The Beat Chicago

Doug Banks: Chicago Radio Stars From Back In The Day


Doug Banks was one of the superstar DJs here on Chicago radio back in the 1980s, 90’s and up to his untimely passing in April 2016. This is one of the many features to come spotlighting some of the great talents from back in the day on Chicago radio.

When I put these together, I try to add a little personalization to them because at one time or another I either knew these gifted talents, worked with them, close with someone who was instrumental in their successes or provided services for them or had a dialog with them.

Doug Banks was born Calvin Douglas Banks Jr. on June 9, 1958, in the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. The Banks family moved to Detroit where, when in high school, Doug’s radio career would begin at Southfield High’s WSHJ when he was just 15 years old. From high school, Doug was offered a temporary gig as the late-night weekend DJ on WDRQ (Super Q) in Detroit. After a year in college, Doug was offered $50,000.00 by Jim Maddox at 1580 AM KDAY in L.A.

From there, Doug’s career took him to KFI (L.A.), KDIA (Oakland), KLAV (Las Vegas) and in 1979, he’d wind up with Lee Michaels at KMJM, Majic 108 in St. Louis as “The Unknown DJ.” The two would work together on and off for the next 10 plus years at various outlets.

As Lee Michaels said, “I picked him up at the St. Louis airport, he had no baggage, just a brown paper bag with a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, gym shoes and some socks.” It wouldn’t be the last time Michaels would bring Doug Banks in for success.

Michaels said that the station was playing on “The Unkown Comic” success made popular on Chuck Barris’ “The Gong Show.” Doug was “The Unkown DJ” for a week or two until a live show hosted by the radio station at the old Keil Auditorium. The Unknown Comic” came on stage with the bag on his head, took it off and was introduced as Doug Banks for the first time at the radio station.

Lee would wind up in Chicago where Barry Mayo was the PD at WGCI. Lee’s position was “System Music Coordinator.” As Lee remembers, Barry had also just come on board from Little Rock AK. and Doug Banks wouldn’t be far behind.

famous and ross wbmx chicagoOnce Michaels accepted the offer at WBMX in 1980, he was doing multiple duties including mornings as “Famous and Ross.” In 1981, Lee wanted to get off the air and focus on his main job, PD at the radio station so he brought in Doug Banks.

Lee would phase himself out of the morning show but not before the entire team was doing live broadcasts as “The Saturday Morning Breakfast Party” at clubs like the Taste Entertainment Center on 63rd and Lowe, Dingbats on McClurg Court just off Michigan Ave. as well as other locations.

As Banks and Company settled in at WBMX, the radio station finally hit paydirt by becoming the #1 music station in Chicago, overtaking WGCI which had been at the top of the heap for years.

wbmx tops chicago ratings in 1985

When Michaels left WBMX for crosstown rival WGCI, Doug Banks would be right behind him. Talk about a power lineup! Bob Wall was doing mornings, Tom Joyner was doing afternoon drive and Doug Banks was doing nights on WGCI. When Bob Wall ran into personal issues, Banks moved to mornings where great talents like Bonnie DeShong, Harold Lee Rush and others were part of the team.

As Banks moved into the ’90s, his good fortune expanded nationwide. Signing a major deal in the same fashion as another Chicago radio icon, the “Fly Jock” Tom Joyner, Doug received an offer from ABC Radio Networks in Dallas to do a nationally syndicated afternoon drive show, “The Doug Banks Show” which would cover two decades under various names for the show.

Doug’s stellar personality would crossover into TV as well. Chicago’s WLS-TV offered him the opportunity to work as a co-host with Janet Davies on the local show “190 North.” Banks would also appear on many New Year’s Eve broadcasts and coverage of the annual Bud Billiken Parade.

By 2014, Doug’s health issues took their toll, he took some time off from his show over the winter, returning later only to succumb to those issues in 2016.

Over the years, Doug had received numerous radio awards, including being honored at the 12th Annual Living Legends Foundation Gala in New York City for his outstanding achievements and contributions as a trailblazer in the radio entertainment community. With his strong track record of assisting various grassroots organizations, Doug was extremely successful in reaching out to and mobilizing the Urban community.

In January 2006, in collaboration with Disney and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, he launched The Doug Banks Literacy & Scholarship Initiative. The program supports the development of a fully literate American population by raising awareness about illiteracy and getting the private sector actively involved in supporting literacy across the country.

In closing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Doug did a bunch of drops for us on the WBMX website back in 2005. Out of respect for him, we pulled them after he passed.

Below you’ll find some great tributes, Doug doing his thing on the air, wishing Farley Jackmastetr Funk a happy birthday, links to more information as well as airchecks of Doug Banks through the years. For a great interview with Doug courtesy of The History Makers website, click here.

Source: Sal Amato, Lee Michaels

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