In 1997 Mike Love and the Dizz, who’d begun hosting Bad Boy Radio on WGCI earlier that year, launched a segment where they asked any listeners who were celebrating a birthday to call in. It was the sort of thing DJs often did before corporate consolidation made community-oriented commercial radio an endangered species—the two men had no idea they were on the cusp of creating a pop-cultural phenomenon.
It’s been ten years since the original Bad Boy Radio went off the air, but Mike Love and the Dizz’s famous question to their callers—“Who’s this on the birthday line?”—remains a defining artifact in the history of Chicago radio. Love has kept the Birthday Line alive, if only barely, with the occasional segment on the stations where he’s worked since—first V100.7 in Milwaukee, then Soul 106.3 in Chicago, where he has a different show called Bad Boy Radio With Mike Love. (The Dizz, aka Victor Blackful, no longer works in radio and lives in Chicago only part-time.) But back in the day, the Birthday Line ran every Monday through Friday night, often enough to become the kind of fixture that people get nostalgic about. Chance the Rapper crystallized this nostalgia on Sunday, April 16, when he called WGCI and persuaded on-air personality Trey White to do the Birthday Line for his 24th.
Chano’s rendition was missing two important things, though: the original hosts. When Mike Love and the Dizz left the station in 2007, their classic call-in segments went with them, including the Birthday Line, All Eyes on Me (where listeners shout out their neighborhoods and area codes), and the Bad Boy Smack (where the hosts deliver sound-effect “smacks” to the no-good people, lousy traffic, and other annoyances that listeners call to complain about). The two haven’t spoken since.
Chicago is notoriously segregated by race, but even within its black community sharp lines can exist between fans of dusties, house, ghetto house, and juke music. Bad Boy Radio found ways to bridge gaps between genres and generations, and the Birthday Line became one of many common denominators in black Chicago.
For this oral history of Bad Boy Radio, I interviewed Mike Love and the Dizz separately, hoping to learn what brought them to WGCI and how their show came to be.
In 1994, after Mike Love was let go from WLUM radio in Milwaukee, a friend suggested he send a demo of his radio work to WGCI.
Mike Love I didn’t know anyone at ‘GCI. I sent in a tape, and I remember they liked it and called me. I interviewed and ended up getting the job. They had an opening for a Saturday-night show called The All Request Show. I did the show with a guy they paired me with. We changed the name to All Request Party, where we basically programmed the hottest songs and acted like every song was a request.
Love’s partner left WGCI in 1995, and the station began searching for a replacement. At the time, Victor “the Dizz” Blackful was working for D.J. International Records, one of Chicago’s original house-music labels.
Victor “the Dizz” Blackful Rocky Jones, the owner of D.J. International Records, was doing a video show at the time. He was trying to make his own version of the Box. It was called The Hop Shop, a hip-hop video show. Whoever was hosting the show at the time got sick or didn’t show up. Rocky came in and said, “I have to do this interview with [radio personality] Rick Party and ‘GCI. Would you be willing to go there and do this interview?” So Rocky took me up to WGCI, and I interviewed Rick Party.
WGCI program director Elroy Smith saw the interview and asked the Dizz for his demo. After interviewing with Smith the next day, the Dizz got the job to be Love’s partner on All Request Party.
Mike Love They just threw us in the studio together, and we made it work.
Though Mike Love and the Dizz had never met before WGCI, they had great on-air chemistry. In 1996 they took over Crazy Howard McGee’s show Old School Sunday after McGee moved to an afternoon shift.
Elroy Smith I knew something was special about them when they were doing the Old School Sunday show. They knew music and Chicago so well. They really gave that show a strong connection to Chicago.
Mike Love When we took over Old School Sunday, we made it more of a Chicago-centric, disco, house kind of show. In the past, it had been more funk. The Dizz had been raised in the Chicagoland area and knew a lot more about the ins and outs of Chicago house music. We really built our name—Mike Love & the Dizz—and popularity on that Sunday show.
The Dizz I’ve always been a house head. I’ve always been a disco connoisseur.
Mike Love We played a lot of songs that people weren’t hearing on the radio. We played the full-length versions of records you only heard in mixes or samples: “Sing, Sing, Sing” by the Charlie Calello Orchestra, “I Can’t Turn Around” by Isaac Hayes, “Funkanova” by Wood Brass & Steel, “Baby I’m Scared of You” by Womack & Womack, “I’ll Stay” by Funkadelic, and “Running Away” by Roy Ayers.
Elroy Smith The songs were not as far back as what Herb Kent was doing on V103. Many of the songs were from the 1980s, up-tempo party records with a mixture of house music. But Old School Sunday became a huge success for ‘GCI.
The Dizz Rick Party [who had the 6-10 PM slot on weeknights] decided to take a full-time position in Atlanta. We eventually auditioned for the 6-10 PM spot. I don’t know if Elroy told you, but we weren’t exactly his first choice.
Mike Love Back in those days, managers in radio would always look outside of the market for big-name professionals to bring in. So they brought in two other people to try out for the job.
The Dizz We were not Rick Party. We came in with all radical ideas, real street stuff.
Mike Love That’s when we started doing the 20-Second Workout. I wanted to have something that set us apart from everyone else. When we were in the clubs, we would play the ghetto-house records like “The Freaks” by DJ Deeon. The club would go up. They would lose their mind. But nobody played these records on the radio.
DJ Deeon Chicago is full of haters. “Freaks” was already being played on the radio in Detroit, like, nine months before that. How am I getting play in Detroit but no play here? I thought it made us look bad.
The Dizz Ninety-nine point nine percent of [ghetto house] was dirty. It was full of curse words. All we did was take the curse words out of it.
Mike Love One day, we were going to commercial and I just played a 20-second snippet of “Freaks.” The phones lit up. People would start calling in, asking for a 20-second workout. If WGCI brought in [those outside personalities], their show wasn’t going to be Chicago-centric because they knew nothing about Chicago.
DJ Deeon I appreciate those guys. They helped us get [ghetto house] to the masses. Because ‘GCI is not just a black station; it gave our sound a larger audience. It went from the streets to the clubs. And when it made it to the radio, that was the epitome.
The Dizz Elroy was like, “I guess they know what they’re doing. Every time I look at their numbers, they’re ridiculous, and every time I go somewhere, somebody’s asking about them.”
In December 1996, Smith announced that Mike Love & the Dizz would take over the 6-10 PM weeknight spot.
Mike Love Rick Party had to pass the torch to us. He called the radio station to congratulate us and said, “They’re really getting ready to turn this shit over to some bad boys.” The name stuck.
At 6 PM on January 1, 1997, Mike Love & the Dizz signed onto WGCI as Bad Boy Radio for the very first time. The likes of Puff Daddy, Notorious B.I.G., and Xscape called the station to congratulate them.
Mike Love Once we took over, we knew we had to have some features on our show that really stood out to people. I had an idea for a feature called All Eyes on Me. It was a flip of Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me.”
The Dizz I think that was something Mike was doing when he was at V100 in Milwaukee. It was a call-and-response type thing. That went on for a couple of months, and I was like, “OK. This is stupid. It’s catchy and everybody wants to do it, but it’s kind of dumb.”
Mike Love Call-and-response was very big back in those days.
The Dizz I went in there and changed it. We made people do celebrity impersonations with it. That’s when All Eyes on Me started going bananas. I remember someone did Michael Evans from Good Times. “And where you from?” “Cabrini-Green.” “Are you a Bad Boy?” He said, “‘Boy’ is a white racist word.”
Mike Love Another thing I came up with to have people listen to the show was the Birthday Line. I went in and reedited Uncle Luke’s “It’s Your Birthday.”
The Dizz We got off work one night. We went to Bennigan’s on Michigan Avenue with, I believe, a record executive. It seemed like everybody in freaking Bennigan’s had a birthday that night. We got to thinking, “If this many people get this excited about doing a birthday jingle in Bennigan’s, what would happen if we put this shit on the radio?”
Mike Love I came up with the concept. I wrote it all out, and I gave it to the Dizz. He really couldn’t catch the rhythm of it because it was so fast. I remember doing it and him looking at me like I was crazy. We go on the air. I’m like, “Hey, if you’re celebrating a birthday, we need you to call the Bad Boyz.” For about two days, the Dizz wasn’t with it. By the third or fourth day, he jumped in.
Elroy Smith I think they started to do it on their own and it became a hit. The feature was on at 6:45 every night, Monday through Friday. People were calling in well in advance to get on the Birthday Line.
Ashanti Madlock Henderson, age 37 I literally remember being on hold and really being surprised that I got through. I called for my 18th birthday. I went to Proviso East [in Maywood], and everybody liked the Birthday Line. We had two phones in my house, so I was on one line, and while ‘GCI had me on hold, I was calling my friends on the other line, like, “Turn to the radio. I’m about to be on!”
Justin Clarke, age 26 I was either 13 or 14 when I first called in. It was just dope. I’d been hearing it for so long, but I knew I didn’t want to be one of those people who called in and either forget how it goes or mess up what I wanted to say. Being from Joliet, I wanted to give a little bit of love to what peopled considered the suburbs.
The Dizz The first time I met Barack Obama, he said, “You know what? I always wanted to do that Birthday Line.” And I was like, holy shit.
Mike Love We had people from Missy Elliott to Usher do it. When celebrities came up to the radio station and were celebrating a birthday, they would do it.
DJ Deeon I put one of my daughters on there one time. She had to be six or seven. She’s 22 now. I figured, since they’re playing my stuff, I could get her on the radio. I put her on and she choked up on me. I was kind of embarrassed a little bit.
The Dizz I was on Oprah Winfrey’s show once. In the green room, Oprah came in there and told me how the show’s going to go. After all of that, she’s like, “I was wondering, can you do the Birthday Line back here for me so I can do it?” The fact that Oprah Winfrey knew all of the words to the Birthday Line was stunning.
Elroy Smith As I saw the response to it, I said, we’re going to keep going with this.
As Bad Boy Radio approached ten years at WGCI, it began to fall apart. Mike Love felt his career was stagnating at the station, and he says new management wanted to do away with the show’s signature segments. After Love left in February 2007, the station tried replacing him on Bad Boy Radio with Frankie Robinson, but the Dizz moved on in December of that year. The show had come to a close.
Mike Love People always ask what happened to the Bad Boyz. Why did it end? I personally felt like we were good enough to do different shifts. After the afternoon shift opened up and we didn’t get the opportunity, I couldn’t do it anymore.
The Dizz Mike left in 2007. I was there for about a year after. I was not happy. We saw the vision of radio changing. I remember when they told us to stop doing [the Birthday Line]. The general manager was like, “You’re playing three minutes of the Birthday Line when we could be playing another Beyoncé song.”
Mike Love They made us change up the Birthday Line around 2004. It was around the time 50 Cent’s “In da Club” was out. Our bosses were sick of the Birthday Line. [They] wanted us to change the tempo of the Birthday Line. You don’t change the theme of Star Wars because it’s 50 years old. That was my mind-set.
The Dizz [After Mike left] they partnered me with some girl. I was like, well, this is not Bad Boy Radio then. She doesn’t know anything that we do. Her whole vibe was completely not what this show is.
Elroy Smith I left in 2007. I think the Birthday Line ended when the show expired. Sometimes it’s hard for someone to come on after such a successful feature and try to keep it alive, because those two guys were synonymous with that feature.
The Dizz I remember when they let Elroy go. It was heartbreaking. We had a new management team telling us that our ways of radio are old. Syndication became a big deal. We went from “We play the hits” to “We’re number one for hip-hop and R&B.” That changed the dynamic.
Mike Love The Birthday Line has been absent from ‘GCI from the time I left until Trey White did it with Chance the Rapper. They were 100 percent on point. The only thing they couldn’t do is the beat. You could never do the Birthday Line today, because there’s so much of a delay on cell phones. There was no delay on the house phone back then.
Elroy Smith I look at [the Birthday Line] as a hit record. It just never dies.
The Dizz I think it would suck [if WGCI brought it back]. It’s like Derrick Rose leaves Chicago, and they go get somebody else and make him number one after everything Derrick Rose had done.
Mike Love The question people ask me more than anything in Chicago is, “Do you still talk to the Dizz?” I have not spoken to the Dizz since I left ‘GCI. We had a very good relationship, but we also had a rocky relationship at times.
The Dizz I worked with him for 12 years and never had his home phone number. We were kind of like Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. You never see them hanging out together. But when it came time to win all the championships, it’s time to roll.
DJ Deeon I think [shows like Bad Boy Radio] need to come back. The reason I got into house music was because the mixes were on the radio and that influenced me. Now, you change the stations and you hear the same songs three times in an hour. That’s sad. There’s so much music out here that could be played.
Correction: This story has been updated to better reflect the timing of Mike Love’s departure from WGCI.