What role has radio played in your life? My family used to listen to it on the drive to and from school. As a teenager I used to stay up late and listen to a show called Indie Soundcheck on FM 102.1, my notebook and pen in hand, ready to write down the names of the latest songs. At 18 years old I started hosting my own show on college radio, before joining Madison’s beloved community radio station, 89.9 WORT FM.
Radio has changed. We went from terrestrial to internet and satellite, and the forms still coexist simultaneously. Many new vehicles now come pre-equipped with satellite radio like SiriusXM. We still have die-hard listeners of community radio. If you’re anything like me, you might follow your preferred genres of music across mediums—between different radio stations, to streaming services, to your personal collection of CDs, vinyl, and downloads. It’s an interesting time for music listeners.
What we do have are our music hosts. Our curators, our DJs. Pat McKay is one of those people who has played an important role in bringing reggae to radio listeners. She programs SiriusXM’s famed reggae channel, The Joint. Her influence reaches millions of people who love reggae music on the daily.
Do it because you want to contribute. Don’t do it because you’re thinking about what you’re gonna get out of it, so much as how can you add to it.
I had the pleasure of meeting Pat at California Roots Festival in May. She has a warm personality with a true enthusiasm about music and people. I wanted to learn more about her story, and am grateful that she took time to sit down and talk about her experience. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did:
(Note: This audio interview has been transcribed and edited for readability.)
Kayla Kush: Wow. Pat McKay. Amazing.
Pat McKay: Kayla from Rootfire. 20th of May, 2019.
KK: Thank you. Let’s ground ourselves here. We’re in the Media Room, a nice chillax zone.
PM: At the 10th anniversary of Cali Roots Fest.
KK: And who have you seen so far today?
PM: Today I saw Jo Mersa Marley first. It was nice to see him stretch out because I’ve seen him guest with his dad, but I hadn’t seen it as his whole set, so that was nice. I saw a bit of Iya Terra, and I’m going to see Pepper in a little while.
KK: Well it’s so cool getting to talk to you as one female reggae host to another, I mean, just one host to another—but especially the fact that there’s so few women in this scene, it’s always amazing to get our perspective in. I’m curious about your background as a reggae music fan and the experiences that you had growing up that put you in line to be where you are today in your career?
PM: I guess everything has added up. So, without being too detailed or boring, my parents are both Jamaican and my dad was really into music. My mom was a teacher and my dad was a bus driver, so that afforded me time with my dad in the morning, and he had a huge diverse music collection. So I just listened to a lot of different kinds of music—the Caribbean parts of it, the Haitian music as well, with a lot of Calypso at the time. And I guess that was the beginning of Ska, and Jamaica was a newly independent country. There were those sounds coming out of Jamaica. There was that time before I went to school where my dad would play the music that he wanted, and I was the youngest, so we had the house to ourselves. I think hearing music at that time was very crucial. Then I went to school in Jamaica when I was just about nine through my early teens, and lived near a Rasta community. It was a middle class working community, bordered by a Rasta community. There weren’t a lot of places Rastas could live in peace without being bothered by the authorities, and Wareika Hills was a very important location for them. I later found out that those drums that I heard at night were—that was Count Ossie’s base. Herbie Miller, who’s running Jamaica’s reggae museum, let me know that that had to have been who I was listening to just because of the time that I was there, from 1970 through the early seventies.
PM: Yeah. A long time ago, Kayla. So you know, I was hearing those drums basically through my pillow because we were that close. We were the last paved piece of road before Wareika Hills proper. I think that influenced it. And coming out of New York City at the time of the Black Arts Movement after the Civil Rights Movement, late sixties, early seventies, and you know, just being exposed to revolutionary thinking of all kinds—just think of what was happening at that time. So I get to a newly independent country with its own music, and I was living there in the school year. I was absorbing all of those messages and all of those sounds, understanding the difference between what was accepted by society there, and what was, you know, totally radical, to what was approved. What was aired even on Jamaica’s broadcasting service at the time was very exclusive and did not include regularly reggae as part of its identity as a Jamaican radio station. It was blowing my mind because on the streets, reggae run things. It was all about reggae, but what was available in the equivalent of the mainstream there was not so reflective of the streets and what was really going on musically. It took awhile.
KK: That’s fascinating.
PM: Yeah it is.
KK: Because when you think of Jamaica, you think of reggae. Right?
PM: Yeah. It was always there, and it never did need that acceptance. It sort of was a self sustaining fan base, which was the majority, and the music makers also were just… resilient.
KK: Who was in control of the radio stations?
PM: They were government run.
KK: Oh, is that still true today?
PM: No, no, no. There are many privately owned, amazing radio stations there. And the government-run station was a great station also. They were forced to accept the reality of the popular Jamaican music and culture, and then those mediums began to be more reflective of what was happening.
KK: So it sounds very grass roots, like “This is what the people are listening to, this is what we’re demanding.”
PM: Kind of how Cali Roots started out.
KK: Oh yeah. That’s a good connection. And here’s a place where we can all come together for three days and hear all the bands.
PM: Music that is influenced by those early heads.
KK: Well, let’s connect this to SiriusXM. Now we have Cali Roots Radio, a weekly show on The Joint. Before that, there wasn’t a Cali Roots entity on the station.
PM: Not a designated time. The music was included, but just not in a formal way.
KK: And people want it, right?
PM: Yes. They certainly do, judging by the great response.
KK: Well, it’s so cool when I get to interview the person who’s usually doing the interviews. I know you’ve interviewed so many people, so I won’t even ask you to choose a favorite experience—but I would like to go back to the beginning of your career. Did you have any really memorable interviews where you were just like, “I can’t believe this is about to happen.”
PM: Well, you know, you catch people at different points in their career. Early in a career someone’s going to always have less to say cause there’s less of a journey. The journey hasn’t been extensive. When you’re speaking with a veteran artist, that’s going to be a different level of conversation, and the best thing to do is to be able to listen when you’re speaking with them because they’ve got so much to say, and such a life experience. It’s the veterans that have blazed the trail. So their stories are going to be amazing in a particular way. And then a new artist—you know—it’s about what lit the fire, the story of that, and how they came to be devoted to making music. So I can’t… I love finding out about all of them. I’m very curious myself about biographies, and the chronology of an individual’s growth. It’s always compelling to me. So yeah, maybe it’s a bit nerdy of me, but I’m always interested to know. I’m interested that you Kayla are doing reggae radio. Like wow, that’s great. In Wisconsin.
KK: Yes, in Madison! Well, I can relate. When I interview new bands, it’s always like, “Who are you, where are you from? What are you all about?” And then when I interview more veteran artists, it’s like much more specific. I almost feel like it’s more challenging to interview the new people. But that’s just me and I’ve got a lot to learn.
PM: We all do. Yeah.
KK: I’m curious about your history joining SiriusXM. In this day and age we’re seeing all of these interesting transitions in terms of how people consume music. Many people listen to satellite radio now. When your connection with SiriusXM began, what were your initial thoughts about joining?
PM: I didn’t hesitate. I like when folks have a vision, and if you can be part of supporting something that seems to have a good premise… our premise was artist friendly as well as audience friendly. We were making a product that was our content. So how do you make it special, and give it an identity, and distinguish it, and also help build awareness—in the case of reggae—of music and artists that hadn’t been acknowledged in the way that Sirius planned to do it? When you get into the specifics, you’re looking for station identity, and a station personality. Even making it a destination. Like, if you want to hear reggae, come to The Joint. Sirius became SiriusXM, and we just recently acquired Pandora. There’ve been amazing changes and a lot of development and growth. It’s because of the amazing team that we have, you know? And that’s a really necessary component in success or achievement or growth. You have to have a good foundation, a good goal, a good mission. You have to share that goal with people that are as enthusiastic as yourself. So I’m just like a brick in the wall. A tiny one, maybe a tile, not even a brick, let me not flatter myself. But you know, we have a great team.
KK: For this interview, I’m wanting to take the opportunity to acknowledge women who paved the way for others. Which women have had the biggest impact on your life and your career?
PM: There were some amazing women on the radio in Jamaica at the time I was there in school, like Fae Ellington. Marie Garth was a huge radio personality in Jamaica. Now we’ve got Elise Kelly—Empress Elise—and many other gifted, brilliant, women broadcasters in Jamaica. Everywhere nationally I’m meeting more and more of them, as I come to events like Cali Roots and others, you know, I get to meet you, Kayla. And yeah, it’s a good thing to see. There are lots of other women working and contributing behind the scenes, besides just on the air programming radio.
KK: How about the musicians? I definitely have my growing list of female reggae artists that I’ve been following closely. What about you? Who are you excited about right now in the current scene?
PM: There’s several coming up, but they’re so new we’ll have to see. I would hate to pick a favorite right now. It’s a good group. I think just as a group they’re giving me hope. So we’ll have to see what happens. Time will tell. It’s a cruel business, you know, for anyone.
KK: How so?
PM: Just there’s so much that’s arbitrary. There’s so much that goes into making a hit record, and some of it has to do with it being just luck, to an extent. It’s like winning a lottery ticket to get a hit record. So yeah, it takes a lot.
KK: I do think that there’s a great up and coming scene. I would like to see more women being booked at festivals like Cali Roots.
PM: It has such an impact. You saw the lady Marcia that’s with The Skints yesterday. How she owned that. That was amazing.
KK: Everyone loves her too. I mean, she’s a multi instrumentalist…
PM: Songwriter, vocalist…
KK: She’s so talented. And we want to see more of that. Everyone does. It’s so inspiring—and I think a lot of women would agree—to look up on stage and see women up there. That is something that I think I have been deprived of at festivals, you know? So the more I can see that, I think the better, and I do encourage music festivals including Cali Roots to do what they can to make sure there’s more and more women being booked in the future.
PM: Kayla is a host and advocate on Rootfire. That’s good!
KK: Haha. I mean, yeah. So, some people I’ve interviewed in the past for Rootfire’s Women in Reggae series are Sister Carol, Jah9, and Miss Pat of VP Records. When we were chatting before you mentioned your time getting to know Miss Pat and VP Records. I feel like they’re very supportive of radio stations.
PM: Yeah, they are. We’ve had a really good rapport. The V in VP, Vincent Chin, was someone that was respectful and welcoming to me with Miss Pat. When I got to meet them as a student, as a kid in Jamaica, they ran their record shop. Their original record shop was at a place called Parade where all the buses sort of met like a junction, an important junction and circle, and there was lots of commerce. It was downtown Jamaica and their record shop was, you know, that spot. Of course, it wasn’t smiled on for children to be going there, but I did.
KK: This was Randy’s Records?
PM: Yeah. Cause they would call Vincent Chin Mr. Randy. Well, his contemporaries could call him Randy. We called him Mr. Randy. And I never really did get to talk to him as a kid. But then I started working with someone that he knew, Ken Williams, who gave me my first job. I was his admin assist and I had to frequently fill in for my boss. But Vincent Chin never treated me like the substitute. He was always very respectful, and especially knowing anything about gender relations in Jamaican culture, you know, equality is not the first thing that you think of. Sorry. But Mr. Vincent Chin was a gentleman, and he was very dignified. He had genuine nobility and I never forgot it. And I’ve had a good relationship with VP Records. It’s been a label that’s been subject to controversy sometimes, but I’ve always had a good relationship. We don’t do direct money business. They send music, I play it, and we get to say, “Wow, remember when…?” about certain artists. Miss Pat is very gracious, and definitely one of the most important people in reggae’s history and in the history of Jamaican culture. So you spoke with a great lady.
KK: I did, yeah. I couldn’t even believe it was happening to be honest. It was a really great experience for me, and she is a sweetheart.
PM: This summer they’re doing a VP Records 40th Anniversary in Central Park and I’ve been asked to host a little bit of it. So I’m really looking forward to that in August.
KK: Being a radio host and getting to talk to you is just an absolute amazing experience. So my last question for you is: What advice do you have for women in reggae—whether they are in the business of communications, on stage, or behind the scenes?
PM: Do it because you want to contribute. Don’t do it because you’re thinking about what you’re gonna get out of it, so much as how can you add to it. Know what you will do and won’t do along the way. Be very, very clear about that. The greatest thing is to know yourself because you’re going to be in different situations. And once you know something presents itself in a way that you’re not cool with, then get out of there. You know? But it’s easier said than done. It just requires the conviction about what you’re bringing. What can you add? How can you improve this situation? And I think that will give you strength. The music will sustain you, because music makers will be making music that you’ll be able to discern the quality of. How are you going to add to what they do?
KK: I love it. That’s so helpful.
PM: Thank you, Kayla. Thanks so much. This was fun. I appreciate it. Good luck with Rootfire, and have fun in Madison.