Immortalised in Brixton: the place where Black music became the norm

group points up at blue plaque
Wayne Turney (former Choice FM sales manager), Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE (former Choice FM director), Lambeth mayor Philip Normal, DJ Daddy Ernie (plaque campaigner and former Choice FM DJ) and Neil Kenlock (co-founder and photographer)
Photograph: ©Lewis Patrick

Trinity Gardens in Brixton got a new blue heritage plaque yesterday (1 April) to mark the origin of Choice FM, the only Black radio station to have held a London-wide commercial licence.

On 31 March 1990, a pioneering group of entrepreneurs and DJs made their historic first broadcast on the now famous 96.9FM frequency.

Thirty-one years later, the Nubian Jak Community Trust organised the unveiling of the plaque with co-founder Neil Kenlock, the acclaimed photographer; former director Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE; and Lambeth mayor Philip Normal at 16-18 Trinity Gardens.

Launched at this address, the station went on to be one of the most successful Black media companies in the UK. 

During its 23-year life as Choice, the station championed Black music of all genres and broke acts from all over the world.

It also covered debates on issues that were not covered by other mainstream stations.

Choice FM won a number of accolades including MOBO and Sony Radio Academy awards.

In 2004, the station was bought by the Capital Radio broadcasting group (Global) and on 7 October 2013 it was rebranded as Capital Xtra.

Because of Covid restrictions, members of the Choice FM family and the community viewed the event through an online celebration hosted by former Choice FM DJs Martin Jay, George Kay and Daddy Ernie.

blue plaque

The London blue plaque scheme links present day buildings with historic people and events. There are more than 900 blue plaques in London – 25 of them in Lambeth – celebrating the lives of notable men and women.

They include Vincent Van Gough, Charlie Chaplin and Bob Marley.

The Choice FM plaque, one of the few BAME plaques in Lambet,  is the 60th to be installed by the Nubian Jak Community Trust.

Cllr Sonia Winifred, Lambeth council cabinet member for equalities and culture, said “Choice FM will always hold a special place in the hearts of the Lambeth community, particularly in Brixton where it was launched.

“The first licensed independent Black music radio station gave us all a sense of pride and belonging.

Play the Choice jingle

“There has been no other to replace it, and we owe a great deal to its co-founders Patrick Berry and Neil Kenlock.

“Choice FM will forever live in the hearts of the people of Lambeth.”

line-up at ceremony
Wayne Turney, Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, Philip Normal, Daddy Ernie and Neil Kenlock
Photograph: ©Lewis Patrick

Plaque campaigner and former Choice FM DJ Daddy Ernie said: “On Saturday 31 March 1990 a station was born that changed the sound of UK radio forever.

“Choice FM came from humble beginnings at Trinity Gardens and was the sound the community was longing for.

“It played the type of music that mainstream radio didn’t play, making global stars from R&B, reggae, dancehall and soca artists.

“Now we pay homage and unveil a symbol to mark where it all started.”

Smooth FM presenter and former Choice FM DJ Angie Greaves said: “Choice FM completely changed the way that the 15-to-24 demographic listened to radio alongside mature lovers of 90s R&B, soul, reggae and soca.

“It created connections between cultures through the music. Those continuous jams will always be a part of my soul and will also be part of the huge platform of my radio career.”

Co-founder Neil Kenlock said: “Many Black British people and those from many other communities remember Choice FM and the strong heritage that it has left behind.

“The station gave opportunities to UK and international artists, businesses, local community groups and charities like the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust who didn’t have a media outlet.

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“Since Choice FM, there has never been another Black-owned, commercial licensed station that broadcasts across London.

“Therefore, celebrating the anniversary is important, touching those who remember it and educating those who are not aware of this British history.

“The blue plaque will highlight the work of Windrush descendants and our huge impact on the radio and music industry in the UK.

“I’d like to thank everyone, including Lambeth council, for their support for this project.”

Dr Jak Beula, Founder of Nubian Jak Community Trust, said: “Honouring Choice FM with a blue heritage plaque feels like Nubian Jak has come full circle.

“It was the station that helped launch the Nubian Jak brand.

“Memorialising the space where Britain’s first licensed Black-owned radio station had its base, will solidify its place permanently in broadcasting history.”

Former director Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE said: “Choice FM was at the vanguard of change that exploded Black music and its iconic fashion and cultural derivatives into British mainstream society.

“This well-deserved blue plaque immortalises the time and the place where Black music, fashion, and arts became the norm and not the exception.

mayor in official chain
Lambeth mayor Philip Normal speaking at the ceremony

“Choice FM and its loyal stakeholders and listeners spawned a generational cultural shift across all communities, enriching our society as a whole for the better.”

The plaque was funded by the Choice FM Blue Plaque Group and other members of the Black community who made donations through a Go Fund Me campaign set up to give people an opportunity to support the campaign for the plaque and to raise awareness of the history behind it.

The group said that funds raised (£4,500)will also be donated to an amazing charity, The African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT).

Choice FM worked closely with ACLT to help provide hope for patients living with blood cancer and other illnesses. The Choice FM Blue Plaque Group continues to support its work.

The plaque is part of Lambeth’s council’s ongoing scheme to place blue plaques on local buildings to commemorate either famous former residents or the building itself.

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