Turn up the stereo: List of disc jockeys who helped shape the Detroit radio community

From WLLZ to Smooth Jazz V98.7, Detroit has had its fair share of legacy stations, DJs

Queen with Ken Calvert (Ken Calvert)

It’s no surprise that there are many famous radio disc jockeys who came from Detroit. There are so many musical references to the city, and besides that, Detroit has had many sports radio anchors who helped pave the way for broadcast journalism.

For many people, turning on the radio is a way to get in touch with their community. The first radio station in Detroit went on air Aug. 20, 1920. WWJ recently celebrated 100 years of being a radio station. According to the Detroit Historical Society, the station was founded by the Scripps family, which founded the Detroit News. In May 1922, the station went from being known as 8MK to WWJ.

While WWJ is one of many legacy radio stations in Detroit, let’s take a look at radio personalities from the 20th and 21st centuries who have helped shape the radio community.

1940s

Jack Paar - WJR

  • Growing up in Jackson, Paar started his career at WJR. From there the comedian made his way to The Tonight Show and afterward had his own show, The Jack Paar Program. Being the second host of the Tonight Show, Paar hosted from 1957-1962. According to IMDB, the Tonight Show starring Jack Paar was rebranded in 1959 to The Jack Paar Show. His show had a variety of topics including interviews with celebrities, musical acts, comedy and home movies of trips Paar took with his family.

1950s

Jim Dunbar - WXYZ

  • A disc jockey for WXYZ for two years in the 50s. Dunbar got his start in college at Michigan State, where he did play-by-play football for East Lansing’s WKAR. According to the Radio Hall of Fame, Dunbar was inducted in 1999. Throughout his career, he has worked at stations in San Francisco, New Orleans and Chicago.

Karl Haas - WJR

  • The creator of one of the longest classical programs in broadcast history, according to the Radio Hall of Fame. Haas began his career at WWJ in the early 50s. According to the hall of fame, Haas hosted a weekly preview of the Detroit Symphony’s concerts. The Adventures in Good Music was started in 1959 at WJR. The classical program aired nationally from 1970 to 2007, according to Discogs.

1960s

Bob Perkins - WGPR and WJLB

  • Starting his radio career in the Motor City in the early 60s, Perkins served in many positions at WGPR, an all-jazz radio station. After working in the biz for 58 years, reports show that Perkins retired from radio this year. “It was a small station. The radio station was owned by the Black Masons of Detroit,” said Perkins in an interview with the Philadelphia Sun. “The general manager told me one of his announcers would be leaving in a few days and I could try out for his job. I told the general manager about the job offer I had just received from the insurance company, and he replied, ‘Take whichever job comes first.’”

“Uncle” Russ Gibb - WKNR, WWJ, WRBR and WKMH

  • The man who wore many hats in the Detroit music business. From disc jockey to owner of the Grande Ballroom, Gibb had a strong influence on what music was performed in Detroit. His influence was so strong that he started the “Paul is Dead” rumor in 1969. Growing up in Dearborn, Gibb went to Fordson High School where he later taught at. Gibb was a teacher in Dearborn Public Schools for many years. Besides radio and music promotion, Gibb also hosted his own TV show “Russ Gibb at Random” which was aired locally.

Read more: Grande Ballroom in Detroit added to National Register of Historic Places

Russ Gibb (Lance Rosol)

Casey Kasem - WNIC

Born in Detroit in 1932, Kasem was soon to be a household name and voice. According to the Detroit Historical Society, the on-air personality American Top 40 program was broadcasted on over 1,000 stations across the nation in the late 80s. While he did not start his career in Detroit, Kasem learned his chops on the west coast in the 60s. Besides being an on-air personality, Kasem was a voice actor for “Shaggy” in Scooby-Doo and was a narrator for NBC’s national promotional announcements from 1977 to 1981. In 2003, Ryan Seacrest took over the American Top 40 program. Kasem passed away in 2014.

Read more: Casey Kasem’s daughter pushes Michigan lawmakers to pass elder abuse bills

FILE - In this April 27, 1981 file photo, Casey Kasem and his wife Jean smile as he receives his own "Star" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Kasem, the smooth-voiced radio broadcaster who became the king of the top 40 countdown, died Sunday, June 15, 2014, according to Danny Deraney, publicist for Kasem's daughter, Kerri. He was 82. (AP Photo/File) (Associated Press)

1970s

Doug Banks - WDRQ

  • A Southfield High School graduate, the former WDRQ radio personality learned his skills at his high school radio station. According to the Associated Press, Banks was given a late-night weekend show at WDRQ. After graduating from the University of Michigan, Banks built up his portfolio in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. According to CNN, Banks settled in the Windy City in the 80s. Banks was on-air for 30 years for an urban radio format. In 1995, Banks shows were starting to be syndicated. The Chicago staple and former Southfield resident passed away in 2016.

Donnie “The Love Bug” Simpson - WJLB

  • Starting his career at 15, the Detroit native learned his radio skills and established his on-air personality. Music has been an influence in Simpson’s life from a young age. Growing up his mother owned Simpson’s Record Shop that was located by East McNichols Road and Joseph Campeau Avenue. After working at WJLB, “The Love Bug” relocated to Washington D.C. A man with many talents, Simpson began his television career in the early 80s. According to his website, the on-air personality hosted BET’s Video Soul. The television show lasted till 2000. Simpson was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2020.

Ken “The Casual One” Calvert - WWWW, WABX, WRIF, WLLZ, WJR and WCSX

  • An icon for Detroit rock radio, Calvert served the Motor City airwaves for over 40 years. Calvert got his start in the early 70s at WWWW. The disc jockey has interviewed big names like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and members of Queen. During his career, Calvert was the public address announcer for the Detroit Pistons during the Bad Boys era. Active on Twitter, Calvert provides the history of rock ‘n’ roll and the influence it still has today. Besides doing on-air work, Calvert also worked for Sony Music Corporation as a local and regional promotion and marketing manager. According to his website, Calvert was producing podcasts that dives into the world of rock.
Ken Calvert (Ken Calvert)

Frank Beckmann - WKNR, WDRQ and WJR

  • Beckmann spent 48 years behind the microphone as the constant voice from the golden tower of the Fisher Building. He started out doing sports before he branched into talk radio. On top of working at WJR and having his own talk show, “The Frank Beckmann Show”, Beckmann also was the announcer at the Big House for the University of Michigan and for the Detroit Tigers.
Detroit broadcast legend Frank Beckmann retires after nearly 50 years

1980s

The Electrifying Mojo - WGPR

  • The first disc jockey to play a techno song on the radio. In the 80s, The Electrifying Mojo who was considered the most mysterious DJ, played Alley of Your Mind by CYBOTRON. According to visitdetroit.com, Mojo, whose birth name is Charles Johnson, helped lay down the building blocks for techno. The Music Origins Project writes that MOJO had no musical bounds who would have Frank Zappa and Gary Newman as a part of his radio sets. The organization notes that this mysterious Detroit disc jockey was known for breaking new artists on the city’s airwaves, exposing music lovers to bands like B-52s.

Related: A look inside Detroit’s historic Black-owned radio station

1990s

Mitch Albom - WJR

  • A Detroit household name. From being an on-air broadcaster for both radio and television, best-selling author and journalist, Albom has developed his storytelling skills in different areas. On top of having a show on WJR since 1996, Albom has founded 12 charities according to the Detroit Historical Society and his website states that collectively he has sold more than 40 million copies of his books.

Jay Towers - WDRQ, WXYT and WNIC

  • Towers has been in the Detroit market since 1999. Still can be heard on WNIC and seen on Fox 2 Detroit, the media personality has been juggling both radio and TV since 2004. When first starting out in Detroit, the personality hosted “Jay Towers and the Morning Revolution” for six years. Following Towers hosted a show at WXYT with Bill McAllister. In 2010, Towers landed with WNIC and has been on air with the “Jay Towers in the Morning” show.

2000s

Mojo in the Morning - WKQI

  • Has been a morning radio show for 22 years. Currently can be heard across Michigan and Ohio out of Detroit, Grand Rapids and Toledo. Mojo, Spike and Shannon are the main personalities of the morning show that established legacy segments like “War of the Roses” and the various “Phone Scams”. The 9.55 show is considered the longest-running American morning radio talk show that airs on weekdays.

Dave & Chuck the Freak - 89x and WRIF

  • Originated out of Windsor’s 89x in 2001, the radio show has been making listeners laugh for two decades. Now with WRIF, the morning show can be heard on 70 radio stations across North America.

Remember when 89X switched to county? Click here to read about Mark McKenzie’s experience with the format flip.

Courtesy: MySpace

Mike Valenti - WXYT

  • A diehard Spartan, Valenti has been a radio commentator in Detroit since the early 2000s. A co-host of the “Valenti and Foster” show until Foster retired in 2017, the show rebranded to “The Mike Valenti Show” after Foster’s retirement. In 2017, Rico Beard joined Valenti and the show rebranded again as “The Mike Valenti Show with Rico.”
Mike Valenti, 97.1 The Ticket host (YouTube Screenshot)

2010s

Julia Lepidi - WDZH

  • From interviewing Bruno Mars to dressing up as a leprechaun at Rosie O’Grady’s, having a morning show and was live on Saturday nights from Luna. Lepidi’s personality on and off air is as colorful as her hair. Lepidi made her way up the Detroit Top 40 radio ladder after her full time start at 98.7 Amp radio in 2015. Since the format flip in 2018, Lepidi started “The Julia Show” in Chicago at B96. Her show is nationally syndicated in 15 markets across the nation. The on-air personality can also be heard nationally and locally on the “Church of Lazlo” show. Recently Lepidi won a Gracie Award for her interviews with artists such as Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, Adele and many others. Detroiters can still tune into “The Julia Show” via the Audacy app.
Julia Lepidi (Mike Ferdinande)

Josh ‘Bru’ Brubaker - WDVD and WDRQ

  • If you don’t listen to the radio but are on TikTok, you may recognize “Bru”. The radio personality moved out to LA in 2021 and has recently became syndicated. Brubaker worked in the Detroit market for a couple of years and was heard on WDVD and WDRQ. On top of being on air, he most recently was on the Netflix reality competition show, The Circle. Click here to learn more about his 3 million followers on TikTok.
Radio personality Josh 'Bru' Brubaker in iconic Fisher Building (Jimmy Nguyen)

There are so many talented DJs who have made their mark in Detroit. Remember Nights with Alice Cooper? What about 105.1 Magic and 93.9 the River? Tell me some of your favorite on-air personalities and email me your favorite radio moments at ewashington@wdiv.com


About the Author:

Elizabeth Washington is a Digital Producer and has been with Local 4 News since April 2022.