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photo by Aisha M. Khan

baltimore observed

Soul survivor: Veteran DJ Moon Man broadcasts from an Eastern Shore high school.

ENCOUNTER

Talk to Me It’s a little past five o’clock on Friday afternoon at WKHS radio, and the Moon Man is on the air. Candy, Candy, she’s on the Moon Man. Talking that talk and walking that walk. Trying to do a little good in your neighborhood. Here are the Bar-Kays. There’s a slight huskiness in his voice, a dash of soulful swagger. As he finishes, the first note of the aching Stax single “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right” insinuates itself over the airwaves. This is a version you don’t hear much—the Luther Ingram rendition from 1972 was the bigger hit—and it’s a funky start for the Moon Man. Over the next two hours, he exhorts listeners to call in as he spins the soul staples of another age: Mary Wells and Sam Cooke, the Falcons and the Temptations, Clarence Carter and Maxine Brown. You’re listening to WKHS, 90.5 FM, Worton/ Baltimore. Right now we’re smoothin’ and groovin’ right here in your hometown. Rhythm and soul and solid gold. Worton is nowhere near Baltimore. It’s outside of Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore, home to Kent High School’s WKHS radio, 90.5 FM, a 17,500-watt station with a 60-mile listening radius. Tune in during the school year and you’ll hear students picking their way through news stories and playing Coldplay songs. After the kids go home, the evenings feature shows like Voices From the Hallway (vocal groups from the ’50s and ’60s) and Roadtrippin’ (jam bands and psychedelic rock) hosted by volunteer DJs with monikers like the Nite-Al and Martin Q. Blank. Moon Man caught the Sunday night oldies program on WKHS, In the Thrill of the Night, driving home from a DJ gig in Philly one night.

He called the station the next day to ask for a job. That was two years ago. “At the time, we had no openings, so I put his name down for future reference,” says the former station manager, Steve Kramarck. Then Charlie Coleman’s Classic Country spot on Friday afternoons opened up, and Kramarck gave Moon Man a call. “He gives us something that really is not heard much anymore,” he says. “Especially not in our area.” Pick up that phone and call a friend, call a neighbor, and tell them the Moon Man is on the radio. I met Moon Man last spring, when I was guest-hosting the rock show that follows the Moon Man’s program. In person, he’s smaller and rounder than he sounds on the radio, a quiet and courtly guy who is guarded about his private life. I ask if we could meet at his Catonsville home studio, where he pre-records much of his program. He demurs, suggesting instead the Bob Evans on Route 40. When I ask what to call him in print, he tells me to use Moon Man. Folks at WKHS and several other stations say the same thing. “He said, ‘Just call me Moon Man,’” recalls Sean Foster, an account executive at Philadelphia’s WURD-AM, which carries Moon Man’s program on Saturday evenings. “I think it’s just easier for him that way.” “He’s mild-spoken,” explains Foster, “but when that red light comes on, he transforms into a music machine.” He becomes the Moon Man. Taking you back, back to your roots. Moon Man with Southern soul and solid gold. “I like any song that tells a story,” Moon Man says. That means “Southern soul”—retrosounding contemporary R&B from such artists as Tyrone Davis, Denise La Salle, and Marvin Sease—and “solid gold”—chestnuts from the

old Atlantic, Motown, and Stax labels. But these aren’t the songs popular on commercial urban radio. “They won’t allow it,” he says. “And if I can’t play my own music, I don’t want to work.” By his telling, Moon Man has had a colorful career behind the mike. Born Willie Bacote in tiny Florence, South Carolina (the nickname came from a girlfriend’s girlfriend, who called his shaved pate “a cute little moon head”), he started as a weekend DJ at Florence’s WYNN in 1960, playing what was still known as “race music.” Performers would often drop by to promote their songs; one of them, a singer named James Brown, urged Moon Man to move to a bigger city. So Moon Man moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, and talked his way into a country-western station, where he sold his own advertising and supported himself by washing dishes for fifty cents an hour. He integrated a white station in Charlotte and worked at a Richmond R&B station, where the Ku Klux Klan tore down the tower to keep race music out of the community. Then came stints in D.C., Memphis, Detroit. By 1973, his old friend James Brown had decided he was going to buy a radio station in Baltimore—WEBB, 1360 AM—and Moon Man worked there for twelve years, followed by WOL in Washington and a syndicated TV dance show called Soul of the City. WURD General Manager Kernie Anderson first heard about Moon Man when he was a college student in D.C. in the ’70s. Now he’s carrying Moon Man’s show, even though WURD isn’t a music station. “The vast majority of our programming is telephone talk, but what Moon Man was offering is so unique, we needed to find a place for him on the station,” he says. “If we don’t play it, who will?” So Moon Man keeps working. Each Friday, he makes the 150-mile round trip to Kent County with two CDs of programming. He prerecords much of his material to get his trademark effects, such as the reverb-heavy intro proclaiming “From Memphis to Jerusalem and all around the world. Doin’ it with the Moon Man.” Throughout his shift, he switches the mike on to sing along with a chorus, give the station ID, and, like all WKHS DJs, urge folks to call in with requests, or just say hi and spread the word. If you include the commute, it becomes a long shift, not to mention an unpaid one. But Moon Man is a man on a mission. “If I’m there long enough, people will hear the music,” he says. “You’ve got to educate your audience. All that music is going to be lost. I’m here to save it.” ■ —Mary K. Zajac Web extra: See video of Moon Man on the air at www.urbanitebaltimore.com.

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December 2008 Issue  

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