One of America’s greatest deejays has died. Legendary radioman Doug Banks passed away on Monday due to complications from diabetes. His death shocked fans of the Doug Banks Radio Show, many whom had just seen him Friday at the Black Womens Expo in Chicago, where he usually broadcast his show live. He was 58.
Banks loved radio and he never backed down on a commitment. Rather than complain openly about diabetes, the affable radio personality chose to focus on the funny, which is why he made the Chicago trip despite feeling under the weather.
“I think the favorite day in the studio for me was when we talked about me being afraid of Y2K,” says DeDe McGuire, his co-host for 17 years. She chokes back tears as she talks. “I came in with a gas mask and stuff. I even have a picture. He was hiding around the studio. We had so much fun. He was like my brother…”
McGuire admired Banks’ work ethic.
“At one point he lost his toe [due to diabetes,]” remembers McGuire. “He was joking about it. You hop on in here. [She chuckles] Doug lost his eye and still did the show. He loved radio.”
Tom Joyner has this to say about Banks: “Doug Banks wasn’t just my Turntable Brother, he was my OTHER BROTHER! We did this back when urban radio made itself the best thing on the air – and we made each other better. Chicago, radio and afternoons will never be the same. I miss him and what we shared together.”
Banks started his career at the age of 16 in his native Detroit. From there, he came to Chicago radio, where he worked in the early days of now-defunct station WBMX. After Detroit, he went to Los Angeles to work for several stations before moving to stations in Las Vegas and San Francisco before moving to Chicago, where he worked at WBMX. He became known as the “Dan Ryan Head,” a nod to the eight-lane expressway that juts through the Windy City’s South Side. He most recently could be heard on i-Heart radio station V103-103.5FM in Chicago. His syndicated program was very popular.
When you talk to Banks’ friends and those whom he influenced, you hear one word repeated over and over again: nice. His work laid the template for what black radio could be. An entire generation of Chicagoans, and as he syndicated, Americans, in particular grew up on Banks.
WGCI-FM hip hop personality DJ Moondawg was one of them. “That’s such a great loss for radio,” says Moondawg. “We had maybe like five encounters but he always gave me props and said he loved me on air and that I had a bright future. Coming from him, [that was] just a totally humbling and yet reassuring feeling. He was always kind, humble, and true to what you heard daily on the radio. Doug was authentic…a rarity in these times.”
House music deejay and in-house deejay for the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Steve “Silk” Hurley, listened to Banks’ show frequently. He was a fan, and has history with Banks going back to the WBMX days.
“My fondest memory of him was from a BMX party in Oak Park. A Christmas party,” says Hurley, who at the time was a member of the “Hot Mix Five” deejay crew. “He was the life of the party and on the dance floor.”
Banks grew to be a huge radio personality, commanding ad dollars and important time slots. IN all that success he never turned into a diva, says Hurley. “He was a good example for us in that he was humble. He was so good on the radio, but he was such a down to earth person. It encouraged us deejays. Even when we had success with different things, to still remain humble. I was raised that way, but Doug reinforced it.
“He was successful because he came from local radio,” says Hurley, who adds that Banks and Joyner are ‘cut from the same cloth.’ “Even when he’s on his syndicated show and he’s talking to the listeners, it still sounds local. Not a lot of people know how to do that with the national audience.”
Café Mocha radio creator and broadcast maven Sheila Eldridge worked with Banks for around 12 years. She remembers him fondly. “Oh God. I found old pictures of when Idris Elba was on the show and Erykah Badu,” says Eldridge, who is the CEO of Miles Ahead Entertainment and one of a very few women of color in radio ownership. Banks went to bat for Eldridge, bringing her into the family to work on public relations and promotions. “He was a big teddy bear and he was a good person,” she says. “He had such a great heart. It just… Everyone’s just devastated. He had been fighting for a long time.”
Few knew that Banks was undergoing dialysis and came to Chicago anyway. He returned to his second home in Miami the day after that last broadcast.
“He flew from Miami to Chicago to make that commitment,” says McGuire. “He always does the Expo. That’s the character of him. If he says he’s gonna do something? He’s gonna do it. There aren’t a lot of people that commit like that to something beyond family. That’s why he was such a great personality.”
Banks is survived by his wife Wendy and two college-aged daughters.
Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is a Chicago-based writer. Follow her @adriennewrites.