London’s first black radio station awarded blue heritage plaque for contribution to British history

By Emily Griffith

London’s first black radio station Choice FM is unveiling a blue heritage plaque, awarded to mark it’s contribution to British history since launching thirty-one years ago.

Of the twenty-five blue plaques in Lambeth, Choice FM’s is one of only a few in the borough that represent Black Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.

Known as Capital Xtra since 2013, Choice FM was launched in Brixton on 31 March 1990 and championed black music of all genres for twenty-three years on 96.9 FM.

The heritage marker was funded by fans and former staff, and the money raised will also be donated to The African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, a charity the station worked closely with during their broadcasting years.

Co-founder Neil Kenlock said: “The station gave opportunities to UK and international artists, businesses, local community groups and charities who didn’t have a media outlet.

Choice FM leaflet double page spread June 1990

“Since Choice FM there has never been another black owned, commercial licenced station that broadcasts across London.

“The blue plaque will highlight the work of Windrush descendants and our huge impact on the radio and music industry in the UK.”

The unveiling will be attended by special guests Mayor Philip Normal and Cllr Sonia Winifred, cabinet member for equalities and culture.

Choice 96.9 began as an independent company in March 1990, broadcasting from studios in Trinity Gardens, Brixton.

It was Britain’s first 24-hour black music radio station with a licence, covering South London.

The group won a second licence (see Buzz FM) in 1995, bringing a local version of their London offering to Birmingham, on 102.2 FM – in place of Buzz FM.

The advent of digital radio in the UK saw Choice, which already had an active webstream, joining the new MXR consortium and launching a DAB service which anchored London output with news inserts produced by the consortium’s news service DNN.

The Birmingham licence was sold to Chrysalis Radio in 1999 and became Galaxy Birmingham, but Choice expanded within the capital in May 2000 when a largely independent North London licence was awarded for Choice 107.1, with the intention of reaching a larger Afro-Caribbean audience outside the limited range of the coverage from Brixton.

DJ and Campaigner Daddy Ernie

The station was now broadcasting from Borough High Street, Borough.

Having previously been a minority shareholder, Capital Radio Group took full control of the station in February 2004 and moved the station’s base from the target service area to the group’s central studios in Leicester Square.

The move resulted in a community march from the coverage area and their studios. It was accused of selling out as some of their DJs were removed and replaced by their Kiss counterparts who play some electronic music.

Cllr Winifred said: “Choice FM will always hold a special place in the hearts of the Lambeth community particularly in Brixton where it was launched.

“The first licenced independent black music radio station gave us all a sense of pride and belonging. There has been no other to replace it and we owe a great deal to its co-founders Patrick Berry and Neil Kenlock.”

The blue plaque will be unveiled at 1pm on Wednesday March 31, at 16-18 Trinity Gardens, Brixton, where the station launched thirty-one years ago to the day.

The event has been organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust and will include an online celebration broadcast hosted by DJs Martin Jay, George Kay and Daddy Ernie on youtube.

Youtube link for online event can be found here.

Main photo: Mary J Blige and KCI Hailey Jodeci – ChoiceFM-Memories



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