Glen Simmonds keeps it authentic

By Howard Campbell
Observer senior writer

Monday, June 11, 2018

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This is the final in a 10-part series on Jamaican disc jockeys who have made an impact on North American radio.

ITS association with the Civil Rights Movement helped make Atlanta a mecca of black empowerment in the 1980s. It was the right time for Jamaican Glen Simmonds to move there and make his mark.

Originally from Runaway Bay, St Ann, Simmonds has lived in the Georgia capital since 1986. He has been involved in broadcasting for over 25 years and currently hosts Authentic Caribbean, which airs Saturdays from 7 pm to 9 pm on MAJIC 107.5 FM.

“The show is music-driven and features dancehall, reggae and soca. We also provide entertainment news, as well as discuss topical issues of interest to the Caribbean Diaspora as well as the wider community,” said Simmonds.

Authentic Caribbean is Simmonds' latest radio show and his first on a mainstream station. Previously, he worked at public entities WCLK 91.9 FM and WRFG 89.3 FM; at the former, he hosted the Natural Mystic programme for over 20 years, and is production manager at that station.

“Stylistically, the show is somewhat similar to my previous shows. We present a mix of '90s dancehall to the latest stuff. We also play lovers' rock, roots and culture, and soca. The main difference is that Authentic Caribbean airs on a major commercial radio station versus the other programmes which ran on non-commercial public radio,” he explained. “The current audience for Authentic Caribbean has a substantial number of American listeners. We see it as our job to satisfy the musical tastes of a Caribbean audience plus introduce our culture to an American audience.”

While his core listenership is in Atlanta, Simmonds and Authentic Caribbean are also syndicated in 10 other markets including the United States Virgin Islands and Grand Cayman.

Simmonds, a graduate of York Castle High School in St Ann, has always been in media. Prior to migrating to the United States, he worked at JBC Radio Northeast in Ocho Rios.

In 1986, he moved to Georgia to attend Morehouse College, a historically black school in Atlanta whose most famous alumni is Civil Rights icon Dr Martin Luther King Jnr.

At the time, Atlanta was fast becoming the hub for black American commerce. The West Indian population was not as pronounced as now, but Simmonds, who is also founder of the Grace Atlanta Caribbean Jerk Festival, has witnessed the city's cultural transformation.

“The reggae scene has grown since 1989! When I first moved to Atlanta there weren't a lot of reggae options in the city. In the past 30-plus years the reggae scene has increased exponentially,” he said. “In the early years we were lucky if we had a quarterly reggae concert. Now reggae concerts with all the major reggae acts are a weekly occurrence. In addition, we now have several reggae clubs and dances providing nightly party options.”

For all its diversity, Atlanta remains primarily a hip hop/Rhythm and Blues town. In the 1980s, funk group Cameo helped put it on the map, triggering an explosion of talent a decade later when producer/artistes like Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin, Monica and Ludacris operated from there.

Simmonds credits Authentic Caribbean's growth to old-fashioned communication and modern technology. The American and Caribbean-American heritage of his colleagues, Chubb Rock, Jah Lion Sound, Dee Dee Parker, Redd Dread, Marissa and DJ Chigga, has also helped.

“Listeners are able to interact with the programme through telephone, social media or outside broadcasts. We understand that musical tastes continue to evolve and as such we try to stay current while not overlooking the foundation of the music,” he explained. “We are also mindful of the content we present to the wider community as this is a family-oriented programme with a strong party vibe.”

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