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The American Disc Jockey Awards Story

There are so many questions, opinions and ideas presented; I don't know where to start. How about the beginning? It will take up some considerable space to write the history of this event. I want to say "sorry" for spelling errors in advance. So, what I'd like to do is this, make a statement of how things happened and if somebody needs clarification or more information, then I will provide it if I can. This is a long narrative.

Part One: 

I've been a DJ since I was a teenager back in the 1960's and as time went by, I enjoyed the technical improvements and positive changes made in the industry. I've been in business as a DJ since 1976 and have attended a number of trade shows through the years, including BILLBOARD, WINTER MUSIC CONFERENCE, several CES's, NAMM's, LDI's, NIGHTCLUB & BAR, the MID AMERICA DJ convention, ten of the DJ TIMES EXPOS, in both Hollywood & San Francisco CA and Atlantic City, NJ, and all of the MOBILE BEAT conferences. One thing really bothered me early on. I had noticed that the evening entertainment for the attendees was far below where I felt it could, should and ultimately NEEDED to be. The sound systems were usually poor, people had to stand on chairs to see what was going on, they seemed to be loosely organized, etc. There was always plenty of enthusiasm and some original material exhibited from the attendees though!

I thought that if pro DJ's were gathering at these events from all over the country to learn something that we could take home with us and use in our market, we DESERVED to see "cutting edge" evening entertainment. I felt it was the duty of the Promoter, especially the DJ magazines, to provide the best possible entertainment to the DJ's. I knew there was value in it for us to learn new routines and by attending conventions the trips would then be "worthwhile". As a mobile DJ, I know that we NEED to keep fresh, use new gear so we can perform better or our business will suffer. The good part was that the magazines did provide us with useful information and their conventions gave us an opportunity to network face to face amongst ourselves, attend informative panels and purchase related products and services. I'll always admire and applaud them for that!

By 1995 I realized that the magazines are really in the advertising or convention business and possess minimal large scale "Show type" presentation skills. Vinnie Testa summed it up best by saying to me, "conventions are easy, they're simply logistics" during last year's Atlantic City convention. In fact, most of the magazine's staffs are made-up of people that are no longer or never were pro DJ's. Instead of complaining about the sub-par convention entertainment, I decided to give producing a Show (the way I'd like to see one) a shot. Nobody asked me to do it; I volunteered my time, energy and money for the betterment of the industry because I felt it needed to be done.

With that said as a pretense, let me begin to tell the story of how this all came about, because it's much easier to get a feel for where we're going if we occasionally look back at where we've been. I'll try to answer some of your questions along the way.

Part Two: 

I met John Roberts and Bruce Keslar (two of the four original founders) of the American Disc Jockey Association at NAMM in 1992. After I joined the ADJA, they suggested that I organize a Chapter here in Southern California that year. I didn't understand the value of doing so right away and put off attempting it until 1994. At our Chapter founding meeting I was voted local President and made a statement to the assembled area DJ's proclaiming that we would have an "awards banquet" at the end of the year to honor those that had made improvements. The resulting dinner at a LA harbor area restaurant in 1995 was a resounding success and we received the ADJA "Chapter of the Year" award that night from Bruce Keslar's wife, Maureen. She was also one of the founders of the ADJA and had flown out to LA to confer the Award upon our Chapter.

The next year MOBILE BEAT was going to have their first conference in Las Vegas in conjunction with the NIGHTCLUB & BAR convention at Bally's Hotel. I suggested to Bruce Keslar (who was running the ADJA at the time) that we have a national Awards presentation for deserving DJ's from around the country attending the conference and bestow the ADJA "Chapter of the Year" Award at that function. He agreed to the idea and said he would finance a room and spring for the trophies if I would organize and host the event, promising to pay me back for my expenses.

I immediately went to work on the project. Bruce sold $4,000.00 (that's the figure I was told) in Sponsorships and I contacted DJ's that the ADJA Directors felt were deserving of honors. We held it at the Maxim Hotel down the street from Bally's. DR. B (from Milwaukee) provided us with a turntable demo, and I handed out Awards while those in attendance ate and drank. Admission was free and everyone seemed to enjoy it. The Michigan Chapter of the ADJA earned "Chapter of the Year" honors. However, Bruce and I had creative differences (I wanted a big video screen so people could see) plus we had disagreements over the category and Award recipient selection process. For example, I wanted to give out a "Female Entertainer of the Year" Award and Bruce refused to purchase a trophy or allow a category for a woman DJ. I also made a statement at that first national event that I was going to pursue the goal of getting the Awards Show onto TV in the future. Bruce never did reimburse me for expenses, of which there was plenty. I was shocked to learn later during that convention that Bruce was really running the ADJA all by himself with no accounting procedures. I soon realized that I could no longer do business with him.

Part Three: 

The MOBILE BEAT conference grew into it's own "stand alone" convention the next year and was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas. I wanted to produce the American Disc Jockey Awards again. Only this time without Bruce's constraints (both monetary and creative) and hold competitions where contestants taught a dance, played a game or did a DJ related skit in the categories of "Male Entertainer of the Year", "Propmaster (must use props) of the Year" and the "Female Entertainer of the Year". Competition winners were to be determined by a vote of audience members. The reasoning was that through competition, a fair winner could be determined. Other categories, where I simply handed out Awards, that were created the previous year, were to be continued. They included "Country DJ of the Year", "Club DJ of the Year", "Technical DJ of the Year" and "Karaoke DJ of the Year". I hadn't figured how to "compete" for these Awards yet. A few friends and I came up with the new idea (for our industry) of a "Hall of Fame" for pro DJ's. I placed advertisements in the ADJA newsletter and Mobile Beat magazine for nominations for the Awards to be given out.

So, I started the process again, except now I had to come up with all the money for the Show myself. Mike Buonacorrso was very busy with coordinating the entire convention (a huge undertaking) and suggested to me that the Awards Show be held at a different location due to the fact that a "Wedding" was going to take place in the main ballroom. He pointed out that there really wasn't enough time to re-configure the same room (it was also used for "panels" during the day) for the Awards Show after the wedding. I made arrangements for us to hold the second annual American DJ Awards at the nearby St. Tropez Hotel. Start time was to be 11:00pm, well after the wedding would be over. The year before we had gone about 1 and half hours and I felt Vegas is a "late night" town anyway, figuring we'd be done around 1:00am.

The Awards show turned out to be a lot of fun, but we went way too late. Because so many people (twenty different acts) wanted to compete, we finally finished up around 4:00am. John Rozz was the first member selected for the "Hall of Fame" and the honor received no argurement from anyone. We had the event professionally videotaped for posterity this time. In order to finance the Awards Show I sold a few Sponsorships, most notably AMERICAN DJ SUPPLY, without whom we would not have been able to do the Show. We also sold tickets for $35.00 each, which included some food. The San Francisco Bay area Chapter of the ADJA won "Chapter of the Year" even though the ADJA couldn't contribute any money because it was tying to pay off the ousted Bruce Keslar's various accumulated debts acquired in the Associations name. The Awards Show lost money and I learned some important lessons through the experience.

The MB convention turned out to be a huge success at the Crowne Plaza and needed a larger venue the following year. I spoke with Mike B. in Atlantic City during that summer's DJ TIMES convention about producing the Awards Show again in Las Vegas. He felt that the Awards Show was a good thing for the MB conference. He would be open to providing magazine ads promoting it and the ballroom at the Tropicana Hotel for the Awards Show if I would let in any MOBILE BEAT convention attendees for free as part of their convention package. I asked him how was I supposed to finance the project? His reply was for me to sell Sponsorships and I could use Mobile Beat's name when contacting Vendors. I agreed and the 3rd annual American Disc Jockey Awards Show was on again!

Part Four: 

I dove in and worked hard to find sponsors. I found that even using MOBILE BEAT'S name had very little effect in getting Vendors to commit to giving us money. The concept of sponsorship was more difficult to sell than I had anticipated. Finally, I broke through with GEMINI, which had also spent a sum of money for the first Awards Show at the Maxim Hotel. I never really knew how much they spent back then and I certainly had no opportunity to use the funds Bruce had secured previously. This time I would use the money to improve the Show. Alan Cabasso, GEMINI Sound Corporation President, pledged $5,000.00 and he also would give us door prizes and provide the sound system. After putting together all of the numbers, I realized that in spite of Alan and Mike's generous support, I was going to need more money if I was to move the Show up a notch. I spoke with Scott Davies of AMERICAN DJ SUPPLY about bringing in a lighting rig and he agreed. I arranged for two jumbo video screens to place on either side of the stage so the audience could see what was going on. I hired a pro video crew again. Finally, I came up with another idea (cheesy as it turned out) to make a "program" to give to everyone at the door on arrival to the Show. Sponsors understood print advertising better than simply giving money to a cause. They felt they got something for their money with the ads. I had no previous experience publishing anything before. The finished product was nothing more than sponsors simply giving me their ads on printed flyers and then a crew of volunteers stapled them together inside of cover designed by Tony Barthel. It took 7 of us two long nights to assemble one thousand of them.

Who would compete? Who would we honor? The ads in MOBILE BEAT netted us exactly 3 competitors per category, which happened to be the number of competitors I felt was really needed. I had learned at the St. Tropez Hotel that too many competitors would drag the Show out too much. After a few nominations trickled in from MB and the ADJA newsletter, I had the people that would be honored.

Now it was time to put it all together. We had a giant room, a sound system, lights, contestants, honorees, a program, and an audience. I wish it were that easy. The first problems arose when we could not get in the room to set-up the sound and lights until after 5:00pm for an 8:00pm start because the ballroom was being used all day by Mobile Beat for "panels". Bernie Howard of GEMINI brought in a large sound system. Because time was short, he did not have enough time to trouble shoot the system. It did not sound good all night. The wireless mics were on the wrong frequency, the CD players skipped when the contestants, moved around the stage, which was where Bernie suggested the console be set up. He reasoned that it was a DJ Show, so we would need to see the DJ. Maybe he didn't realize the DJ's were going to perform interactive entertainment on stage. Bernie also had placed the speakers near the front of stage and that caused the front rows sight lines to be blocked. As we worked closer to Show time I realized AMERICAN DJ had failed to arrive to put up lights. We had to suddenly scramble for lighting. Al Lampkin, who was providing the video screens and projectors happened to have a few par cans in his truck. He got them out and charged us a nominal fee to use them. Bernie had us using a DJ mixer for the evening presentation and we had problems with getting audio out for the video feed. Meanwhile the competitors were arriving and needed to know when and how they were to perform. Everything was finally ready after MOBOLAZER was in place about an hour later than we had advertised the start to be.

My education continued as the night progressed. Some things went right, but some important ones went wrong. If we would have had time to set-up and sound check earlier we could have solved most of our problems. I realized that we really needed to have a rehearsal or at least a "walk through", so the talent would know what to do. We would also have known what the performers were going to do. Yes, this was the year that Mark Thomas (DJ PEACE) had the infamous bikini clad girls as his "props" in the Propmaster competition.

Mike Buonacorrso was sitting in the front row with his family, seemed upset, then got up and left after the girls left the stage. I felt bad for him because he had come through with the room; the ads and he also came through with the actual awards to be handed out. I had contracted with a person to make original trophies that resembled the American Disc Jockey Awards logo. When she showed up to give me the final product, I gagged; they looked like Planters peanuts on a stick! There was no way I could give those out, so Mike arranged for gold records to be given to winners. (I apologized to Mike the next morning for the way things went.) I hosted the Show again that night and Jon Michaels was inducted into the "Hall of Fame". The Southern California Chapter was the honored by the ADJA, one of the smaller sponsors that year, for continued growth. Surprisingly, we still had a lot of fun despite the problems.

Because the Awards Show was free, and probably because the lights and sound were inadequate, the attendees wandered in and out of the ballroom all night. There were many people talking and little respect was shown for the honorees while they gave short acceptance speeches. Originally I had wanted the evening to be black tie event. Once again, because it was free, some attendees showed up in shorts and tee shirts. Despite the donations of GEMINI and the other sponsors that purchased space in our "flyer" stuffed program, costs outran revenues again. One of the larger expenses was the cost of Union labor at the Tropicana Hotel. I had to pay the Hotel for staff we did not really need, to perform tasks we could have done ourselves.

Part Five: 

I could have done a much better job producing if we were doing the Awards Show again the next night. Problems would have been worked out and everything would have gone smoother. I had to wait another year though before I could present the Awards again.

I was determined to do a much better job this time and the extra effort paid off with a truly great Event. The fourth annual American DJ Awards were held at the Tropicana Hotel, (in the same room again) only this time we had the ballroom all day and night. We used the time to set-up a concert rig CERWIN VEGA sound system that was awesome! We contracted out for truss mounted intelligent lighting and had the stage built by 9:00am. We offered prizes, a trophy and $1,000.00 in DJ gear to competition winners. We then held auditions for the competitions for the first time and it resulted in us narrowing down the field from 21 acts to 9, which improved the quality level substantially. I placed ads in Mobile Beat and the ADJA news, advertising the Show and asking for nominations for Honorees again. GEMINI's graphic artist designed the beautiful two-page ad and Alan Cabasso paid for them. He could get a better deal on the price of ad space than me because he advertises with Mobile Beat consistently. The ADJA was a sponsor again and to avoid a "conflict of interest", (because I was now an elected ADJA Director) a separate corporation (Annual Awards Shows, Inc.) was formed to produce the Awards Show. I now had the help of a small group of committed people to assist with production. It was no longer "Ken's Show".

We came up with a new wrinkle for the "Hall of Fame". We decide to create an actual exhibit, with old records, DJ gear, clothes and memorabilia that attendees could actually tour before the Show. A dear friend of mine, Ray Martinez, was given the task to gather the items and he did an outstanding job. He and I worked together to build the exhibit and everyone that viewed it seemed to be impressed with it's originality. Another new thing was the creation of the "MIKEE" trophy. This was much closer to what I had in mind when I tried to make one the year before. We had to pay more for it, but it was worth doing it right. Still another innovation was the "fashion show" that was staged by the evenings Emcee, Gary Kassor. Remember that I had wanted attendees to arrive formally attired and this is what we came up with to encourage people to pack their Tuxedos and bring them to Las Vegas. It went over big!


There were a few more new items. I decided that in order to get enough sponsorship money I needed to make a much nicer, full color printed "Program" than the one we did with staples and flyers previously. My job was to sell ads in the program and hopefully the added revenue would offset the additional costs of producing the Awards Show. We needed the extra money because we had to pay for the ballroom, (Mike B. offered no help this time) the Tropicana Hotel Union labor and other big expenses. Inside the program was an article announcing the creation of the Academy of professional Disc Jockey Arts and Sciences. The Academy was created to offer any DJ the opportunity to nominate and vote for the people that were to receive Awards that were handed out. One more Award was added to the lineup, the "Michael Butler Humanitarian Award". Michael had been the DJ onstage the year before. In addition to being a mobile DJ, he also worked as a Paramedic. He died in a helicopter accident earlier in the year trying to save young girls life. So, the Award was created for someone in our industry that performed charitable services. Mark Thomas won the first one for doing Michaels gigs for free and giving Michael's wife and unborn child the money. He also sold Michaels DJ gear and music library for her.

Baltimore won the ADJA "Chapter of the Year", while Al Lampkin and Robert Lindquist (Mobile Beat magazine publisher) were inducted into the "Hall of Fame". It was a fabulous Awards Show, easily the best one yet. In spite of ad sales in the program, sponsorships and $20.00 admission ticket sales, the Awards Show still lost money. We suffered from inadequate advertising because we were not allowed to place an ad in the Mobile Beat convention program. Mike Buonacorrso had also scheduled an evening at the MGM Grand Hotel's Studio 54 with free admittance for Mobile Beat convention attendees at the same time as the Awards Show. Because Mike had to stand at the door to the nightclub, he never made it by the Show to see the improvements we had made. A number of people that certainly would have benefited their businesses by learning new interactive routines while attending the Awards Show, instead "discoed" the night away.

Part Six: 

After the Show was over, Sid Vanderpool offered to build us a website and post past winners and photos of the "Hall of Fame" exhibit. Dave Yantz had me on as a guest to his chatroom and I answered questions for interested people. Momentum was building, yet Mobile Beat seemed to be moving further away from assisting us.

When it came time for the fifth annual American DJ Awards, Mobile Beat agreed to allow the Show at the Tropicana Hotel if is was staged the night before the actual convention took place. They didn't want it during the convention. GEMINI again paid for the two ads we had in Mobile Beat magazine and assisted us with the ad design as well as provided us with prizes and some cash to produce the Show. Dave Yantz helped us get PEAVEY to supply their incredible sound system and convinced them to be a major corporate sponsor. AMERICAN DJ came through again by purchasing the back cover of the program and by providing door and competition prizes. A number of other smaller sponsors, including the ADJA, also stepped-up by placing ads in the program. We rented a bigger ballroom at the Tropicana Hotel, plus additional space for a larger "Hall of Fame" exhibit. This time we needed two full days to build the stage, setup the sound and hang the lights in order to be fully prepared before auditions and for the first time a rehearsal. We contracted with the Hotel to use their intelligent (huge Union bill) lighting system.

The academy nominated and voted for deserving people from around the country for Awards. The nominees did not have to be a member of the Academy or the ADJA, in fact, membership in the DJ industry was the only necessary nomination criteria. The auditions yielded some unique talent and the Show was fantastic. Attendees arrived formally attired. We started the Show on time and got through it in a little over two hours. Bernie Howard was inducted into the "Hall of Fame" and the PADJ of Los Angeles was the ADJA "Chapter of the Year". The Show was better than all of the previous four put together!

At the end of the evening I accepted a large check from GEMINI to help produce the 6th annual event. I then announced that we were going to move locations to the winter NAMM convention in Anaheim the following year. The reasons were many. The Tropicana Hotel Union labor bill was staggering, the logistics of hauling everything for our "Hall of Fame" exhibit out to Las Vegas were massive and we were not getting any help from Mobile Beat. After all, we felt we were now providing convention attendees with a good reason to attend the Mobile Beat conference and to receive no help from them cooled our spirits. In fact, they had their own event going on the other side of the wall during the Awards Show.

Our committee met after the MB conference and we thought maybe we should try and put together a sort of "mini-convention" of our own with some exhibitors and seminars. We felt that in order to get 'out of state' DJ's to come to the Awards Show, they would want to spend a few days. Well, when I asked if Mobile Beat would like to get involved with us, they declined and refused to sell us advertising in their magazine. By late summer 2000, we realized we could do the Awards Show only and when I contacted GEMINI about their pledge of support, I was told it had been suspended. I was puzzled because GEMINI's support over the years had got us to where we were. Alan felt that NAMM was no longer a good place to stage our event and said he'd maybe help us later. PEAVEY was all set to supply a sound system and a small amount of money to produce the Show. When we contacted other companies that had supported us in the past, they wouldn't speak with us.

The American Disc Jockey Awards were created for everyone. It was conceived as an event to honor those that deserve recognition and as an opportunity to learn something of value. I spent my savings, much of my time and a lot of effort to bring respect to our industry. As it is right now, due to lack of sponsorship support, the 6th annual American DJ Awards are postponed until further notice.



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