By Ray Richardson
It started out as a casual conversation after a KMOJ-FM staff meeting last November. Three months later, that conversation turned into an unprecedented celebration for an icon in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey proclaimed Monday, Feb. 17 as “Walter Q-Bear Banks Jr. Day,” a tribute that extended to the capital city of St. Paul. After learning of the special tribute to Banks, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter called in to the studio Monday afternoon to offer his congratulations live on air to Banks during his Afternoon Drive show.
Carter told Banks that he will post Frey’s proclamation on Carter’s Twitter page to share the news with the entire St. Paul metro area.
“This is about giving people their roses while they’re still with us,” said KMOJ on-air personality William “Bake Show” Baker, one of the organizers of Monday’s tribute to Banks. “Too many times we celebrate people after they’re gone. We wanted to give Q-Bear his props right now.”
Part of Frey’s declaration reads, “Whereas, The City of Minneapolis and the entire Twin Cities region has benefitted from the dedication and commitment of the legendary Walter Q-Bear Banks Jr….”
Frey had a prior commitment out of town Monday and was unable to attend the festive ceremony at the KMOJ studios in North Minneapolis. A steady stream of visitors and well wishers stopped by to witness the reading of the entire proclamation by Baker.
Banks, 60, has been a fixture at KMOJ since he was a senior at Minneapolis North High School, a legacy of service for Minnesota’s only urban station that spans 43 years.
The popular Banks, one of the more recognizable figures in the Twin Cities, started with KMOJ as a DJ at age 17. He’s been involved in the station’s management for more than 30 years, most of the time as program director and occasionally as operations manager during the station’s many years of transition.
For much of KMOJ’s existence, which started in 1976, Banks’ name is synonomous with the station’s history. Any discussions of KMOJ’s foundation usually include Banks, a lifelong resident of Minneapolis’ North Side.
Among the well wishers who came to KMOJ Monday for the proclamation reading were Sounds Of Blackness founder Gary Hines, Sounds of Blackness singer Jamecia Bennett, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder CEO and publisher Tracey Williams-Dillard and numerous current and past KMOJ staff and on-air personalities.
“I knew something was up, but I didn’t know what,” Banks said. “A lot of people were calling me saying they were coming by. I told them to come on. I had no idea what they were coming for. This is nothing but love, nothing but love.”
Banks expressed support for the idea of an annual “Walter Q-Bear Banks Jr. Day” on Feb. 17. Banks believes the annual celebration can enhance efforts to develop more positive initiatives in Minneapolis-St. Paul communities.
“There’s a lot more we can do to bring everybody together,” Banks said. “We need to let everybody know that there’s somebody out here who loves them. No matter what you’re going through, there is somebody out here who has your back. We need to spread this message.”
Baker and Tiffany Love, on-air personality at The Ice, KMOJ’s digital hip-hop affiliate, came up with the idea to honor Banks after the November staff meeting. Love reached out to Frey’s staff to plan the celebration, targeting Feb. 17 as the proclamation date. KMOJ promotions director Kimberly “Glam Life” Holifield also played a key role in the planning.
“When we presented it to the Mayor’s office, we were told Frey was all for it,” Love said.
An important factor in the planning was to make it a surprise for Banks. Love, Baker and Holifield did not want Banks to know, so the entire KMOJ family was instructed to keep it a secret.
Banks was lured into the KMOJ conference room Monday at 1 p.m. for a “photo shoot.” When Banks arrived, he saw KMOJ staff and WCCO-TV reporter Reg Chapman and KARE-11 TV reporter Adrienne Broaddus with their camera crews. Chapman and Broaddus interviewed Banks separately in the KMOJ studios. Both reporters aired their stories on Monday’s evening newscast.
“I wanted to be here for this,” Chapman said. “Q-Bear is such a legendary and respected figure in this town. We need to tell his story.”
Banks spent most of his Afternoon Drive show Monday fielding calls on air from well wishers, including Pete Rhodes, founder of Minneapolis-based cable music outlet Black Music America and former KMOJ on-air personality Big Ant, Afternoon Drive host for KMJJ-FM in Shreveport, La. Banks and Big Ant were paired together on KMOJ’s Morning Show in the mid-1990s.
Former KMOJ on-air personality Shed G, who worked with Banks on Afternoon Drive, also stopped by to talk on-air with Banks, as well as current KMOJ program director Zannie K, who replaced Banks in December. Banks will remain Afternoon Drive host and has assumed the new role of Operations and Community Engagement Manager for KMOJ and The Ice.
“I can now say that I’ve worked with the one and only Q-Bear,” said Zannie K, who joined KMOJ after a long career in the Twin Cities with several radio stations, including KDWB-FM and KTTB-FM (B96). “I’ve known about Q-Bear for years in this town. To get a chance to be here at KMOJ with him is truly something special.”