BREAKING THE ICE
With Hip Hop’s present global dominance, it’s hard to imagine a time when rap wasn’t played on the radio. While nowadays there can be as many as three stations in any given city with rap in heavy rotation, fans were not always so lucky. Bronx born DJ Chuck Chillout was among the first DJs to have his own show on a commercial radio station. WRKS 98.7 Kiss FM in New York City. “I was on Kiss from 1983 to 1989.” he remembers. “Then I was at WBLS off and on.” Starting out as a local DJ practicing in the basement of his Bronx home, Chuck quickly moved from one level to the next, learning as he went. Starting out with a pair of S.O. 2000’s purchased by his mother Sally Turner (R.I.P.), a club mixer and some Gemini speakers, Chuck went from the basement to rocking parks, clubs and eventually the radio. He got much of his practice in legendary spots like Echo Park, Oliville Park, Valley Park and nightclub The T Connection. In an era where a DJ was known as much for his record collection as his skills. Chuck built an impressive collection of breakbeats.
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WQHT-FM Hot 97 – New York NY
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WRKS-FM Kiss 98.7 – New York NY
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WGCI-FM 107.5 FM WGCI – Chicago IL
WJMN-FM Jam’n 94.5 – Boston MA
WRDW-FM Wired 96.5 – Philadelphia PA
“I had ‘Apache,’ ‘Bongo Rock.’ ‘Blow Your Head,’ ‘Paradise,’ ’Swat’ and ‘Catch A Groove,’ just to name a few,” Chuck recalls. Chuck became friends with a colleague named DJ Breakout, who introduced him to Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Red Alert and other members of the Zulu Nation. While hanging out with Red Alert one day, Chuck met a man named Barry Mayo, who was the head of Kiss FM and Hot 97 at the time. Mayo told Red and Chuck that he was interested in putting Hip Hop music on the radio on a regular basis.
“We were like, ‘Yeah, right. Get the fuck out of here,’” Chuck recalls. But soon Red and Chuck submitted tapes to Tony Q, who worked for Mayo. The tapes contained hits by Kool & The Gang and Joyce Sims mixed in with Kurtis Blow, Whodini, Run DMC and breakbeats. The mixes won them spots on Kiss, legitimizing Hip Hop on the New York airwaves. “We played whatever we wanted.” says Chuck. “Barry and Tony wanted the true essence of what was going on. They would go to The Roxy on Friday nights and hear Bambaataa play to 3000 people. That’s when Hip Hop first came downtown to Manhattan and from there it went mainstream.” The eclectic downtown crowds of White, Black, Latino and Asian patrons helped the music spread beyond the Bronx borders. “Madonna was the first White girl I saw hanging out there,” says Chuck. With the clubs setting the pace.
Chuck brought the sound and culture of Hip Hop to the radio. Chuck and Red were later joined on the airwaves by other Hip Hop DJs, namely Marley Marl and Mister Magic on WBLS and The Awesome Two (Special K ana Teddy Ted) on WHBI. But for Chuck, being among the first was a mixed blessing. “For the first three years, we didn’t get a fuckin’ dime from KISS,” he vents. ‘They felt they could get anybody ‘to rub a record.’ We were doing three hour mixes on Friday night from 9 to 12. They had commercials on during our slots, selling them for $500. But we were new to all of it. We were just happy to be on the air.” Like many of today’s radio personalities, it wasn’t long
before Chuck Chillout decided to record music and manage artists. In 1989, he released an album with rapper Kool Chip called Masters of the Rhythm. Among the singles were “Rhythm is the Master” and “I’m Large,” with videos directed by Ralph McDaniels of Video Music Box fame.
WHEN HIP HOP GOT THE COLD SHOULDER FROM URBAN RADIO, DJ CHUCK CHILLOUT HELPED BRING THE HEAT FROM THE STREET ONTO THE AIRWAVES
“We were the third rap group signed to Polygram, so they really didn’t understand what rap was about,” says Chuck. “First it was Kurtis Blow, then the Fat Boys, then us, so they still didn’t know how to work a rapper. Def Jam back then was good at that.”
Eventually Chuck helped discover groups like Black Moon and produced for a group called the DisMasters. While he used to play the songs of groups he was affiliated with on the radio, he didn’t see it as a conflict of interest. “I played everybody back then,” he says.
“It’s a different era now. I gave everybody shine.”
It’s easy to see that Chuck is not altogether happy with the current state of urban radio.
“Right now radio is a piece of shit,” he barks.
“Too much ass kissing. If you’re not down with this person or that person, you’re not getting on the radio. Back then it was about playing records and making it happen. If something was hot, it got played.”
But beyond the state of radio. Chuck is more upset about the state of DJs in Hip Hop. In the era of the park jam, the DJ was the focal point; he would bring an MC on to rock if he chose. Now, with the proliferation of DAT machines and bands, the DJ is an optional rather than essential part of the show. “A brother rappin’ with a band is not rap to me,” he says flatly. “Rap is two turntables and a mic.”
WE WERE DOING THREE HOUR MIXES ON FRIDAY NIGHT FROM 9 TO 12. BUT WE WERE NEW TO ALL OF IT. WE, WERE JUST HAPPY TO BE ON THE AIR.
Currently, Chuck is doing satellite radio for the Raw Channel on XM and is managing an artist named Fort Knox. Through his company Full Blast Entertaiment (973 242 2040), he does event promotions, tapes and remixes.
But, while he wishes things were different on mainstream radio, he wouldn’t mind returning. “I’d love to go back to WBLS,” he admits. On occasion Chuck does live broadcasts from clubs for the station. “Big shout out to Vinny Brown.” ©
Nikki D and Chuck
CHUCK CHILLOUT’S TOP 5 RADIO MOMENTS
•Being able to play songs that he produced, like The DisMasters song, “Small Time Hustlers”
•Magic and Marley Marl vs. Chuck and Red Alert. “Magic used to talk a lot of shit, but he was cool.”
•Breaking Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without a Pause” on the radio •Having LL Cool J on his show around ’87
•Program directors beefed with me playing 2 Live Crew’s ‘Me So Horny,’ but I played it anyway. It was hot in the street.”
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