The Electrifying Mojo
The Electrifying Mojo (b. Charles Johnson in Little Rock, Arkansas) is an American radio personality. He was a disc jockey based in Detroit, Michigan whose on-air journey of musical and social development shaped a generation of music-lovers in Detroit and throughout southeastern Michigan and Canada and was of importance to the development of Detroit techno.
He is recognized for having introduced or "broken" many artists into the Detroit radio market, including Prince, The B-52's, and Kraftwerk, and was occasionally thanked on-air by the artists for his support of their work. Prince granted Mojo a telephone interview following a sold out birthday concert at Cobo Arena on June 7, 1986, during an era when Prince rarely if ever granted interviews. He was visited in the studio by The B-52's and The J. Geils Band with the latter thanking him for playing "Flamethrower" from their album Freeze Frame.
Most recently, Mojo is serving as Program Director for a handful of Detroit radio stations - he does not publicize which ones - and he is in negotiations to bring his show to XM satellite radio in 2006, where he will not only begin a new show, but also air shows from his archive dating back to 1977.
Mojo's seminal radio show ran from 1977 through the mid-1980s, and while broadcast on stations marketed toward the African-American market, his programming was an inspired blend of the best soul, funk, new wave, hip hop, and rock that defied standard radio industry formats and genres. He also wrote music, sometimes under the name "C. J. Surge".
After serving in the Air Force, Johnson attended the University of Michigan in the mid-1970s where he began broadcasting on the University radio station and then on Ann Arbor station WAAM (at the time a popular Top 40 station). In 1977, he began broadcasting on WGPR (107.5) in Detroit and soon gathered a diverse audience attracted to his "genre bending" format. Moving to WJLB around 1982, Mojo gained additional listeners at the more easily found 97.9 frequency and billboards throughout Detroit touted the "Landing of the Mothership" at 10pm every night.
In what would become a trend with Mojo due to his refusal to adhere to radio station formats, he moved to WHYT (96.3) in 1985 and then WTWR-FM in Toledo, Ohio after a management turnover at WHYT in 1987. His show prospered there until 1990, when he accepted an offer to return to the Detroit airwaves at WMXD. At this time, Mojo began doing remote broadcasts, driving around Detroit, talking to people in the city, while his Production assistant Wendell Burke kept the music going at the studio.
In October 1990, Mojo gave an exclusive interview to Finney High Today, a one page newspaper produced by the Journalism class at Finney High School. The lengthy interview took up nearly the entire issue, and went deep into subjects ranging from his origins on AM radio in Ann Arbor, Michigan to then current radio jockeys in Detroit. Mojo also addressed some of the reasons why he was bounced from station to station, ranging from his refusal to follow any station's genre or format, playing "white music" on "black stations" and vice-versa.
The mid-nineties found Mojo back at WGPR, again challenging ideas about the role of a broadcast DJ. His show, a weekend mid-day slot, consisted of a broad range of content, tied to a common thread of social and cultural awareness of the African-American community.
Musically, this included shows focused on single themes, such as symphonic music by black composers, a survey of the jazz and symphonic music of Duke Ellington, and one alternating the music of Billie Holiday with spoken excerpts from her autobiography. He, as before, frequently played recordings in their entirety.
In an unusual arrangement, Mojo was purchasing his air-time from WGPR and then finding his own sponsors for the show. His two primary sponsors at this time were a deli and an insurance agency. The spots for them produced by Mojo were loose and low-production, with plenty of booming reverb with Mojo's admonishment to "save on auto insurance!"
He also dedicated airtime to reading excerpts from his 500-plus page book, The Mental Machine (ISBN 0-9639811-1-0), a work of poetry and prose about community and societal ills. Both his on-air persona and his writing seemed to place a Christian spirituality closer to center stage than had his previous shows.
Sometimes Mojo would stop the music to talk, sometimes for half an hour or more, about whatever was on his mind, sometimes also taking live phone calls on the air about any given subject. The WGPR station managers, citing the fact that WGPR is a music station, not a talk station, combined with Mojo's penchant for playing rock, rap, jazz, classical, techno and any other music genre, fired Mojo even though he was paying for his airtime.
The late 1990s brought Mojo to WCHB for a stretch in 1998 where he began broadcasting his show over the internet for a short time. He also was making guest appearances on the now defunct WDTR around 2004.
Mojo's habit was to play entire recordings without interruption and regular listeners became deeply familiar with each recording. Detroiters from this era still speak of the diversity of Mojo's shows. He exulted in Jimi Hendrix and had a particular fondness for "All Along the Watchtower," and it is sometimes said that if a person is from the Detroit area, it's Mojo's fault if they are a Prince fan. Mojo would often play hours of Prince's music, not only his hits, but deep album cuts and b-sides and even played a mix of "When Doves Cry" that included bird calls (that Mojo may or may not have added himself.) When Prince was about to release a new album, Mojo would often play the album in its entirety, and this practice continued into the 1990s.
The trio of artists widely cited as the founders of Detroit Techno, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May have all made mention of Mojo's influence on their musical development, as have second generation Techno artists like Richie Hawtin (Plastikman), Jeff Mills (The fm98 Wizard) and Carl Craig. Mojo was an early supporter of the Detroit Techno sound, playing tracks like Cybotron's (Juan Atkins) "Cosmic Cars," Derrick May's "Strings of Life" and "Good Life" by Kevin Saunderson's Inner City.
Along with giving extended airtime to the new local sounds in Detroit, Mojo continued to embrace electronic music from techno and electronic music pioneers around the world like Kraftwerk, Philip Glass, New Order, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Afrika Bambaataa in his sets.
There were periods later on where Mojo's popularity and influence on others would prove to be damaging to his own career. Other Detroit radio personalities imitated concepts from his shows during his absence from the Detroit airwaves in the mid-1990s. The "homage" was most obvious with WHYT disk jockey Lisa Lisa, who produced segments on her evening show such as the "Midnight Mix Association" and her version of "Lover's Lane." For a brief period the Midnight Mix Association used a "spaceship" introduction which was similar to Mojo's show which was later replaced by an introduction that had a mixture of The Wizard of Oz, church bells and a Civil defense siren: "Were not in Kansas anymore...it's among the hour to come amongst you and amaze you with absolute incredible out of this world type sounds, look out here we go." Mojo also made calls to the Lisa Lisa show encouraging, as well as thanking her for continuing his "format" in a way that he could be proud of.
His shows during the late seventies to mid eighties had several segments each night. Although they would vary throughout the years, a typical Mojo night was:
- 10:00pm – The Landing of the Mothership. This was the intro to each show with spaceship sound effects and related dialog. Sometimes the music heard during the first hour was indicative of what you'd hear that night; sometimes it would be completely random.
- 11:00pm – Awesome '84, '85. In the mid eighties, Mojo played an hour of brand new music (hence the year in the title) and a lot of new songs were introduced.
- 11:30pm – Lover's Lane. A half an hour of "slow jams" for lovers.
- 12:00am – The Midnight Funk Association. Consisted regularly of Parliament-Funkadelic, The Gap Band, Zapp and other funk bands of the era.
From 1:00am to 3:00am (2:00 am on Saturday nights), Mojo's show was different every night. Sometimes, the MFA would stretch well beyond 1:00am, other times Mojo would introduce segments such as:
- Star Wars – A classic "artist vs. artist" set, where Mojo would alternate selections from two different groups or artists, and the listeners would call in to vote for their favorite.
- Journey – Sometimes a multi-night segment, where Mojo played songs by a single artist or group, spanning their entire career. This usually included a mix of hits and obscure songs by that artist.
- Shout-out – Everyone that called into the station during his show was the recipient of a "shout-out". He would go on for as long as it took rattling off the first names of every single person who had called in to the show.
- 35-35-35 – Mojo would take suggestions from listeners about their favorite artists and bands. He then would choose the three most popular groups that night and play thirty-five minutes, commercial-free, of each group. This segment often gave airtime to groups that no other radio station in Detroit played.
At other times, Mojo would spend the last 2 hours of his show showcasing live mixes on two turntables, by bringing in local DJs to do the same. One such DJ, Jeff Mills, began his career with Mojo as "The Wizard" and then later on when Jeff join WJLB he became "The fm98 Wizard" Mojo also would air music by local groups at this time.
Metro Detroit graphic designer, artist and tattooist Kenneth Burney approached Mojo in the early days of the Midnight Funk Association to employ promotions that included designs for A Midnight Association Membership Card and T-shirts. Ken Burney is also known for designing logos for Detroit radio station WJLB FM 98, WCHB 1200 AM, Detroit's R&B group Ready For The World first logo and much more.
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