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It's Thursday afternoon, and I'm sitting at home looking for some new tunes. The playlist on my computer is played out, and surfing MySpace isn't doing it. Then it dawns on me that well-known reggae personality Luther Mack recently started a new radio show on WDJA-AM (1420). Once I tune in, the vibes he sets during his two-hour broadcast have me feeling irie.
Mack (birth name Luther McKenzie) has been on the reggae scene for nearly three decades, first as a musician working for years as a keyboardist with his band Sudden Impact, then on WAVS-AM (1170), where he hosted his popular Music Lessons radio program for eight years. It was with Lessons that Mack developed a following and became known for stringing together sets that are as enjoyable as they are educational. He knows reggae better than anybody, but what sets him apart is his willingness to include the genre's foundations.
"I'll play a country-and-western song in the middle of my set — I've got no problem with that," Mack says during a recent phone chat. "I love R&B like it's a part of my soul. So I play that too. The whole idea of Music Lessons is that I teach through music on the show. In Jamaica growing up, we were privy to all types of music. We grew up listening to soul, to R&B, to jazz, to gospel, and reggae music incorporates pieces of all those styles. So why wouldn't I play that kind of music on my show?"
So it's good news that Mack is back on the air. And it's an especially nice treat for the folks of Palm Beach County. Now that 1420-AM is trying out a more Caribbean format, WDJA is the only legal station in the county playing reggae. If you can't get it in Broward or Miami, visit www.wdja.com.
After he ended his run with WAVS in 2004, Mack began focusing more on promotion, production, artist management, and the like. He's still deeply involved in those aspects, and in fact, his biannual Jamaica Vintage Music Festival is one of the most popular reggae concerts in South Florida. But he got a call last month from the DJA station program manager asking him if he could recommend a DJ. Soon, Mack agreed to do the show, thinking it was only temporary.
"The first day I was on the air, there were so many people listening online that it shut down the website," he says laughing. "So many folks were tuned in trying to listen once word got out that I was back on the air that I maxed the thing out."
Part of what makes the show so popular is his deep, booming voice. Beyond that, his personality makes you laugh, and the music is always good. "The thing with Luther is, he's a longstanding member of the community — both the reggae and Caribbean community — so he's well-respected," says Lady English, who moonlights as a radio DJ on 105.1-FM. "He's very professional in everything he does, and folks know they can expect the best out of him no matter what."
Callers ask Mack for songs all the time, but "I don't take no request," he says. "I don't abide by the rules, and I don't play what's in regular rotation everywhere else.
"The mainstream radio would never hire me 'cause I'm gonna do my thing. As a musician, you don't want to hear somebody like a program director telling you what songs you have to play... New people might think I'm arrogant and say 'Who is this guy, and what do you mean, you don't take no requests?' but if they listen continuously, they'll know that we're on the same page so much that what I play is what they want to hear anyway."
Things have changed a bit since Mack started at WAVS in 1996. "Making this thing big on the web is definitely a priority," he says. "The show is also going to be streamed down in Jamaica. Reggae.com is going to be streaming it. Socajam.net is already streaming it. And so I'm reaching out to different internet radio stations to make sure it gets heard."
Does WDJA have a problem with his reaching out to other radio stations? "It's more promotion for the site," he says. "The more listenership you have, the stronger the station is." Case in point: He got a call a couple of weeks ago from a woman in Sweden telling him how much she was enjoying the show.
So be on the lookout for Mack's show. He's on Wednesday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. And he's sure to keep people entertained with his style music and fun commentary. "The thing is, I'm not a real radio jock. I'm just a musician that plays the music that I love. I bring that attitude to the show, and for me, it works."