service to those in high places who keep on labouring on the fact that Jamaicans must be patriotic and stay here and build the country. I could quite possibly have pursued my field in another country, maybe with success, but I have chosen to remain here. But these latest actions make me start thinking of calling it quits.
I think I owe it to the public who has supported me down the years to let them know why they have not been
hearing my sounds on the airwaves and I thank you for allowing me space to state my case.
I am, etc.
Cecil (Prince Buster) Campbell
January 10, 1969
The Daily Gleaner published this response the following month on February 6, 1969 in an article written by “W.M.” titled, “Prince Buster records: Radio stations say no discrimination.” The article reads:
In the letter to the Editor on January 24, recording artist Prince Buster made the accusation that the two local radio stations were intent on stopping him from “eating bread” by not playing his records.
As a result of this I visited Buster at his record mart on Orange Street and then made rounds of both radio stations with him.
At the end of the investigations on Tuesday, January 28, I had discovered that only three of Buster’s records — “Ten Commandments”, “Pharaoh House Crash” and “Walking up Orange Street” — have been banned from the “airwaves” and that the radio stations said they are willing to play his other records, if they are requested by listeners.
However, Buster maintains “somebody up there doesn’t like me because they think that as an advocate of the Black Muslim religion in Jamaica I am subversive and, the only thing they can do against me is to advise the authorities at the stations not to play my records”.
Mr. Hugh Wong, Programme Director of Radio Jamaica gave reasons why Buster’s three records were banned. Mr. Mike Bukht, Director of Programmes at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation also explained, like Mr Wong, how the records for the various programmes are selected. Of RJR’s reasons for banning for three Buster tunes Hush Wong stated that “Ten Commandments” was irreverent to the sacred Ten Commandments. “Walking up Orange Street” was a commercial for Buster’s record mart and “Pharoah [sic.] House Crash” because Pharoah [sic.] sounds a little like Shearer on the record. Mike Bukht was not in Jamaica at the time of the banning of “Ten Commandments”, but gave similar reasons why the JBC imposed their ban on “Walking up Orange Street” and “Pharaoh House Crash”.
At both stations, the “Prince” and I were informed how the Hit Parade charts are compiled and how the records for the programmes are selected. New records reach the stations each week and on a particular day, the disc jockeys meet to assess the records they think are good enough to make the “Top 30”.
Hugh Wong told us that if a particular record does not meet the approval of the disc jockeys, the record is played on the air for listeners to judge. The record is then billed according to the rating derived from the request of radio listeners. He added that sometimes records which are rejected by disc jockeys at auditions
receive so many requests that they make it to the top of the charts.
Mr. Wong stated that no one is trying to “stop Buster from eating bread”, but most of his records fail to get a popular vote from the disc jockeys and when they are played for radio listeners, they are not requested.
He pointed out the fact that if there was a “deliberate act” not to play Buster’s records, “Dark end of the Street” would not have made it to the “No. 1 spot” some time ago.
The “Top 30” is compiled by the radio stations from the returns made by the record marts.
At the JBC, Mike Bukht and Librarian Hartley Cousins told us that nine record marts — four in Kingston, two in Montego Bay, two in Ocho Rios and one in Mandeville — are contacted each week to find out the records which are most popular. From the averages of these returns, the records are rated and the “Top 30” chart is compiled.
At RJR, Hugh Wong also backed up his case that there was no discrimination by the station against the “Prince” by calling a couple of record marts. The answer was that Buster’s records are not very popular. And consequently, said Mr. Wong, they are not played frequently on the radio.
Buster told me that he is frustrated with how his records are treated by the radio stations. So, he has decided to concentrate on “suggestive records” which find a ready market. However he will continue to make a few releases which he hopes will conform with the required standard for the “airwaves”.
His latest record, which is backed by the Beatles “Ob-La-di Ob-la-da” has the same melody as “Little Drummer Boy” and is not only the top request at every party, but has attained island-wide popularity in under two weeks. But the title rules it out for broadcast — and publication. Buster is very serious about his decision that by singing suggestive tunes, he can make it to the top rung of record sales on the local market.
Buster said “Year after year I have lost a lot of money on the productions of my records because they are not played by the radio stations. Last year I had to dump over 30,000 copies of my releases because the
public was not familiar with them so there were no requests for them from the record marts.”
Speaking of the newest of his creations, he said “This record is such a hit with the public that I have decided to concentrate on suggestive tunes so that I can stay alive!”
Like the Mighty Sparrow, many times Calypso King of Trinidad, Prince Buster can “make it” by recording suggestive tunes. However, if the wants his tunes to be heard on radio and thus get more popularity than they have been receiving, he will have to feature a different slant.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Prince Buster was justified in his accusations? Or do you think that the radio stations had a valid reason for keeping his songs from airplay? What do you think of Prince Buster’s solution, to become more suggestive in his lyrics to obtain more popularity? Would this work? Did it?