Ralph McDaniels of The
Legendary Video Music Box
And Hot 97 radio station
As told to Troy L. Smith
Winter of 2007
my friend thank you for your time. I would like to start out by asking
where were you born and raised?
was born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn New York.
About 10 years later my family moved to a house in Queens on 212th
Street, in the Queens Village section. We would still go back and forth
to Brooklyn. We were one of the first black families on our block.
During that time it was a big thing for people to move from Brooklyn
into a house in Queens, although we also had a Brownstone in Brooklyn.
What was it like living in
Brooklyn for you?
was cool, it was really the foundation. My family is half from down
south and half from the Caribbean, so we listened to a lot of music. It
was either Motown or being as my mother is from Trinidad we listened to
a lot of calypso music as well.
since you moved to Queens which was predominately white at that time,
how did you deal with that ,since
there was such a small amount of the brothers there?
it was tricky. The first time I got called a nigger was the first time I
moved on my new block in Queens! I heard the word before, but I didn’t
know what it meant.
So how did you handle it
when you heard it and what was the situation that bought it on?
bought me a bike and I used to ride it around the corner, but I
couldn’t go across the street. So I would just ride up and down and
around the corner. As I hit the corner there is some white kids sitting
on their stoop and they yelled out n-----! I heard it the first time,
and then I heard it a second time. I knew it was something bad by the
tone of their voice and the way they said it.
I remember going to my mother and telling her that these kids down the
block called me a n-----! She explained to me the whole meaning behind
that right there. She then told me not to let that bother me, don’t
worry about it. Etc, etc, etc. I don’t remember ever hearing it again,
but these same kids later were the ones I began to play with in the
parks and back yards etc.
was what I was about to ask you, how did that manifest between those
same young boys later on?
Yeah, we became friends.
Did you ever remind them
about that situation later on when ya’ll started growing up?
I don’t think I ever reminded them about that moment. It really
didn’t impact me because I guess I was so young when it happened and
my mother had already explained it to me, but I really didn’t care
you were a child at the time, so it was small thing. I know you didn’t
live in the projects, but was the first 10 years in Brooklyn really
rough for you growing up?
was really a cool place. My block was one of those blocks were everybody
knew each other and it was a real tight community. This was Hancock and
Sumner Avenue. But today it is known as Malcolm X Avenue. But everybody
more or less knew each other. It was one of those things where if you
did something wrong the lady from across the street could come across
the street and bust your ass for that.
was like that in that time. So that could be the worst thing that could
happen to you on that block.
what about the Tomahawks or any other known gangs, were they close by?
Or did you know anything about any gangs at that young age?
didn’t get involved with the gangs. I probably was aware of them but I
was really too young to be in that type of situation. But you saw them
like you saw the pimps and the prostitutes coming home or what ever, as
well as the number runners. So yes you were aware of it. But for me I
was always a quiet dude, so I would just observe everything and kind of
just take it in. I didn’t fully start understanding all that until I
moved to Queens and would always come back to Brooklyn to visit my
What junior high school did you go to?
got bussed into a white neighborhood. This was when busing was real big,
sending black kids to white neighborhoods. My parents were like we
should try this out see how this works for you. Here I am in a white
school and here goes the racial thing again! They felt like “why are
they coming out here”, and this and that and a third! In that
particular case being as I was getting older my mother use to say “you
know you are going to get your self in trouble one day because you
always holding your head up and you want to be proud and that’s
what’s going to get you in trouble. She said I am not telling you
don’t feel that way but your pride is going to get you in trouble. At
the time I couldn’t understand what she was saying. But I heard her. I
said I am not going to let nobody play me out. Especially these punk ass
from junior high I went to Bayside high school which was also an all
white school. I went there because I played football. Bayside was like
the number one football school.
What position did you play?
Ah man hit the quarterback,
my man, and stop the run!
then in my junior year I switched over to basketball and played guard.
So once you were into sports it was like a different thing.
Right they will look at you
a different way if you are one of the top men in your sport.
Yeah, if you were a sport
guy you were just that. There was no color on that.
now I know hip hop is starting to come into your presence. When did you
first hear it and what inspired you to be part of this?
was a d.j. in high school and I mostly spun disco and R&B records.
In Brooklyn there were guys like Grand Master Flowers. I can remember
going to Reese beach with my uncle. Reese beach was where they had
basketball tournaments with guys like Walt Frasier and them. After the
game they would have jams out there. Flowers was the top man.
Yeah I know about Flowers I
have two of his shows right now. (Tapes 98 and 99.)
cool. Flowers was like huge and he was known for his equipment and
that’s what it was all about back then, equipment. Flowers set was
crazy, I remember seeing him, Maboya and Plummer. I can remember seeing
each one of their set up’s and saying like damn I want to really get
down with something like that one day because that just looks
I understand the equipment attracted you, but did the music and the way
they d.j.ed, did that also attract you, or that just wasn’t the
biggest thing to you at that time?
was more the equipment, as well as the records. Just to have those
certain songs that nobody else knew. I was like that dude that hunted
for certain records that nobody else had. And this was during my high
school days. By the time I became a senior in high school I started
already playing in clubs.
So you can say that Maboya
and Flowers were pretty much before Kool Herc?
yeah, for sure. Hip hop and break beats had not started in the Bronx
yet. I didn’t start hearing that hip hop from the Bronx until I was
senior in high school. I graduated from high school in 1977. I am 47
years old. The first time I was aware of break beats was when I went to
this store called Down Stairs records. It was on 42nd street
down in the subway. There were a row of stores down in the subway before
you got to the platform where the train was at. And in that row was
Downstairs records. I used to go there to buy disco records. That was
when 12inch records were starting to come out, prior to that you were
just playing album cuts. 12 inch records came about because of Disco and
the extended version and all that. So we used to go down there and buy
records. They set up a little section for guys that just bought break
beats and usually they were 45’s. So now us break beat guys were all
in the same place. But they didn’t want to mix cats that were buying
the break records with the cats that were buying the disco records. That
was why they gave them the section for the break beat guys.
Why do you think they
didn’t want to mix them?
it just took too long. They just wanted to hear certain parts. I think
the guys that were selling the Disco records didn’t know what they
wanted to hear, they didn’t understand and they got somebody that knew
the break beats.
Did you know any of the guys
that were selling the records?
really, in fact the only one I knew of that sold records there was
Junior Vasquez, Benji and a girl named Yvonne Turner. Junior became a
big Disco D.J.
What were some of the other
popular stores at that time?
There was the Wiz around at
so Colony was open as well as the different shops in the Village!
but I didn’t go to Colony back then. Later on I did, but back then it
was Down Stairs because they had everything.
Would you say Colony was the
most expensive Record store back then?
starts laughing.) Yeah even when I did go there I use to say “damn you
have to spend a lot of money up in here”.
is amazing, because still to this day they charge a large amount of
money. (49th street and Broadway.) They are still in
existence I guess they get a lot of the tourist money or something like
O.k. while in
high school you said you were doing your thing. Where did you get your
first break to show your skills?
first club I did was called the Blue Ice. It was like a little lounge
with a bar. This place was in Queens Village and my father put me on to
it. My father and his friends used to hang out there from time to time.
One day my father heard me down stairs in the basement and said you know
they have a d.j .set up in this club the Blue Ice just like you have
right here. So I said maybe I could play there. He introduced me to the
owner a guy named Price and I started playing there. Price probably gave
me 50 dollars a night if he gave me that much. I really didn’t care
about the price in fact I really wasn’t supposed to be there! I was
only 17 years old.
Yeah I was thinking that.
so prior to that I was doing weddings, little functions at centers and
things like that. I had the equipment.
when you went to Reese beach that summer you got open on that sound so
your father bought you the whole set?
I got a job! (We both laughed at the way he said it.) My partner, who I
will later talk about in this story, who is Lionel “the Vid Kid”
Martin got down with me.
That’s good; ya’ll go
way back with each other.
exactly. So he had an
interest in it as well so we used to go to the record shops looking for
records. We got cool with each other through hanging out in the park
playing ball and talking. We realized through talking that we had
similar taste. Plus we used to go to a lot of the jams and just watch
and say we need to set up something like this as well. So we started
doing back yard parties, Birthdays and weddings. Prior to the whole D.J.
set up a lot of people used bands to play the popular records at these
functions. In the early days of the house parties there was no cue on
the mixer. It was just a mixer were you could get two different kinds of
turntables together and try to blend the music based on the type of
music the groups was playing. You couldn’t hear it or cue it ahead of
time. When the first mixer came out it and it had a cue that was like
“wow I can’t believe they did this”. They put it so now you can
hear the other record. So I was like now this makes it easier. We knew
we were mixing and knocking down parties based on just knowing the
I feel you.
it is fast forward, I am doing the club thing working at the Blue Ice,
all my crew was like Ralph is working at a bar?! Like that was a big
thing, because we couldn’t even go to a bar. So I was like hooked up
because the spot became legendary. I really don’t know how good I was,
but I am just playing doing what I do. But people started coming. He had
like 25 to 30 people a night coming to now over a hundred on the
Right and they are buying
They buying plenty drinks
and it’s packed in there.
So homeboy had a lot of love
nothing but love! It was a good look for him and me. As far as I am
concerned, I am getting popular, chicks are checking for me. That was
the progression of that whole Blue Ice thing. Later on the guys that
owned Blue Ice opened up the spot called Encore. We opened that up based
on the fact that we couldn’t fit any more people in the Blue Ice, so
we needed a bigger spot. So the owner was like I found you a new spot,
right next to the library, I need you to check it out. I checked it out
it was perfect. I literally cleaned the spot out my self, as well as
painted the walls and ceiling and told them what equipment to put in
there and he whole nine!
Did you put the mirrors on
the wall as well?
I put the mirrors on the wall also. (We both start laughing.) And this
was a library? No, I am sorry it was next to a library, it was a Y.M.C.A.
and it was empty. So we hooked it up an I can remember all these people
coming out there to hang out there and also party. I also remember Flash
came there one time. Prior to this I only heard Flash’s tape!
How did you feel about him
when you first heard him?
I couldn’t believe him! I said is he doing this live? Are you sure he
is not using a pause button? Is he doing this live, I don’t believe
that! Now break beats are becoming a big thing!
it really happen in Queens like that, because I did a story with D.J.
Divine and it was said that more R@B and Disco was spun there opposed to
the break beats!
and that’s because that was what was going on in Queens. It was more
like we spun the breaks of those records, so you might have groups like
the Whispers or Chic, because the whole Good Times thing we got was
because that was a group we were familiar with! What the Bronx did was
take it to a whole other level! And they never even played the whole
record they just played the breaks.
exactly, but when you were going to the Down Stairs record shop in the
early days were you going for the breaks like the Bronx or were you
going for the Disco breaks like the rest of the Queens brothers?
I was going for Disco
records! I had my own breaks.
How did you get your own
had them but my whole thing was to play records that people didn’t
know, but they were really good records.
I got you.
the break beat thing was to buy breaks that people didn’t know, and
find just the break part that nobody knew!
like your man Larry Levan (Of The Garage days fame in the Village.)
might catch those European jams for an example and break them for the
first time and people would really enjoy it. so ya’ll were trying to
do like the same thing, be the first to have, and have the crowd go
the first time I went to The Garage was with this Gay brother from
around the way that grew up with us. We didn’t look at him like he was
Gay but we knew that he was and he was. He was like ya’ll got go to
The Garage! We were like what is The Garage? He was like “ya’ll got
to see this they be jamming up in there, and they be playing the same
records that ya’ll be playing up in here.” So one night about 4 in
the morning I got off from doing my thing and we checked them out. When
we got there, there was a crazy line. Now mind you we don’t really
journey to the city on that type of tip. We were going to the city but
not to party like that.
I understand you were coming
for the records as well as business related.
and we was like “ah man.” We went inside and the sound system was
booming and Larry was doing his thing. I was like “this is it”, and
he was playing the same jams I was playing. But he was doing his thing
on a whole other level. Its big, the club was real big. I was blown
homeboy introduced you to this, I thought it was Russell Simmons that
introduced you to the Garage! How did you meet Russell Simmons?
that time I had met him in the park while playing Basketball. I was
playing Basketball and Russell was well respected by the gangs of that
Right, I know about him
getting his hustle on!
he was doing his thing out there and we would see each other and keep it
moving. In fact we lived about 10 blocks from each other. So I would see
him and we would acknowledge each other. But I was more into the
basketball and not the other thing. So the gangs would have their
meetings out there but there was no conflict. We did our thing they did
theirs and we stayed out of each others way. Then when I was playing in
the clubs he said “man you got to come with me up to the Fever one
night.” (Disco Fever.) By this time he was promoting and had his RUSH
thing going on. You would see his RUSH stickers on trains and other
places. He realized that I had it popping at the spot! So he was this
record promoter guy and he would bring the records to the d.j.s to play.
He would come around and say “yo Ralph I got this record of such and
such can you play it?” I can’t remember but he had this cut with
Love is the Message on it and these guys rapping over the top of it. I
was like why would they sell this in the store because this is the same
thing that we do in the park. Who is going to buy this when all you have
to do is go to the park to hear this for free. By this time everybody is
starting to play in the park.
Rappers Delight hadn’t
come out just yet and he had this cut you are referring to?
this is the thing when I was a kid I heard the same thing even though I
don’t think it was Love is the Message, but it was two or three years
before Rappers Delight but nobody talks about that being the first hip
know what you are talking about but I can’t tell you what that record
was nor the label, but I remember him bringing it to me. But I have no
idea what the name is. Russell was like “yo man everybody ain’t
going to come to the park” So he had an understanding of the marketing
and this sound, which I had no clue of. So I was like alright, and after
awhile I can remember him bringing me Kurtis Blow and all these other
records he was working with. He was also telling about his brother Run,
who was D.J. Run at the time. I said o.k. but by this time I was the
hottest cat out, as far as Queens was concerned.
would say you were more popular then D.J. Divine, Disco Twins, Rat and
They weren’t even in the
mix the way I was doing it.
I didn’t know that!
This is in the clubs.
you were in the clubs, and they were in the park. But when the winter
came around didn’t they go into clubs like say Fantasia etc?
those were a lot of Russell’s parties. He was the one that kicked off
Fantasia. But I was in the clubs, and I was one of the youngest dudes in
there along with me and Elai Tubo. A lot of people don’t mention Elai
Tubo, he was the dude that produced and mixed all of those early Eric B
and Rakim records. Elai was the D.J. at the Renaissance.
What the Renaissance up in
this one was in Queens and it was called the Renaissance Disco. The
Renaissance was where Chic and them use to hangout. You would go in
there and you would see Nile Rogers and them girls. You had to be
dressed up; it was like going to Leviticus and these other clubs. Then
there is this record called “Funkin for Jamaica” by Tom Browne.
I remember that very well.
that record he says we are going over to check out Jet. Jet was the
owner of the Renaissance. Jet knew all of these people, and he was a fly
dressing dude. He knew everybody.
Some good stuff Ralph please
keep it coming!
starts laughing.) Jet knew everybody, and Elai was his D.J. up in there.
The Renaissance was bigger then the Blue Ice. It was on Hillside Avenue
down the block from Hillcrest high school. you really had to be dressed
up to go in there and when I was in high school I wasn’t really
dressing up to go to the club I was wearing what ever I wore. But when I
got the Renaissance I would were shoes, slacks and a shirt looking
decent. After awhile they knew me and that I was a d.j. they would say
o.k. that’s Ralph let him in. The Renaissance was the premiere spot in
Queens. They would have all types of shows including Fashion shows, they
were really doing it. It was a Queen’s version of these New York
sophisticated black clubs. I feel the reason why hip hop became popular, and the whole Herc movement became
popular was because street dudes that were just into dancing and later
on becoming b-boys is because they couldn’t get into the clubs like
Red Alert said the same thing in his story, they didn’t want to get
all dressed to go down town to hear some music.
they didn’t want to go down town. So you had the same thing happening
in Queens where street dudes couldn’t get into the Renaissance so they
started doing their own thing. Which was in places like Fantasia etc.
that’s why that whole Fantasia movement became so big. That’s how
hip hop started to emerge. The same way in the Bronx but it took
probably a year or two longer.
how did you feel about those groups in the Bronx and Harlem once you
started knowing about Flash and the Furious Five, Fantastic 5, Cold
Crush, Treacherous 3 and others? How did you feel about that type of hip
the beginning when we were first getting those records I wasn’t really
feeling the Sugar Hill or Enjoy records at first.
the Sugar Hill Gang was a poor way to describe the Hip hop coming from
the Bronx and Harlem. It would have been better for you to judge the hip
hop from the Bronx though the live tapes back then.
I didn’t go to the Bronx to hear them until later on, and that
wouldn’t be until about 1978.
So it’s still early for
it was still early. It was going on because cats were on the mic. Cats
were rocking the party. We were hearing the emcees, but in the beginning
the d.j. never let anybody rock the mic, unless it was him (The D.J.)!
The D.J. would only like shout out somebody’s birthday.
Or say “come up front your
mother wants to talk to you or your car is double parked!”
now to get on the mic and start rhyming over a record or even hyping up
a crowd was very rare. So when it happened unless you were really good
at it, it would be like……why is he talking on the mic so much? Now
people can’t hear our music!
Right, I got you.
our way we had a brother name Sweetie Gee, I don’t know if you ever
heard of him!
yes I have heard of him, in fact I am supposed to do a story with him as
well. (Sorry Sweetie Gee I am just backed up with a lot to do in this
life I will get at you in time.) Mike and Dave produced him.
Gee was one of the first to come out and get on the mic the way he did.
Sweetie Gee used to come to the Blue Ice or any where else I was playing
and get on the mic and do his thing, and after awhile I would say o.k.
enough of that. (We both start laughing.)
as I don’t know the history of the emcee in Queens like I do in the
Bronx I am amazed you said Sweetie Gee was the first cat like that!
he was there, early. He understood the whole entertainment factor of it,
he got it.
He has blown up today doing
Yeah he is into Sports
marketing and managing and other things.
what about the other guy, Sweet Gee? Wasn’t he from Queens but
traveling back and forth from the Disco Fever in the Bronx?
I am not sure. I met Sweet Gee later on, but I didn’t know if he is
from Queens or not.
say that because I have a show on video of him at the Encore along with
Mele Mel, Busy Bee and Cowboy. It was a Birthday party for one of Fat
Cats boys. But Sweet Gee came on first doing his records Games people
play and the other one I can’t remember right now.
I am not really sure if he
was actually from Queens!
o.k. I just wanted to give
props to who ever was repping Queens on the mic during that time!
See on the emcee tip…..
emcee didn’t really start until the early to mid eighties, when a
Queens’s rapper was really strong with his lyrics.
Well there was dudes on the
mic don’t get me wrong.
got those dudes you are referring to. But those emcees were still more
of a Queens’s rapper by not getting deeper into the meaning of an
emcee, writing a rhyme such as a Bronx or Harlem emcee would!
is correct and this was because the D.J. was in control, and it didn’t
take over just yet. One of the first cats I ever heard that I really
liked was Eddie Cheba!
Right but Eddie wasn’t
from over there by you!
so you’re saying you were more favorable of a Disco emcee! So how did
you feel about Hollywood?
was good, when I went to Manhattan I heard him at one of those
Ballrooms. But it was Eddie Cheba that I heard of because I went to
LaGuardia Community College.
Right, Cheba Cheba Cheba!
Boom I was like “oh man this dude is doing his thing I am digging this
right here.” I let him rock on my set! I seen what he was doing and he
understood the Disco thing ….he understood the records.
Right, he had perfect
timing, he knew when to come in and break back out.
you felt those guys like Cold Crush etc but you were really caught into
the times and styles of your own type of music in Queens?
Right, we were doing our own
The Bronx style was cool but
you were loving what you were doing!
but to be to the extent that it is today, who knew. It was really really
early. I come from a time where certain groups like B.T. Express, Brass
Construction, ah Ohio Players; you wanted to hear those records! So to
rhyme over them didn’t make sense to me!
I got that and I loved that
you bought that up!
totally understand what you are saying. At the same token a lot of those
Soul and Rhythm and Blues groups came from there Queens, referring to
so we were familiar with that whole instrumentation and sounds and all
that and we were just like “ah man listen to that and listen to this,
and listen to the horns come up. (Right there as Ralph is speaking about
it he is getting caught into the feeling of describing it.)
I feel you.
as B- Boyism and Hip Hop was not about that at all! It was just about
taking the break part.
You know, so it was just a
different way of listening to music.
How long did you rock the
Encore and what was the next step after the Encore?
rocked at the Encore from say 1981to 1982 because it started getting a
little crazy because this is when South side is starting to come up and
there is a lot of drug involvement and getting a little crazy with shoot
outs in the club and things like that. Plus there was so much money
being made in the club that they didn’t care about the music part of
it, and they really didn’t care about me. They cared about the money.
I feel you; you were loving
the heart of the music.
so I was like nah man I am not feeling this, so one night I just said
that’s it I am out. I am not doing it any more. Fat Cat and a whole
lot of other cats were coming through before I left. I used to have a
Ladies night that was on Tuesdays and this was
pre Fat Cat time. There were guys like FBI and all these other
cats that later on got killed. This was in fact before the whole Fat Cat
movement got big. This might have been about 2 or 3 years after I left,
that Fat Cat’s name started to ring bells.
What was this you said about
These were dudes that were
apart of that movement of strong arming dudes.
So there was a gang named
FBI that just strong armed people and took theirs?
No, no this was one person
and that was his name!
busts out laughing.) One dude name FBI was just strong arming and taking
cats stuff, and they were letting him walk around!
used to come into Encore and say “yo Ralph play Love is the
Message!” And I would be like “yo I just played it!” He would be
like “well play it again, we want to hear that!” All the South side
is over in the corner running with him.
bottles are up, and you know back then they wasn’t popping Moet they
was popping Pipers!
Yes I remember very well.
my man used to give them a hard time so I was like look leave that alone
I am going to play the s--- for them. And FBI used to want to get on the
mic and shout everybody out for South Side.
is laughing.) Word up?
I be like let that n----- do
what the f--- he want to do.
is laughing harder because of the way Ralph is explaining it.)
him do what the hell he wants to do. So I was cool with all of them, I
would walk through 40 projects and wherever and they would be like
that’s Ralph from the club he’s cool.
that’s our man, but who is he going to see!?” “It don’t matter,
let Ralph do what ever he want to do!”
Right, right I hear you.
I knew I was going up in them buildings and I had to be alright. I
didn’t want any problems with them cats! So I was like these are my
n----- and they would be like let that n------ through. And these dudes
were murdering cats out there.
So is FBI around here today.
see by this time John Gotti and them were coming up and they were doing
their thing and they were in and out of the hood. The Italians were
running the Juke Boxes! If you had a Juke Box, that was their thing.
know what you are talking about; those Juke Boxes were around long
before that time. They were in the bars up in Harlem as well.
they were into loan sharking as well as the drug world! So we figured in
the end it might have been them that killed him. See FBI wasn’t really
f------ with them, he was like a dude on his own.
That was what I was about to
say he had to be taking a piece from everybody.
was his own man once the game started coming up. If you weren’t
playing by what they wanted to do or who ever they had down wanted you
to do, you were a liability!
So what did FBI stand for?
a pause and then…) ….I don’t even know!
O.k. so he is
like a bunch of other cats I know like that, they were so notorious that
they was untouchable until their time came.
his time came! So him and other dudes started getting knocked off and
the game started getting crazy. So you can tell the climate of things
was starting to change because n------ had more money and it was just
changing. But me on the other hand I was just there for the music I
wasn’t there for that. By this time I am now going into the city and I
met this guy who tells me he can hook me up with clubs in the city so I
was like cool. It was little clubs nothing big. As far as I was concern
I was blowing up because I was going into Manhattan now.
Right exactly. So what was the next big spot before Video Music Box?
started also playing in Brooklyn. There used to be this spot called Town
Hill Two! Town Hill Two was
like the main spot in Brooklyn. But it kind of fell off as far as the
crowd coming through like it used to. So one of the dudes that owned
Encore bought the place, because he felt me on my vibe as well. He also
didn’t like the crowd at the Encore. So we changed the name from Town
Hill to Panorama! It turned out to be a cool spot.
So was this place also in a notorious area of Brooklyn?
That was in Flatbush on Beverly Road.
way over there by East Flatbush on the 2 and 5 train, like the second to
last train stop!
Right, exactly. It later became the Ark.
O.k., in fact a lot Jamaican families are from over there, am I right?
Yes that is
right. So you got the Dreads jumping up even though they were already
out there in Queens and different areas but you are starting to see the
whole Jamaican movement coming in and all the weed and all that, and
Panorama is cool we can play whatever kind of music, and we would be
open until ten in the morning.
Ten in the morning, damn!
Yeah, the party would start around 11pm and end about 10 am!
So ya’ll would never get
any beef from 5-0, were they taken care of?
Yeah I guess so!
The reason I
say that is because clubs are supposed to close really at 4am and so
that would be considered and after hour spot.
Nah we would
take it to the early early mornings. There were no problems; long as you
didn’t have any problems on the out side you don’t have any problems
from the police.
question is before you started Video Music Box did you go to college to
learn this new field you are about to come into?
whole time I am in college from 1978 to 1981. I went to LaGuardia
Community College for two years, and then I went to New York Tech, which
is in Westbury. That’s where I got my bachelors degree for Television
and communications. So that
was my introduction into the whole film and T.V. thing. Also during this
time my partner later the Vid Kid went to City College as well as
Why did your man call him self Vid Kid?
know he just made it up. (Ralph starts laughing.) “I am going to be
the Vid Kid.”
So what was his name before Vid Kid?
Now did you ever have a different D.J. name other then D.J. Ralph
I was always
Ralph McDaniel’s! because to me I thought people having names was
corny. I was like just call you’re self what your name is. Nah
actually for a few months I was DJ Calypso. But that didn’t work.
I got you. So what took you to doing this video thing?
When I was
in college I took this intern ship working at WNYC which was channel 31.
So the dude
that ran the place said “I like the way you work and your coming on
time, as well as you are into it etc. etc.” “If you graduate I will
give you a job.” I was like alright fine and that was how I got my
first job. I was an engineer. It had nothing to do with producing T.V.
shows or anything like that. But I used to see the shows and I used to
tell people that I worked on the show and they would be like what’s on
there? The station was similar to PBS channel 13, but there wasn’t
really too much to talk about on that station to me.
The channel has shows about Art and cooking, etc.
might be a show about firemen and the department or what ever. It was
similar to maybe the history channel or something!
called the public broadcasting station, but I was like if it is for the
public how come they don’t have anything for black people on here.
Would that station be similar to the public access channels that we have
Public access was different and it came later on.
Was it similar that you could put your own show on there?
Nah, nah you
couldn’t just put a show on. The studio was the one that put the money
up for the material they play. Public access came when cable came. Cable
created that word Public Access.
Oh right I
see. (I Forgot channel 31 WNYC and Video Music Box came before cable T.V.)
wasn’t any Cable then! In fact the only Cable that existed during that
time in Manhattan was Manhattan Cable. In the whole New York City
Manhattan was the only place that had Cable.
Right now I
remember there was this station called Wometco Home Theater, some thing
like that. Which was in short called WHT.
begging my mother to get it but she didn’t get cable until cable fully
Right that was the closest thing to Cable.
Right, so how did your channel 31 stay afloat being as there were no
They got grants.
O.k. right, the city took care of them!
rich people took care of them, like the Rockefeller Foundation and
others. It was a tax write off for them. It is still funded that way to
So what made
you decide one day to start your own show? Also can you remember the
date when your first show came on and the public saw it?
first concept of Video Music Box came about when I was engineering
something and we got these tapes of artist performing. They weren’t
really music videos but they were artist perform to their songs. It was
the Whispers and all these other groups that were on Solar Records. It
was the Whispers, Lakeside and some other groups. It was a 30 minute
tape. I was like this is hot, because these records were hot at the
I used to love looking at those types of videos with just the band
sitting there performing.
couple of different camera angles maybe and they were doing their thing.
MTV was out but I had never seen it. So MTV did exist at that particular
time, so I guess that was why they were making these particular tapes.
But later I found out they weren’t playing them.
They weren’t playing anything black on there anyway until Michael
Jackson got down.
So I was
like since I got these videos we should put a show together and put
these on because people in my hood want to see this.
like well we don’t know about that, we will see what happens. I went
to the program director about this, which is something I never did. I
never stepped into where they were making the show, I was an Engineer.
So they was like “this dude is an engineer what does he know about
what people want to see?”
So what exactly were you doing as an engineer?
guy is behind the scenes like the camera man, the guy who puts the tape
on the reel so they can be recorded. The guy who makes sure the signal
is going out over the t.v. Our antenna was on top of the World Trade
Center. I would talk to the guy at the World Trade Center asking him if
it looks good and he would say “yeah everything looks good.”
“Alright cool, so let me know if something goes wrong.”
“Alright!” So that was my job, and there were times I would spend
hours looking at the T.V. at things that I had no interest in. So I was
like they need to put something better on here. So one day they were
having this fund raiser like they have on channel 13. The dude that
turned me down earlier about my idea came up to me and asked me “where
are those tapes that you had with the different groups on them?” He
said he wanted to use that in the fund raiser. So I was like “word,
alright” and I told him I had them right here on the job in my locker.
So he puts it on and it’s cool. So the guy that runs the station said
“a lot of people called in when those things were on.”
Damn isn’t that something.
again I said “yeah so we should do a show etc”. So six months later
this dude comes up and says “I am going to do a show with all the
videos.” See when I first gave them the videos they never gave them
back. I was like those were my tapes, and I felt that was my idea! So
the guy was like “well they want me to do it, they don’t want you to
do it” blah blah blah. So I was like “I am down with the show, I
don’t give a f--- what you tell me!”
So I was the voice of the show and it was called at that time Studio 31
Me and the
dude used to argue all the time, because this dude used to want to play
the wack videos. See now we are starting to get videos coming in. But he
used to play what I felt was corny.
Was the concept black in the beginning?
Yes it was Black!
Was the guy you were working with Black?
Yes he was.
So what type of stuff was he playing?
I don’t know he was getting stuff from his friends, and stuff from
Oh New Jack type dudes that maybe he wanted to break?
Yeah but not even New Jack type dudes, it was more like Theatrical
O.k. I got you.
I was like
“nah nah don’t play that just come with the heat!” So we used to
go at it all the time. He got tired of doing it, in fact he really
didn’t want to do it anyway, they just picked him to do it. So there
was no longer a show any more at Studio 31 Dance party. So I went to the
program director and told him that show we have been doing all along is
really my idea, and I would like to do that!
“alright Ralph fine, so what do you want to call it?” I said “I
want to call it Video Music Box!”
Where did you get that name from?
I just made it up!
you give me a date when the first show was aired through them and the
first show you did by your self.
show was probably, somewhere in May of 1983. Video Music Box came in
December of 1983.
What was the very first video played for your Video Music Box?
course now Michael Jackson is out by this time, and I still have the
tapes to this day. Also the Pointer Sisters with Im So Excited
etc. Also of course the Whispers because that is what first got my
attention and Shalamar.
So you originally started out with R&B music and then later slipped
into the Hip Hop!
Right, because there were no Hip Hop videos at that time.
Now what was
the name of that show that used to come on Friday nights, on channel 7
called? …….Hot Tracks!
Right Hot Tracks!
How did that show influence you?
to me that I was doing the right thing. Because I already wanted the
show on, and when I saw Hot Tracks come on. I was like “Yo see what I
am saying!” This was our idea we have to do this!
Right! Plus you could have done it before Hot Tracks.
And I did
but they hesitated! So once Hot Tracks came on it was a confirmation
that this whole music video thing was getting ready to be a big thing.
that you got the whole R&B thing going, what about your
introduction. We talked about it the other day but how did you put that
together starting with Five Minutes of Funk from Whodini.
of Funk was just one of my favorite cuts, I loved the song. It just
sounded like a theme song to me you know. Then I picked certain groups
from that time that reflected what was going on at the moment. In the
opening we had James Brown; we had Madonna as well as Prince. Jimi
Hendrix and a White Boy group called Ah Ha and their visual from their
video was crazy.
You spliced all that together your self?
Yes I spliced it all together.
Did you have a crew back then working for you?
I had a crew
but they were the station crew! Video Music Box in the beginning was
just all videos. So there wasn’t anything to shoot in the beginning.
So they would help out in the beginning with the editing and eventually
we started shooting, and they were the camera people. They stayed with
me until about 1987.
This thing started growing and growing for you?
In fact at this time you were even before Donnie Simpson and BET?
was no BET nowhere, which amazes me that they have a 25th
anniversary! The only thing that I was aware of was MTV. But I had not
seen it yet because cable wasn’t out like that yet. It was out but
only in Manhattan and they were only wired from 23rd street
to 57th street. I was reaching the whole city.
I got you; in fact you were rocking before these guys hit New York!
me about your show was it was similar to Mr. Magic in we only turned to
that channel for you at that time and soon as the show was over we would
turn right from that channel, which was the same thing with Mr. Magic
and WHBI. At 2am in the morning we would listen to his show and then we
people in the hood, you would watch that channel for that show and that
was it, that was all the interest they had in that channel. In fact that
channel never had any Neilson ratings. So I then started hearing people
talk about Neilson ratings….
Damn kid you became the man over there!
Right, and I
then started going to the book and it might have started out saying .3
people watch this channel. So I would be like well what does that mean?
But they didn’t even know how to read the book, because they never had
a rating before. So I had to go and find some people that could break it
down. They said that might be 45, 000 people watching or 50,000 people.
My whole thing was to keep getting that number bigger. I wanted to get
to a 1! I remember when I got over the number 1. I had 1.1, something.
They were like that is a lot of people watching the show.
So how was
management treating you once you raised the bar? First they didn’t
even want to listen to your thought. So how are they treating you now?
All they did
is use me for the numbers. At the end of the year we have such and such
amount of people watching the station. Not the show mind, you but the
station! They used my numbers to make the station look good. They
didn’t acknowledge me because they had no interest in the show what so
ever! They were not interested in looking at those black people perform.
They them selves were older white people.
Yeah but the
crazy thing is because of
your show people would turn before your show would start to see what
came on before your show started and after your show would finish. So
these producers,’ directors and owners had to acknowledge that your
show is making the channel more popular.
they didn’t want to acknowledge this type of program. They didn’t
have it in them to say this show is the show that can be the catalyst to
build other programs around. They didn’t look at it that they could
use it to their advantage. They never mention Video Music Box in any
promos or anything like that. At the same token they didn’t deny me
when I went to go get my little budget to do my show.
Did they ever give you a raise for the work you put in?
They gave me
a salary but no raise, they said this was it. But to be honest what ever
the amount it was fine, because it was a lot more than what I was making
as an engineer!
Plus it was good advertisement for you.
once again I was into it for the music. That was my whole thing. Also
now that Hot Tracks is out you know that there are other videos out. Up
until that point there was nothing else for me to look at to see if
there was something else out there that maybe I didn’t have.
So that was
my next question, because you started blowing up making noise did people
start sending videos to you, asking you to play their video? I am
referring to known solo and groups such as Temptations, or who ever are
hot at that moment.
groups are who I started meeting, the local groups from New York. They
were like I got a video. The record companies weren’t really quick yet
reaching out to me. But I would reach out to them and send a letter etc
asking for a video. I would have to keep calling and eventually you
would get it. But the groups were like “yo I got to get my video on
Give me an idea of some groups that came at you?
and then you started running into hip hop artists as well. Now you
talking about Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, and Whodini these were like the
first hip hop videos. Also few of the groups from Jive records like Kool
Moe Dee who really hit me up a little bit later on.
What made you start going to these clubs live, like for instance
Zanzibar was like an extension of The Garage, so they were like into the
same thing, the club scene. But say if there was a record that was hot
like say Eric B and Rakim’s My Melody and Eric B for President! There
is no video for those cuts. So I would have to go there and tape them,
because this was the first time you ever saw these people!
So I would
go to these functions and tape them so people can see who these people
are, because I was interested in knowing who these people are so I know
every body else was curious as well.
So I taped
them so people can see who is behind these records! So that was when I
started going out to the clubs. We would also go to the Roxy. The first
group we caught out of there was the Force M.D.s….
I know Run and them used to be there a lot as well as L. L.
was even before that I am talking about Force M.D.s, Fat Boys, Kurtis
And you have these guys live on your show?
Now once you
started blowing up were other shows starting to shout you out saying
“yo bust it, I want you to come and do my show?” Such as a BET?
never came to me; I can remember seeing MTV more. MTV is starting to
grow. I remember going to MTV because there was another channel around
maybe a couple of years after we started called U68! U68 was a music
channel that was on the same UHF channel like us. People that didn’t
have cable could also watch U68 too. But they played more Rock and Roll.
I am not too familiar with that.
U68 was run
by this guy name Steve Leeds. Steve Leeds later got a job working on
MTV. So I went to Steve Leeds and said “yo man, can we get Video Music
Box over here at MTV?” He was like “nah they don’t really want to
see that over here.”
They weren’t ready yet for total black music?
became the home shopping network, so there was no music after awhile!
Steve Leeds went to MTV from there. See I knew him very well, so I was
like “yo we were about to do something at U68 with you, can we instead
do it over here at MTV with you?” That’s
when he said nah. So this
was like 1984 or 85 and Fresh fest was about to happen. There are tours
going out, RUN-DMC is going out. I was like “RUN-DMC is big even white
kids are buying RUN-DMC what are you talking about?” “Why would they
not want to see this?” So he was like “nah its cool going to the
concert but not on their t.v.!” I was like “I can’t believe
that!” So I kept telling him “this thing is big and ya’ll need to
do a hip hop show here.” But he wasn’t hearing me. So two years
later is when Yo MTV Raps came about.
© 2007 Troy L. Smith No Part May Be Copied Without Authors Consent.
Check Uncle Ralph @ http://www.myspace.com/uncleralph