THE WEST INDIAN PEOPLE

A man may not be able to read; he may not have the facilities for reading; he may be impatient with the printed word; yet the humblest intelligence will offer its attention to this box of sound. In rum shop or store, taxi and eating house, everywhere it conquers the ear. Often it crushes your hearing. But if it has been the most powerful medium of communication, it is also the most wilfully neglected investment in our future. Here a living possibility is turned by habitual ill-use into a frozen routine.

Any advertising salesman will tell you that it serves a purpose. And that is true. It serves a purpose, but it is denied an active function. Consult the programme bulletins, and you will find a classic example of the continuity of waste. A network of communication deprived of involvement! What should have been a sword in our hands is a monument celebrating our stupor. And here I apologise to those individuals who, aware but powerless, endure the agony and frustration of working behind that box. Wherein lies this failure?

To begin with, there seems to be no active concept of the role this service should have. The test of a functioning radio is that it provides us with an example of communication based on involvement. It is a medium through which the population make themselves known to themselves through all the side variety of their activities. Whether it offers you sport, politics, drama, music, whatever the menu, the test is communication based on involvement. And there cannot be involvement without the participation, direct or indirect, of the people for whom the service is primarily intended. You cannot have cans of American scripted serials which come to you via Australia and maintain that you operate a service which communicates on the basis of the people’s involvement.

Radio begins to be radio when the greatest proportion of your programmes originate among the people for whom they are intended. You acknowledge this principle, and let it inform your decisions, or you confess that your relation to this medium has nothing to do with communication based on involvement. The great obstacle here is, invariably, the sales manager. Let us avoid any further perils of distributing blame, and hurry on to the business of constructing proposals. Allow me to use this opportunity to make a modest proposal.

If it is one purpose of this conference to speak in the name of a generation that is on the verge of assuming its task; let us state clearly to all concerned that whatever political disasters continue to promote division, the continuity of the West Indian consciousness remains for us intact. However vulnerable to the pressures of reaction, it is the cradle from which all that is best in our thinking will emerge; it is the essential spirit which informs our sense of possibility. Born of the past, it is also a voice from the future which summons us here. We regard this consciousness as a powerhouse too precious to be left entirely to the decisions of sales management and professional politics. But we ask them generously to accept that we do not speak with rancour or from positions of dogma, but out of a need which we are also daring enough to regard as certain: the certainty of faith. Hence our proposal.

I must assume that any four or five West Indians of different territories who are responsible for the planning of local programmes would have at least one thing in common: an interest in radio. Nothing works like a community of interests to bind men who are not personally involved in competition. Here, the distance can be seen as an advantage. These four or five men responsible for programme planning should be empowered by their respective authorities to meet at least twice a year for the purpose of formulating and discussing their views on a policy for radio which embraces the entire area. Each would, presumably, review his experience of his local situation and make suggestions for the joint co-operation of certain projects. Their agenda would touch on every aspect of programme planning and production, and it would be part of this enterprise to work towards a situation in which programmes originating in one territory became an essential part of radio output in another.

Their ambition would be, for a start, to make sure that at least three or four hours’ listening a day would be devoted to programmes originating in another West Indian territory. The ultimate purpose is to create a climate of familiarity in which it becomes perfectly natural for the man in Jamaica to look forward to the documentary feature originating in Grenada or Barbados.

In no circumstances would they interfere in each other’s local situation. Autonomy remains intact. It becomes, indeed, the basis of the co-operative effort.

From a meeting of such men the proposals would be made known from time to time; and the public in every territory should be invited to submit ideas and suggestions towards such an enterprise. I am not without some ideas about the form programmes might take, but that is a producer’s business, and I do not intend to intrude on his territory. I will only add this.