Writer Duncan Campbell died in Auckland hospital after a brief illness on Tuesday, July 3.

He was known and loved as a reggae broadcaster on Auckland's 95bFM, reggae and music writer in RipItUp music magazine and as radio news journalist. He was born in Whangarei but grew up in Auckland.

Campbell's Sunday night radio show "The Sound System" ran throughout the 1980s and may be the most taped show in the history of radio in New Zealand.

Listeners wanted to replay the new and rare reggae in their car or to post tapes to mates out of town or overseas. On social media many fans are still proud owners of cassettes of "The Sound System".

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Dom Nola (left), Duncan Campbell and DJ Dubhead (Patrick Waller). Photo / Dane Scott
Dom Nola (left), Duncan Campbell and DJ Dubhead (Patrick Waller). Photo / Dane Scott

Campbell got his start in journalism at the Auckland Star, a newspaper with high profile players such as Pat Booth and the young Campbell was willing and able to be inspired by the prior generation.

Writer Phil Gifford was also there at the time: "I knew him when he was a kid news journo, who, to be honest, was about the least likely person to become the Rasta and reggae guru he would later be. What he always had, even then, were strong opinions, and an eloquent, persuasive way of expressing them."

Campbell moved from the Auckland Star to Radio i in 1974 where he worked with similarly music-mad news journalists Ken Williams and Nigel Horrocks.

Bob Marley made a reggae fanatic out of Campbell, although he had dabbled in the Caribbean as a teen, buying Desmond Dekker's 'Israelites'. "After hearing 'Natty Dread', wrote Campbell, "I took a new path, started a radio show, spent a small fortune on records by artists hardly anyone here had ever heard of, and along the way made some lasting friendships".

When Bob Marley and the Wailers played Western Springs on 16 April 1979 Campbell wrote: "Bob Marley, seen! Stone delight on an Easter Monday, as only Jah Music can provide. Ras Bob did it, living up to all expectations. Neither mud nor petrol cuts could detract from such a gathering. The Wailers raised the Autumn temperature a dozen degrees."

For reggae fans, the bad news in 1981 was Bob Marley's death and the good news was reggae seeped into local music with the release of 'What's Be Happen' by Herbs.

Campbell wrote: "I've long been hoping that the Maori and Polynesian culture would look to reggae to provide a contemporary means of expression. This record marks a major step forward for New Zealand music. While they've borrowed the reggae idiom, they've also drawn on influences from their backgrounds. Witness the harmonies on 'Reggae's Doing Fine', an acoustic tribute to Bob Marley. The sound is pure Polynesia, showing that Herbs are far from copybook stylists."

Toni Fonoti left Herbs in 1983 to form New Zealand's first Rasta reggae group, known as 12 Tribes Of Israel and Campbell followed the group's ascent.

Fonoti appreciated Campbell's support: "He attended most of our Reggae dances from 1983-90 as one of the very few brave enough to move in our inner circle unintimidated because he was authentic with a genuine love and appreciation for Reggae. I will always remember his unique voice, his love, his genius, his work ethic."

Campbell was not just a reggae guy, he liked the way punk shook up the music scene in the late 70s.

He travelled to London in 1981 and he knocked on record company doors and scored exclusive interviews with two grumpy young men John Lydon in his PiL (Public Image Ltd) days and Paul Weller before The Jam split.

In August 1986 Campbell headed to Montego Bay, Jamaica to the enjoy the Reggae Sunsplash festival – 44 acts over four nights – the concerts started at 9pm, with the headliners on stage just prior to dawn.

He wrote: "The only word to describe Reggae Sunsplash is intoxicating, and it's more than just the strength of the local brew."

Campbell was promoted to news editor at Radio i in 1986.

During his time at the station journalistic challenges he faced included the 1981 Springbok tour and the 1985 Rainbow Warrior bombing.

After Radio i Campbell worked at TVNZ's, Teletext, ZM's news desk, sub-edited at NetGuide magazine and worked for software companies and then Campbell Content to write for websites.

Campbell returned to the airwaves in 2016 when he was invited to co-host the Sunday afternoon jazz show on 95bFM. Public awareness of Campbell as an authority on reggae, caused his knowledge of other genres to be overlooked.

Although music writing and reggae broadcasting is Campbell's unique legacy, he also contributed as one of the many radio journalists who have helped keep the public informed and our democracy more transparent and honest.

Media commentator Russell Brown loved Campbell's radio shows but also remembers him as a pro: " I admired Duncan as a writer – he wrote with the passion of a lifelong music fan and the precision of a news journalist. I know a number of news journalists who got their start with Duncan, and they all recall him as their kind, patient mentor in the trade. He was also a mate, and I can confirm that at the last party he came around to, he was as good as ever on the turntables."

* Murray Cammick co-founded RipItUp magazine, launched several record labels and continues to work as a DJ both live and on 95bFM.