R.I.P. radio legend Doug Banks

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    (April 12, 2016) It’s easy for lovers of and supporters of the indie music scene to look sideways at terrestrial radio. We all have our complaints ranging from static and tight playlists that allow for little or no regional variety and often snuff out best efforts of the most talented independent artists. The fact that there is limited regional variety to be found in stations has often been laid at the feet of industry consolidation and syndication.

    However, some of the best and best known syndicated personalities – jocks such as Tom Joyner and Doug Banks, who died at the much too young age of 57 – brought a mixture of joy and professionalism to the craft that hearkened back to a golden age of highly personable, socially involved, funny and insightful  DJ’s, such as legendary Chicago personalities Daddie-O Daley and Herb Kent. Banks was born in Philadelphia, raised and Detroit and worked his way up as he refined his craft in the Detroit, San Francisco and Las Vegas market before arriving in Chicago in 1986.  That’s where I first heard Doug Banks.

    It takes an out-sized personality to achieve radio stardom in the highly competitive Chicago market and Banks became just that while head afternoon drive shows at WBMZ (now WVAZ) 102.7 and WGCI 107.5. In an industry that was becoming increasingly risk averse, Banks took his share of chances. In the late 1980s, he regularly invited a raspy voiced trumpeter onto the program for conversations that could be about music or just about anything on which Miles Davis felt like opining. When Davis passed away in 1991, I thought about all that great music, but I also remembered how great it was that Banks’ show became the place where Davis was transformed into more than that old guy on parent’s or grandparents’ increasingly outdated vinyl album covers.

    By that time, I had already moved down the road to South Bend and outside of GCI’s broadcast range. However, South Bend was introduced to Banks when his nationally syndicated afternoon drive show got picked up by the local Urban Adult Contemporary station. One of syndicated radio’s unappreciated virtues stems from its ability to make a large country appear small, and Banks possessed an intimate conversational style ideally suited for the goal of drawing listeners from across the nation into his electronic living room.

    Banks had an infectious love of music and pop culture, and an easy rapport with his co-hosts. He engaged his listeners in conversations that ranged from celebrity dish to the always popular discussions of that most splendored thing called love (or lust). However, Banks did not shy from addressing the major issues of the day such as police community relations. Banks and company often kept the good times rolling, and many of his legion of radio fans did not know that Banks faced serious health problems due to the diabetes that eventually took his life.

    In the hours after his passing, statements from his two main co-hosts De De McGuire and De De Renee both struggled with their emotions as they recounted how Banks, though often very ill, never allowed his spirits to waver or gave any ground to his condition. Renee, who replaced McGuire as Banks’ co-host in 2014, said Banks’ dedication sustained her on what had to be a difficult day – given the suddenness of Banks’ passing. 

    By Howard Dukes

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