HISTORY IN THE AIR?

History was in the air…but not institutional history. This was the history – and thoughts on reinvigorating – a form of popular media which had its heyday and has virtually disappeared from the airwaves, certainly on Jamaica’s 30-plus radio stations. Communicator Janet Morrison was revisiting the radio play, as she delivered the 5th Annual Aggrey Brown Distinguished Lecture of the UWI’s Caribbean Institute of Media & Communication (CARIMAC).

The artifacts in the room were voices from the archives.

Mrs Morrison recalled many of the early radio dramas that ran for years in the early years after Jamaica became independent in 1962; dramas that took on issues of national and personal development, self-esteem and cultural recognition. She recalled that these points were underscored at the time of independence by the Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley, an early advocate of self-government who served as Chief Minister before independence and Opposition Leader thereafter.

Bust of Norman Washington Manley done in 1968 by  Jamaican sculptor Alvin Marriott. (UWI Museum Collection)

Bust of Norman Washington Manley done in 1968 by Jamaican sculptor Alvin Marriott. (UWI Museum Collection)

Playwright and lecturer Janet Morrison.

Playwright and lecturer Janet Morrison.

Many of the early writers, actors and producers were in the room, and many received shout-outs; others had died, sometimes without significant recognition of their work. Morrison noted that these early collaborators put their hearts and souls into these projects from belief in their importance and delight in the opportunity for local self-expression, more than for financial reward.

‘Life with the Morgan-Henrys’, ‘Dulcimina’, ‘Life in Hopeful Village’ and several other titles: the response from older members of the audience indicated that their memories had been stirred. And there were excerpts of some series, courtesy of the National Library of Jamaica which has conserved and digitised some early material. But Morrison also had a question for the younger members of the audience: Was there a space for audio drama in the digital world, which so privileges visual images? She argued that the audio drama could be more cheaply produced and aired; that digital distribution to the diaspora via podcasts and other forms provided opportunities; and that the nation-building role that NW Manley had identified early on, still needed to be pursued – via a variety of communication media.

Morrison herself recently won the BBC World Service/British Council’s 23rd International Playwriting Competition for an audio drama titled ‘The Fisherman’, excerpts of which were also played.

 

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