The ‘VJ’ in Dave VJ stands for ‘vinyl junkie’, and the book he has compiled with Lindsay Wesker collects the stories of people addicted to music and records in the 1980s – soul, RnB, early hip hop and rap. At its heart are the pirate radio stations which were for almost everyone the principal way they could listen to the music they loved – most prominent is Kiss FM, where Wesker and VJ met and which started as a pirate station in 1985.
Masters of the Airwaves is a collection of interviews with almost everyone who was active in some way in the 1980s black music scene in the UK, including artists, DJs, journalists, promoters and record company people. VJ and Wesker, concerned that “a big part of the UK’s radio music history could be completely passed over if someone didn’t document it”, contacted everyone they could think of from the scene who was still alive with a basic questionnaire: who are you, what did you do, what’s happening now – tell us your story. The book prints their responses word for word.
The stories are good: the constant danger of on-air electric shocks from the wires running all round the leaky office Kiss FM used as its broadcast HQ in the early days; producers who slept in their studios, with breakfast show presenters stepping over their bosses’ ‘guests’ from the night before; vanished jobs like being a ‘dinker’ (the person who punches holes in records for juke-boxes); DJs who spent the night on rooftops armed with baseball bats in case rivals attacked their station’s aerial to steal its slice of frequency; malfunctioning sound desks and advice from Dave VJ as to what to do if this happens: “PRESS EVERY BUTTON in the vicinity of the turntables AND PRAY!”.
Bound in a cover the size and shape of a vinyl record and filled with many beautiful photos of album sleeves and eighties fashion, Masters of the Airwaves is something of a collector’s item. Its format of disjointed detail, passionately set-down, isn’t for beginners, though there are a few primers, such as the list of “the big tunes of 1986” or “essential British black music purchases” – to bring the story into the modern era, those are two great Spotify playlists right there.
Masters of the Airwaves: The Rise & Rise of Underground Radio is compiled and written by Dave VJ and Lindsay Wesker, edited by Patrice Lawrence and published by Every Generation Media. RRP: £30. ISBN 9780955106880