DAVID Rodigan laughs as he tells me where he fell in love with Jamaican music.
“It was at home in Kidlington, where I grew up,” he says. “And I saw Millie Small singing My Boy Lollipop on TV.
That was 1964. David was only 15, but the passion for ska kindled that Friday evening, as he watched Ready Steady Go! in the lounge of his family home has stuck with him for 50 years.
Now, aged 65, he is respected as a giant of broadcasting and a reggae legend. His two-hour Sunday night dancehall and reggae show on BBC Radio 1Xtra has been a weekly highlight for the past three years and shows the man, who began began his career on Radio London in 1978, still at the very top of his game.
A staple of Capital Radio, Kiss FM and BFBS, among other stations, and with an MBE awarded for services to broadcasting, David is busier than ever.
He has spent the summer playing festivals – including Reading, Bestival and our own Common People, and, between radio shows, is DJing to packed clubs around Europe. As we chatted, earlier this week, he was boarding a plane to Dusseldorf, on his way to perform a DJ set to commemorate German reunification.
But he is particularly excited about playing a hometown show at his former stomping ground, the Cowley Road – performing with local reggae lover Count Skylarkin – aka Aidan Larkin (surely a Rodigan in waiting).
“I am looking forward to coming back and seeing everyone on Cowley Road,” he says. “And Aidan is playing too. I love him.”
David famously doesn’t do interviews, but is making an exception for his ‘old’ local paper.
“I normally don’t bother with the press, but I am playing in my home town,” he says cheerily.
“I am a Kidlington lad,” he goes on. “I grew up there and still have a soft spot for it.”
Born in Germany, where his father was stationed in the army, his first experience of Oxford came when the family moved back to the UK, his father being stationed at Headington Barracks. The young David was packed off to St Mary’s Primary School, Cowley, before the Rodigans moved up to Kidlington.
It was at the village’s Gosford Hill School where he realised his love of music – holding dances in the school gymnasium to raise money for the art club.
He shares stories of cycling from Kidlington to Hinksey Pool during the long hot summers in the 60s, listening to pop, and of playing football for Kidlington and then Islip Boys. But it was at dance school in George Street that his love of reggae took flight – hearing tunes by Jimmy Cliff, Pince Buster and other Jamaican stars, and snapping up vinyls at the city’s long-disappeared Russell Acott record shop, and selling discs himself in Oxford and London.
That love for ska and reggae was fed by Caribbean friends in Cowley and Blackbird Leys. “I had a lot of friends there, which is why it’s always nice to come back,” he says, above the din of airport announcements.
On leaving school he landed a place at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama, on the outskirts of London, and became actor. He worked in repertory theater and appeared in a handful of TV shows – including an episode of Doctor Who. He also performed his own one-man show Zima Junction – a dramatization of the poem by the Russian writer Yevtushenko.
But music was an irresistible draw, and in 1978 he joined BBC Radio London, moving to Capital a year later to start his now-legendary Roots Rockers show, which continued for 11 years. Deeply respected by the Caribbean music world, he went onto ‘clash’ with Jamaica’s top DJs.
He goes on: “It’s a real joy to be sharing this music with young people. I love it for its energy and positivity – also the message and the wonderful voices of the great singers – people like King Tubby and Lee Perry.
“It’s been a presence for five decades – and is as important to me as when I first heard Prince Buster’s Al Capone at stage club in Oxford.”
He began broadcasting his weekly show on the British Forces Broadcasting Corp in the 80s, staying there for 25 years. Alongside that, he joined the former pirate station Kiss 100, remaining there for 22 years – eventually resigning in protest at what he saw as the marginalisation of reggae, when his own show was pushed back to after midnight.
Instead he launched a weekly reggae show on Radio 1Xtra – where he remains.That commitment to broadcasting saw him inducted into the Sony Radio Academy Hall Of Fame and pick up armful of awards, culminating, in 2012, with that MBE at Buckingham Palace.
“That was gratifying, and so cool,” he says.
“I don’t go back to Kidlington much, though I did go back to Gosford Hill after getting my MBE, which was really special – especially as it was where I played my first gigs, holding dances on Thursday lunchtimes to raise money for the art club.”
He has been name-checked in a song by Beastie Boy Ad Rock and reached a whole new generation of fans by appearing as a DJ on the computer game Grand Theft Auto.
Still respected as a vital force behind the decks, he found fresh fame by teaming up with Chase & Status, Shy FX and MC Rage to form the Rebel Sound soundsystem.
And he is still championing new music. “I am still a fan of new reggae,” he says, as he takes his seat on the plane. “On my show, I only play one old record in two hours of music – so I am very much still all about new tunes.”
And who is his current favourite? A New York band called The Frightnrs,” he says. “Check them out!”
David Rodigan plays the O2 Academy Oxford on Saturday (Nov 5), starting at 11pm. Tickets from ticketweb.co.uk