Dread Reckoning

Dub architect, crossover dreamer, music exec, and all-around nice guy, Mikey Dread has kept the reggae fires burning for almost twenty years

At 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Day, Mikey Dread sits in the maroon chair behind the control board in WAXY's on-air studio. Actually he doesn't sit in the chair so much as he bounces in it. One of several friends gathered in the studio mentions that his kick drum is too loud. "My kick drum?" Dread responds. "What are you talking about?" His foot is pounding out a rock-steady beat, and he's oblivious to this idiosyncratic habit.

A ream of papers is scattered across the desk in front of him, a Holy Bible resting inches from his left hand. The fingers of his right hand hover over the yellow and green buttons on the studio's CD-cartridge players. Dread speaks into an intercom that connects him to the board operator in the adjacent control room: "Me, then the music," Dread tells the engineer, signaling for him to turn on Dread's mike as Shabba Ranks rings from the in-house monitors, cranked full-blast so the half-dozen people gathered in the studio can enjoy Dread's selections.

Monique Richards shuffles through stacks of vinyl, asking Dread what he wants to play next. "We don't have a playlist this week," she says, half exasperated and half excited by the show's spontaneity.

"Write down what we just played," Dread commands over the intercom. "Quicker on the music, no space, no dead air. I'm putting effects on this, play the CD after the commercials and hit mono, less delay. Music!" His improvised team follows the instructions, and the segue from commercial to song is flawless. Under his breath and off the air, Dread allows himself a comment: "Good." Then, back on the intercom, "Me. Then a jingle. I cue you, okay?"

Even as his instructions are being carried out, Dread improvises. "Bob Marley after this." Boom, boom, boom his foot taps. "No, after me, then Bob Marley. Okay. Then I do a contest." His mike comes on, and in a melting chocolate timbre, Dread tells his listeners: "Robert Nesta...from ...Jamaica." After the Marley tune, Dread announces the contest -- name two artists on the Strictly the Best Vol. 13 CD, and get a free copy of it. Dread notices the phone lines lighting up and comes up with another on-the-spot idea. "Let's take these calls on the air. Hey, how do you take calls live on the air here?"

The first caller seems to be a middle-age woman. She can't answer the trivia question, but Dread coaches her through a few "shout outs" to her friends and tells her he's sorry she didn't win. "Okay, okay," she responds in a maternal tone. "You go on playing your music, and we'll all pretend we're there." She is referring to Jamaica, of course.

A flyer is handed to him, and Dread goes live on the air to plug a Christmas-night DJ competition on Key Biscayne featuring Richie B., who's sitting across from him in the studio. Richie B. smiles, shakes his head, slightly embarrassed. Then Dread tells him to go into the adjoining room and cue up a track from a Super Cat CD.

Despite the fact that he's doing a thousand things at once while broadcasting lively and vital reggae music, Dread seems in control, ultimately relaxed, and at home. His "assistants" never seem bothered by his perfectionism. Then again, these are Jamaicans, people so at ease with gentle positivity they had to invent their own word to describe the feeling: irie.

WAXY-AM (790) allows anyone to buy time and go on the air with a program. Dread availed himself of that opportunity at the beginning of December, accepting the responsibility for generating his own advertising or sponsorships to foot the bills. On some level, Dread resents having to pay to play, being forced to recruit and nurture sponsors to finance his 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. slot every Sunday. But that's exactly where the reggae pioneer and broadcasting veteran finds himself in 1995.

"I feel this is an obstacle I'm trying to overcome," he says. "I'm trying to prove to program directors that they're wrong when they say playing two or three reggae songs back-to-back turns off listeners. I think it attracts thousands of listeners. I'm not just a radio personality, I'm part of the reggae fraternity, a producer and artist, so I know what the industry needs to help it thrive in a market in close proximity to the Yard [Jamaica]. New York and London are farther away but more in touch. This is an uphill struggle for me to come up with X amount of thousands of dollars. Right now some of that is out of pocket."

At June's Catering and Restaurant at 18400 NW Second Ave., Dread holds a bottle of Mount Teman roots tonic and carefully twists off the cap to release the foamy pressure. While his three guests indulge in a meal of whole snappers, rice and "peas," oxtails, and ginger juice A authentic Jamaican cuisine prepared lovingly A Dread stops at another table to chat with a couple. When he sits back down to enjoy his root juice, another man walks over to talk about the music business with him. In the West Indian-Caribbean-Jamaican enclave around North Miami's 183rd Street, Mikey Dread is still considered a celebrity.

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