Word spread quickly about popular DJ Jesus “Chuy” Gomez’ sudden firing from KMEL on Friday, a station where he had been employed since 1993. Gomez’ Facebook page quickly filled up with testimonials of support, which soon spread out into the broader social media landscape.
Davey-D, a former KMEL employee who was himself unceremoniously let go in 2001, noted in his popular blog that Gomez’ firing was part of a pattern of cost-cutting measures by KMEL’s parent company Clear Channel and rival company Cumulus Media which has impacted local radio, replacing local air personalities with syndicated programming originating elsewhere.
In an exclusive interview with Oakulture, Gomez expressed appreciation for the widespread support.
“Man, I couldn’t even put it in words,” Gomez said. “I knew that people liked to listen to me, and were touched, but over 20 years, you forget how many people you touched and in what way… A kid hit me up on Twitter earlier and said, ‘my stepmom had her first high school slow dance with Chuy Gomez’ … Another kid said, ‘Chuy gave me my first hip-hop CD ever.’ It’s just crazy.” Artists ranging from Big Sean to E-40 to Too $hort supported Gomez, “even Mr. Moviephone unfollowed KMEL, he said, ‘in solidarity, I am unfollowing KMEL.’ That’s 777-FILM, are you kidding me? It’s been overwhelming, bro.”
Asked what he’d like to say to all his fans, Gomez remarked, “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye and thank you for all the years of support and love and times that we had together. So that’s really something I feel bad about. Everything comes to an end, but the fact that I wasn’t able to say goodbye was a little foul. But, other than that, I’m okay with it coming to an end. 20 years [on KMEL] was a great run. I’m just a little disappointed I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my peoples.”
Gomez’ long tenure coincided with sea change after sea change in the commercial radio industry. When he arrived at KMEL in 1993, the station helped play a role in the ascension of Bay Area hip-hop’s Golden Age, breaking hit records by numerous local artists. Three years later, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 became law, which paved the way for mass consolidation of radio stations, including KMEL’s takeover by Clear Channel. DJs started to have less input in programming decisions, airplay for local artists became more infrequent, and station operations became increasingly automated.
“Radio has never changed for me. I’ve been about connecting with the people, and being as one with them – being where they are, supporting what they do, and embracing the Bay Area,” Gomez related. Yet, he noted, the business of radio has been “ever-evolving. I went from cutting actual tape while editing to editing on a computer. I went from playing records to playing carts to playing CDs to everything being on a computer. The business itself will continue to evolve and change.”
DJs have always played a huge role in America’s pop landscape, with radio DJs specifically being gatekeepers of culture, from jazz jocks like Symphony Sid to rock and rollers like Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack, to R&B legends like Frankie Crocker, all the way up into the hip-hop era, when Bay Area DJs like Davey-D, Gomez, Kevvy Kev and Billy Jam became symbols of the community they represented.
Growing up as a kid, Gomez says he kept his dial tuned to Spanish-language station KBRG. “I listened to a guy named Salvador Homero Campos and used to request records, and then, having the opportunity to get into radio through Marcos Gutierrez, and working with the likes of Rick Chase–next to Wolfman Jack my all-time hero—it’s phenomenal. Who would’ve thought I would have gotten a chance to break bread with Ice Cube, 40, $hort and Mr. Fab? It’s a child’s dream come true.”
The loss of beloved air personalities with ties to the communities they broadcast to is a bit disconcerting. However, there will always be a need for terrestrial radio, Gomez says, even in an era of Internet and satellite radio. “There’s only so much Sirius or XM, or a syndicated radio show can do for you, as long as the locality is what people appreciate.” Being able to shout-out listeners directly over the airwaves, he says, is “connectivity.” Voice-tracking and syndication of “other voices into our market” detracts from that connection, Gomez notes.
One reason why commercial radio remains popular, especially among black and brown listeners, is that it’s free. “That’s the best part of it,” Gomez says, noting that you need a certain amount of bandwidth on your phone to access Pandora, while Sirius and XM are paid subscription services.
Asked to list his most memorable experiences during his time on-air, Gomez said “being part of the [Bay Area hip-hop] movement” in ‘92-‘94 when “everybody got signed to a major label” was at the top. He also recalled having Mac Dre do a song about him and receiving a gift for his son from Busta Rhymes. But he has equal appreciation for the toy drives, food drives and community events he participated in over the years. “If you show up at someone’s block party or fund-raiser, it means so much to them,” he remarked.
Gomez says he’s got some job interviews scheduled already, but plans to spend the next month “sitting back and enjoying my kids.” He’s hopeful he’ll land a slot with another local station, preferably between 6am and 6pm. “I wanna be in the Bay,” he said.
Pretty tight week of music at the New Parish last week, highlighted by amazing shows by jazz bassist Derrick Hodge and Zap Mama. Both shows upheld the premise of live music as an immersive, interactive near-religious experience, shared by a community of like-minded folks. In those moments, the outside world and all its stresses, strife, pressures, and artificially-imposed conflicts seem to melt away. All that remains is the music, the melody, the harmony, the rhythm and the movement from within the soul chamber.
Hodge’s show was preceded by a typically amazing and musically-rich performance by Kev Choice, debuting some new songs with a band which included vocalist Viveca Hawkins and bassist Uriah Duffy. Hodge, on the other hand, was more about soloing than ensemble performances, yet his solos got into “the zone” early on and stayed there the entire evening. When that happens, internal space expands, the mind is freed, and the environment becomes very, very comforting.
Zap Mama, OTOH, affected Oakland like one of the Greek muses personified, or perhaps an African orisha come to the stage to take her children to her happy place of worship. Aided by two backup singers, the Zairian/Belgian vocalist often seemed to be speaking in tongues, although in truth, she was showcasing a polyphonic/harmonic tonal repertoire which tends to transcend basic song structure, making individual lyric lines less important than the overall phrasing and delivery. Zap Mama wrapped the enthused, sold-out audience in a silky cocoon of melody during her show, which included hits like “Yelling Away” and “Bandy Bandy” and ended with six (!) encores.
Disco Volante’s last hurrah was Monday night, as the downtown Oakland bar/ restaurant closed for good. The restaurant/bar went out with a bang; as second-line New Orleans-style band MJ & the Brass Boppers played standards like “I’m Walkin” and “St. James Infirmary,” patrons drank up nearly all of Volante’s remaining bar stock – all drinks were priced at just $5. One high-end Scotch connoisseur remarked he’d quaffed $70 worth of booze for just $20.
The venue opened its doors in November 2010, and was an early symbol of downtown Oakland’s resurgence, offering art-deco chic ambience, fried avocado tacos, pear martinis, and good music: the Broun Fellinis did a monthly night, and the 45 Sessions started out there, before moving to the Legionnaire Saloon earlier this year. Volante’s fate was sealed by the proliferation of new places which soon opened in the nearby area, including the Tribune Tavern, the Legionnaire, and the sports bar Halftime. For the record, Oakulture was a fan of the Volante burger, an upscale marvel topped with white cheddar, which came with a side of bacon jam. Farewell Volante; you will be missed.
“Zigaboo [Modeliste, the Meters’ legendary drummer] has in fact lived here for quite a long time, and over the decades the Meters have found their way multiple times into classic hip-hop tracks by Bay artists, mainly via Del, Digital Underground, Goldy, & DJ Shadow.”
This week’s picks:
Clash of the Titans Tour with the Alkoholiks, Casual, Cali Agents, 8/21, 9pm, $15 pre-sale, New Karibbean City, 1408 Webster St.
Daddy Rolo B-Day Bash @ Set-Up Shop, 8/21, 9pm, Luka’s, 2221 Broadway
Daddy Rolo B-Day Bash #2, 8/22, 9pm, Bella Ultra Lounge, 561 11th St.
Baba Ken, Okulolo, KTO, and Jacob & Martha, 8/23, $10-$15, 8pm, Subterranean Art House, 2179 Bancroft Way, Berkeley
Blunt Club Oakland feat. Masta Ace and Wordsworth, 8/23, 9pm, $10-$15, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.