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ON THE RASTA-LIKE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING TO LOCAL RADIO

I love the radio. Always have since I was a kid. Although this will surrender my age in fossil carbon-dating terms, I remember listening to the Top 10 every afternoon during our Milford summers. That puts my formative radio years somewhere in the Nixon Era, around when Rod Stewart was still cool and Carole King was dominant.

Radio had personality. Murray the K. Cousin Brucie. Alison Steele the Nightbird. It had a sense of time and place. Now it seems like you listen to the radio (satellite or terrestrial) and it could be anywhere and anytime. We have exceptions. If you’ve ever heard Phil Schaap out of Columbia’s station, you know this guy is a character and more than a little obsessive. At its best radio is an invasion of your comfort zone. It’s a friend and an enemy. It was somebody else that you trusted picking your music and conversation.

We’re lucky on the shoreline. We have some great radio. WMNR out of Monroe goes deep into the classical catalog and has refreshingly flaky DJs. But there is nothing like WPKN, which blasts this area out of its Bridgeport studios. PKN is radio like it used to be. Forewarned. Now, I equate the radio with driving. I’ll carbon-date myself again. Growing up in the Bronx, after 11:30 mass, my old man would drive around the neighborhood to listen to the Giants’ game because it wasn’t on TV. That’s where I learned about the nuances of language. I thought Frank Gifford’s name had an expletive attached to it way before he showed up on Monday Night Football and married what’s-her-name. I still drive around and listen to the radio. Which brings me to I Messiah.

I guess it was around mid-March. I was done (as we all were) with winter, sitting in the home office and needed to get out. I’m flicking around the radio dial trying to avoid a song that has a male rapper and a female singer. But that’s, like, every song on the radio. I land on WPKN and there, in all the glorious, uninterrupted, disruptive nature of the airwaves, was radio.

It was reggae music. Roots reggae. Then it was some old dub with the big reverb. Then it was some kind of ska I’d never heard before. Then back to some serious Sly and Robbie dub. The kind where it sounds like they recorded it in a seriously altered state, in an echo chamber maybe somewhere near Kingston, Jamaica.

Then, the DJ said something about “Selassie-I and the most high Rastafari.” I caught about every fifth word, and loved it. Then he hit the reverb and was yelling Gospel style: “Did ya pray today? Did ya pray today, Rastaman?”

I had not. But then again, I was decidedly un-rasta. Hard to be rasta when you drive a Kia, sipping a latte, and thinking maybe you need a haircut. But for that minute I got closer to something like music, and some personality and some soul. For a minute the string of Route 1 had some Jamaica in it. Some color. Some diversity.

The DJ’s name is I Messiah. You can find his shows online, and he performs around the state at places like Mohegan Sun. The guys at PKN tell me he is as mystical as he sounds. I’m thankful that he is. One of the reasons people live here and visit here is because it’s predictably beautiful. But you need the I Messiah’s to make it sing. And the radio.

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