Due to the untimely departure of a humble legend and pioneer of the London pirate radio scene, I feel it necessary to repost this last interview with Lepke. Lepke was the inspiration behind a wider acceptance of the pirate radio scene across London and even Europe. His DBC Radio inspired many ‘legal’ radio stations today.
This may well have been his last interview, conducted in Summer 2017.
As a child growing up in the Ladbroke Grove area (Notting Hill), one of my earliest memories of the music scene, besides my father’s need to glorify the bass of the Mighty Diamonds every Sunday morning, was DBC radio.
Being influenced as a child by their presence on Portobello Road every Saturday morning, I have to attribute a large part of my ongoing love for music to those earlier experiences. It was only natural that Urban Dandy should eventually catch up with the man who pioneered such an influential station…
The architect of the revolutionary radio show, posse and collective: After sitting in The Tabernacle for a short while, Lepke arrived ready to lay down the station’s rich history. Unfortunately for me, time wasn’t on our side. Lepke told me he had about half an hour so, I got my Magnus Magnusson on. So, Lepke, you have 30 minutes on the story of DBC Radio starting …now.
UDL- What does DBC stand for?
Lepke- DBC stands for Dread Broadcasting Corporation. It’s a pun on the BBC. It was a friend of mine called William who came up with it but it was originally called Rebel Radio.
UDL- Okay, and when did DBC start, who’s idea was it?
Lepke- I started it on my own then my sister and a few of my close friends came on board. I was on my own for six or seven months then a friend called Douglas, aka DJ Chucky, came on for a few months, then a third DJ called Lloyd Rainford, or Doctor Watts, came in. He knew how to build amplifiers and he set up the system. Then we kept adding people and varying the music, it was reggae at the start then went to Soca and then Jazz, original music really and of course then Hip Hop and Funk.
You couldn’t get that music on the radio, you might hear a bit, maybe a little on Radio One but no Soca and hardly any Jazz. Hip Hop was breaking through at the time. The first Hip Hop show was with The Rapologists: Early Daze and Flakey C, then Neneh Cherry came in.
UDL- I read online that DBC was the first black pirate radio show.
Lepke- It was the first black radio station owned by black people in Europe. As far as I know, there was no other black-owned, black music radio station in Europe. There were stations playing black music but not owned by black people.
UDL- Did you guys have a presence at Carnival as well?
Lepke- Yes. I went to the first carnival as a kid. Later on, I had a spot by Ronnie Biggs (on Portobello Road) in the 70s, then later I got a spot outside Honest Johns record shop, he handed me the keys. Then we had a spot by the print shop opposite Honest Johns. As far as we know that was also the first live broadcast in the carnival. That was when Wilf Walker used to run the carnival. Any time major artists would come through like Bunny Wailer, the Mighty Diamonds, Burning Spear…he’d put us on the show so we got well promoted. The flyer would say DBC on it, through that he’d give us control of the stages.
In scrubs one time they had a super tent run by Alex Pascall, Melody Makers was there and Freddie Mcgregor and with me being me, I decided to put it on MW (medium wave), we were still on FM but I hooked it up so that the prisoners at scrubs could tune in too. They couldn’t really hear it from where they were.
I used to try to link the stages up too. There was the Meanwhile Gardens stage, the tent on Portobello Green, The Tabernacle stage and the Super-Tent at Scrubs. We were broadcasting from the Super-Tent so we had links to all of the stages. I controlled it from the print shop location on Portobello Road. I’ve still got most of the tapes from 1980 to 1984, I’ve got lots of the tapes. Some have made it onto the internet too. People recorded it so it went abroad.
UDL- There is a mention of DBC on the New York Zulu Beats Show with Afrika Islam, was there a connection there?
Lepke- I wasn’t aware but the person who was responsible for that was probably Jollie Mcfee. He used to make badges for all the punk groups and he was also on Portobello Road. I used to go see him and one time I saw all these wires under his desk and asked what it was. He told me it was a transmitter but it wasn’t working. I asked him what he wanted for it. So I bought it and he gave me the contact who could fix it. He came to my yard, fixed it and showed me how to rig it up, he used to play Rocker Billy music and he later became a Dj on the show. They used to call them anoraks because they used to always wear anoraks. They would wear anoraks while messing around rigging up in the bushes. In the fields, everyone wore them to shield them from the wind and rain so I also became the first black anorak.
UDL- How long did you guys reign and when did it end?
Lepke- It ended in ’84 but people think it ended because of a raid, There was a raid but it wasn’t because of that. We joined a group called the Free The Airways Campaign. In between that we still used to play Glastonbury. We were also the first Reggae sound to play an all-night Shabeen at Glastonbury and also to broadcast from Glastonbury. So the owner would give us the main stage so we were also the first to do the main stage. We played it with Aswad.
UDL- (I’ve started so I’ll finish). It seems like the area has so many firsts, there’s a strong original energy there.
Lepke- The ley lines.
UDL- Yeah I’ve heard that before.
Lepke- But the reason we stopped was the government told us if we came off the air by a certain date (they gave us a date) then we could apply for a license, most did and it was bullshit. They took my Sister on board. First, she did a guest appearance on radio 1 and then John Peel put in a word to his heads to do this. It turned out I was his favourite DJ. I think it was on his 50th birthday they did this surprise for him. They put the decks up, brought him in and I jumped up from behind the set and started playing some reggae roots. He was happy.
DBC came in two parts. After the station closed I started JBC. One of the last DJs I brought on, Stanley Burns, also known as The Challenger, asked me why I didn’t continue. I told him that I couldn’t do it in that same name then he told me he had premises so we hooked up and started JBC. I’ve done a lot of others too, I did Grove FM, Globe FM, it had a small transmitter but it went out local. We set up one in St.Lucia too. They named the station Enola because that’s the true name of St. Lucia, after a while, the government gave them a break and they’re still on today. It was such a good transmitter I think they’re still using the same one.
Time’s up. (Stepping out of Mastermind mode)
Well there you have it, as short as our talk was, If anyone can break down the history of DBC radio and the host of other artists that could attribute part of their success to this early music revolution, it’s Lepke.
As you can now see, whether it’s ley lines or just living in the best area on the planet, the Grove is never short of firsts to note. Nowadays we have internet radio, (Portobello Radio in particular) done with an air of safety and exposure in comparison to the days that posed the possibility of the dreaded police (Babylon) raid. We’re hopeful that at some future point we will resume this history lesson with Lepke, but in the meantime, you can catch the 80s vibe below.
Angel Lewis UDL
My condolences to the family of beloved Leroy Anderson, Rest In Peace