This summer, the BBC will launch a new national radio station dedicated to black music. Not yet named, but currently being referred to as Network X, the station aims to etch out its own identity and lead the way in youth radio by supporting new UK talent as well as showcasing the best urban music from abroad. As part of the government plan to phase out analogue radio (FM/AM/MW), Network X will be using a digital broadcasting system. This means that listeners will be able to tune into the station using digital radio receivers, digital satellite television, digital cable television, or the Internet and get near-CD-quality reception.
DJ Excalibah, who is highly regarded in London for the shows he has hosted on pirate radio and for his expert manning of the decks at jams like Lyrical Lounge, is one man who can’t wait for the Network X to go live. “It’s the biggest thing to happen for black music in this country ever!” he exclaims. “Now people in [places like] Yorkshire who love their black music but had to wait for Westwood or [Trevor] Nelson on Radio One can now get that type of music 24/7.”
Excalibah will host his own specialist show on the station, playing a mix of hip-hop from the underground, the independent scene and the UK. With full control over the play-list, the East Londoner realises that the show has the potential to make a great impact on the homegrown rap scene. “I hope it’s gonna be the biggest shake-up yet. People like Rodney P, Roots Manuva, Braintax and Blade have taken it up to the next plateau; and hopefully [with] me playing UK hip-hop and the station playing UK hip-hop all the time… [it] will push the scene over the top, so we can be having tracks in the charts like So Solid and them street garage acts.”
Though he is only nineteen years old, DJ Excalibah has already chalked up three years as a London pirate radio presenter. He first began deejaying in 1998, when the rap group he was a part of (Sanguinary) was in need of someone behind the decks. “I learnt how to mix and cut by listening to the radio, normally Westwood,” he says. “I heard people like Redman, Skribble, Cash Money, [Funkmaster] Flex and tried to work out how they made the different noises with the records. Then I’d pick up the same records and try to recreate what I’d heard.”
During the period when he was developing his scratching skills, Excalibah noticed a newspaper advert from a ‘community’ radio station that was looking for DJs. He quickly applied and soon found himself presenting on the pirateradio station Destiny FM. Then a year later, after performing a DJ set at a club night in Hackney, he was approached by a manager at Juice FM and was invited to host a show on the station. DJ Excalibah holds fond memories of the two years he spent at Juice, and one show of his in particular stands out above the rest. “My eighteenth birthday show in August 2000 was wicked! We had everyone down there: Mystro, Jargon, Reveal, Hectic & 20×2, Troy Scalpels, Est’elle, Ras Simeon Judah, Black L.I.B. [from New York]… Spectre from 20×2 brought down a bottle of champers… and we all got mash-up whilst doing the radio show. It was brilliant. We had the craziest freestyle set!”
From the time it began, DJ Excalibah’s Juice FM show always attracted a dedicated and mixed crowd of listeners. Word continually spread about the quality of the show and in March 2001 Excalibah received a phone call from one particular fan who had an exciting proposition to make. “I was sitting in my house [when] I got a call out of the blue from Wilber Wilberforce from Radio One,” he recalls. “He explained what was going on with the new station and that he’d heard my show on Juice and wanted the same show to be on Network X.” After nine months of piloting the show and trying out different formats, the BBC finally offered DJ Excalibah a contract. The exact time slot of Excalibah’s hip-hop show has yet to be announced publicly, however, the DJ does reveal “As far as I’m concerned it’s the best possible time for the type of show I’m gonna do.” The BBC will be holding a press night in early March to publicise the launch of Network X, and will also soon be broadcasting previews of the station’s shows on Radio One.
By becoming involved in Network X and having the opportunity to broadcast to the whole nation rather than just the portions of London that pirate radio stations can reach, Excalibah will find that his profile as a DJ will expand considerably. The prospects that Network X provides for both his career and the burgeoning UK hip-hop scene are very encouraging and whatever progress Excalibah does make as a result of working on the new station, he promises to give back the music that has given him a legitimate profession. “There are so many little perks that come with the job – apart from the salary,” he admits. “I think that now I’ve climbed another rung up the ladder of success, it’s time to try and help others in the UK scene.”
Tune into Radio One (97 – 99 FM) between 12am and 2am on 14th March 2002 to hear how DJ Excalibah’s hip-hop show on Network X will sound.