Monday 19 August, 2019

Steven Warner spreading Jamaican culture through internet radio

Steven Warner

Steven Warner

Jamaican American Steven Warner, popularly known as Sir Rockwell, has been steadily spreading the culture of Jamaica and the Caribbean through the internet radio medium.

Sir Rockwell – through his radio station rockdabox.net – has reformed the audio media landscape in South Florida for the past six years and in the process has cemented himself as one of the top media personalities in the region.

Rockdabox.net has as its flagship programme, the 'Wake Up and Live' show, hosted by Sir Rockwell on weekdays between the hours of 7:00 am and noon. The programme has won the Best of Jamaica award for the Best Local Internet Radio Station for the last five years.

The Wake Up and Live Show is now syndicated on at least 41 online stations around the world.  Cumulatively the show has just under 200,000 listeners.  RockDaBox.net itself has an average of 18,000 listeners daily. Listeners from Australia, Hungary, Germany, Japan interact on a daily basis with Sir Rockwell on his show.  Online affiliates are located in the US, Canada, Germany, Trinidad, US Virgin Islands and the UK.  Even with the plethora of stations in Jamaica, the Wake Up and Live show proudly boasts nearly 2,000 personal listeners from the island. 

It is now known as the most syndicated Caribbean formatted online morning show in the world, Rockwell told Loop News.

Born in Brooklyn, New York to Jamaican parents, Sir Rockwell considers himself a Jamaican in every sense of the word, having been sent to be raised on the island by his grandparents when he was just six weeks old.

“My mother migrated to the States to pursue a nursing certification. Realising that nursing school and raising a newborn was next to impossible, the decision was made to send me to her parents in Jamaica. My grandfather worked at the government printing office at the time and frequently took me to work with him," he said.

One of Rockwell’s earliest recollections is that of the sound of printing presses mixed with transistor radios.  Small radios hanging from their hand straps playing either JBC or RJR seemed to have some type of mystical power, he said.

He credits his appreciation for the arts to his art teacher at Wolmer's Boys' School, Hope ‘Sweetie’ Wheeler.

That early introduction to radio seemed to have a lasting effect on Rockwell and, years later, when he arrived in South Florida as a brash youngster in 1994, South Florida was ripe for the pickings. The community was experiencing a boom in community radio and with the Jamaican community yearning to hear the fast rising reggae and dancehall artistes of the day, he waltzed right into the fray and filled the gap as he worked his way up the ladder.

After three years at the community level, Warner was spotted by veteran South Florida broadcaster, Pat Montague.

“Pat Montague offered to set up a meeting with the Program Director for WAVS 1170 and owner of Hi-Class Promotions; Winsome “Lady C” Charlton and myself.  Lady C said she saw “potential” and decided to bring me on board and train me, ultimately giving me more and more program slots on WAVS 1170 am,” he said.  

After gaining valuable experience in conventional radio broadcasting, Sir Rockwell eventually took the plunge and started his own venture.

“After now having almost 12 years of radio experience, occupying the position of On-Air Personality and Program Director of a Palm Beach radio station, there were two major factors that led to the decision of launching RockDaBox.net. The first was a call from a New York Times reporter in 2008 asking for my opinion on the Obama campaign and is reach into the Caribbean community. The report indicated that it seemed that I had my “finger on the pulse of the South Florida Caribbean community!" he recalled.

"The second was a visit to a car show and the emphasis placed on the development of “internet radio” for cars.  Both these points kept popping up in my mind over the next few years.  The final straw was when friend and radio colleague Clinton Lindsay launched his internet station, once he had his up, I received daily calls insisting that I should do the same. In the spring of 2012 I decided to test the waters by doing an evening program called Da Real Rock Show," he added.

One year later, the show was being carried by seven other online stations including two in the UK. Utilising his Business Administration degree, he said he then took a look at where he could maximise the potential of the show. 

"Realizing that online radio for most was a 'part time' endeavor and usually lends itself more evening and weekends, I decided to launch a “full-fledged” morning show to fill a wide open gap in online programming.  The birth of The Wake Up and Live Show,” he said.

But even though he has created a name for himself and is one of South Florida’s leading media lights in the Caribbean diaspora, Sir Rockwell is not resting on his laurels and is very much aware that the competition is stiff for listenership in a community saturated by radio stations and other forms of media.

He has had to employ unconventional along with the tried, tested and proven to stay afloat.

“Programing, programing, programing! Content is key. Not all online station are going to survive.  Listeners are looking for that delicate balance “freestyle” and “professional” radio.  Undoubtedly, online radio is personality driven but still requires good content,” he said,

"The advantage of online radio is that there are no geographical boundaries.  All that is needed is a “smart device” and Internet access.  It allows someone to listen to any online station from anywhere in the world.  The challenge comes in convincing advertisers that have grown accustomed to “mainstream” marketing that online is where the listenership now resides.”

With all the boxes that he has so far rocked, Steven ‘Sir Rockwell’ Warner still holds Jamaica close to his heart.

“Jamaica is and will always be home for me.  Its hospitality and warmth is world famous. The birthplace of reggae and the impact it has had on music worldwide makes me proud.  The most disappointing thing about Jamaica for me is the level of crime that exists and how it prevents visitors for truly enjoying the true Jamaican experience,” he said.

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