The History Of House Music And WBMX


This interview with Lee Michaels, Frankie Hollywood Rodriguez, Sal Amato and Armando Rivera happened at about 10PM on Wednesday, June 14th, 2006. There’s a lot of knowledge here and it comes from the man who made it happen, Lee Michaels.


From the HOUSE MUSIC CAPITAL of the world, where house music was born, the history of the old WBMX website begins with Armando Rivera who’s owned it forever! Sal Amato finally convinced Armando to put the site up in 2004. Due to Entercom bringing the WBMX call letters to Chicago, rather than fight them over the domain (which we WOULD HAVE WON), we chose to point that domain to another website and created the WBMXHISTORY.COM website. In 2020, we decided to move the most important content here to The Beat Chicago.

WBMX AM and FM back in the day? Urban radio is where “dance” music was reborn in Chicago. All other stations were playing the standard music now known as “retro” (Stray Cats, Tommy Tutone, The Go-Go’s etc) but WBMX was going where no other station would (until about 15 years later). Picking up where Chicago’s defunct Disco DAI left off, WBMX was an R&B urban radio station that embraced club mixes which made it the #1 station in Chicago.

By the summer of 1985, Doug Banks, Marco Spoon and Veronique were sitting behind the microphone of Chicago’s number one music station. Under the guidance of Lee Michaels, the radio station would go down in history as the legendary place where house music was brought from the clubs to the masses. It should be noted that artists from The Talking Heads, Heaven 17, Yaz, and many other non-traditional ‘urban’ artists were played on WBMX in regular day time rotation as well as in the mixes. Something that ‘urban’ radio seldom, if ever does anymore. In fact, it’s quite unlistenable.

While many associate WBMX with house music, revisionist history acts as if “house” music existed forever. It didn’t, in fact, it was a small phenomenon before tracks like ‘Your Love’, ‘Music Is The Key’, ‘Jack Your Body’ and others exploded on the scene which lent legitimacy to a musical style created in CHICAGO.

Whatever you think you know about the ‘term’ “house music”, whether you heard it was the music played at a club called The Warehouse or you heard some lady telling Jesse Saunders to lower the music in his house as at ‘party’ – no matter what, it is and always was born here.

Once “house” music as a style, a ‘genre’ of music was then born… Whichever theory you want to believe, there’s only one place where it got the attention in the beginning to become the force it is today, here at WBMX.

Much of revised history calls DISCO “deep house”, or “house” when in fact many of those so-called “house” records weren’t called “house” records when they were released, they’ve been lumped in with a term that’s been as bastardized as “Old Skool” through the years just so it could be labeled [improperly]. WBMX had already hit it’s #1 status before house music exploded, there was so much more to WBMX and now it’s all here for you to enjoy anytime. Let’s not forget, if disco had never died, there would’ve never been a need for ‘house music‘.

While there are many ‘stories’ about WBMX, house music, etc. The reality is this: The people who run this site actually did it, they built it, they left ‘their block’. Many of the stories are told from a perspective where many telling it never knew much other than their area of comfort, where they lived, where they went to school. We were there and everywhere else so you get the full perspective here, not just a small amount of it told through a narrow prism of knowledge.

Back in the day, you had to tape things, beg friends to tape things so you wouldn’t miss any of it. With the way this website is set up, you get all the mixes you can handle, all the history, all the music without ever having your cassette player eat your tapes.

The History Of House Music and WBMX

What is house music? Where did it start? Who started it? How did the DJ get to universal appeal status? The truth is this; ‘House’ as a term was used to describe the popular music played at the Warehouse in Chicago or it was Jesse Saunders being yelled at by a neighbor to turn the music down in his house at a ‘house party’ he was throwing.

The music was discussed in a small community of people at that time, not the entire music world; it took the exposure that the mixes on WBMX gave it to accomplish that – otherwise it would not have become the popular music style it did and that is NOT debatable. It was the invention of the 12-inch disco single, the ‘dub’ version and the instrumental that set DJs in action who were talented and creative enough to ‘mix’ the record and ‘remix’ it, give it a flare while working ‘live’ in the DJ booth of the club. The next progression was for the DJ to ‘produce’ or ‘remix’ the song in the studio for the label/artist which would then be released for the public to buy as well as the other DJs to play (via record pool ‘promos’, Billboard Reporters and more).

When someone asked you to play ‘some house’ in the ’80′s it meant the ‘SOUND’ that was coming out of Chicago on DJ International, Hot Mix 5, Traxx, IHR and other labels whose records were all being played and promoted in the clubs and selling massively (which led to licensing deals with overseas labels and the ‘spread’ of the Chicago house sound) because one million people a week were listening to it on WBMX’s mix shows. That is what took the music style out of small clubs and into the mainstream where it was able to flourish and make stars of Marshall Jefferson, Chip E, Ralphi Rosario, Darryl Pandy, Steve Silk Hurley and more.

After a while, NYC came on board after the early-mid ’80′s onslaught of the Arthur Baker sound and their ‘Garage music’ (for song styles that were played and hot at Paradise Garage). Detroit had their twist on the sound; London came on board and they all added their little flare to it all but, in the beginning, it was Chicago where it was made, Chicago where it was played and Chicago where it was given the life to breathe on the FM where it could be exposed and accepted by millions of people.

The Warehouse was not the only place on Earth playing these songs and Frankie Knuckles was not the only DJ playing these songs. There were many other places, many other incredibly talented DJs who played the music, mixed it, played the styles, [got fired for playing it by ignorant club owners] and more.

As years have gone by, people romanticize about what it was, where it was, and who played or did what not having all the facts right because either they weren’t there and have heard stories romanticized improperly by others or just have a little bit of knowledge about it and have assembled what they think to be in their heads. Many never left their block and had no idea that what they loved was loved by hundreds of thousands of others around the city, the suburbs and beyond.

The fact of the matter is this: Few radio stations played mixes in the U.S.A. In the late 70′s when disco was the music of choice in the clubs, it was DISCO, R&B and FUNK being played in clubs in most major markets (for the most part). As we came into the 80′s, the ‘house sound’ was open to many interpretations based on a 4-4 beat, lush strings and rhythm arrangements ala Philly Intl. (for example) along with the electronic, Italo-disco sound. The Warehouse in Chicago was a popular club for many back in the day [as were hundreds of others]. Back then, many record buyers who couldn’t find the music played in the clubs at the standard retailers (Musicland, Sound Warehouse etc) would go to “DJ shops” that sold the dance music and the “house music” people were looking for.

As electronics allowed more and more people to create music, the logical progression of a DJ was to produce songs. It was in 1983 the ‘Chicago House Sound” started its journey around the world. While it can be argued which track was the first track (Z Factor? Scott Smokin’ Silz?, Jesse Saunders? etc.) what is not arguable is that ‘house music’ was now a style of music being created, no longer just what was being played in a club called the Warehouse. It’s inspiration was from imported dance songs and the 4-4- groove, it was about ‘a feeling.’

WBMX AM & FM in Chicago was already doing mixes but as the DJ’s in the city starting putting out their own tracks, the mixes began to reflect those tracks more and more; ‘house’ was being aired and played on a regular basis. The record pools were abuzz, college stations began playing it and WBMX was exposing over a million people a week to it all in the mixes from the Hot Mix 5 and other great DJ’s in Chicago. It was this one radio station where mixes were playing this ‘sound’, a sound that wasn’t just played in black clubs, gay clubs, it was played in many kinds of clubs because it was “DANCE MUSIC”. Having a major market radio station playing mixes with what we now call ‘classic house’ enabled the music to crossover into the ‘mainstream’ where it could become accepted by more than just the people in the clubs. If it wasn’t exposed the way it was it would’ve never turned into the massive style of music it is today. Through that exposure, WBMX and the first true ‘superstar DJ’s came to be and single-handedly helped rebuild dance music, its acceptance and its success after disco’s demise as well as being one of the first true ‘alternatives’ to the Pop/Top 40, Rock, the up n’ coming ‘Classic Rock’ explosion and AC (Adult Contemporary) formats on the radio.

How did it happen? Was it the right place at the right time? This is the REAL STORY told from the man who put it together and made it happen.

You’ll learn about the influence of the record pools, the dance music scene, and house music being spread by club jocks in Chicago and around the country; The forming of the record labels that brought house music to the world; The invention and legalization of the ‘mix tape market’ and more. It was all like a bolt of lightning that hit in the ’80′s and built the foundations for how things are done today.

Lee Michaels put the wheels in motion as many got in to drive. The man who took ‘disco DJ’s’ and brought their energy and their ‘alternative’ to the day-day programming of the radio station.

From the Hot Mix 5′s mixes, the house music used in those mixes, the logic used in programming that music into ‘regular rotation’ on the radio, the DJ’s who mixed it, the move from WBMX to B96 that saw Bad Boy Bill, Frankie Hollywood Rodriguez and others become superstars in the ’90′s and beyond. CLICK HERE FOR THE LOST INTERVIEW WITH BAD BOY BILL!

This is the real story,

You can Google any of their names and a million sites will come up with their names and their contributions to so many avenues in the entertainment business. This interview is the truth, its the good, the bad and the ugly. Its where alliances were formed in the business that still exist to this day and its the history of the DJ, from just a person playing songs in a club to what a DJ is today. The story of those who laid the foundations for Armin, Tiesto, David Guetta and so many more today.

The ‘Godfathers’ of ‘House Music’

Frankie Knuckles, Farley Jackmaster Funk, Jesse Saunders, Chip E, Matt Warren, Mickey Mixin’ Oliver, Gene Hunt, Ralphi Rosario, Scott Smokin’ Silz, Mike Hitman Wilson, Bad Boy Bill and more.

The U.S. Dance Music Hall of Fame
The U.S. Dance Music Hall of Fame was created to pay respect to those of the past as well as those today and into the future; to honor their accomplishments, their sacrifices and all that they’ve done, did and will do [in the future] that helped make dance music in all forms get from there to here throughout the years.

And now… here’s the history and the Real Story