History helps one know not only where you come from, but why certain things recur within an industry. The history of Disc Jockeys is quite interesting.
Created in the southern United States, the juke joint was a spot for dancing, drinking, gambling and listening to music. By 1927, The Automatic Music Instrument Company created the world's first electrically amplified multi selection phonograph and the jukebox provided the music for the juke joints. Prohibition assured the jukeboxes success, as every underground speakeasy needed music, but could not afford a live band. Tavern owners were privileged to have a jukebox, which drew in customers, and was provided by an operator at no charge.
In 1935, American commentator Walter Winchell coined the term "disc jockey" (the combination of "disc", referring to the disc records, and "jockey", which is an operator of a machine) as a description of radio announcer Martin Block, the first announcer to become a star. While his audience was awaiting developments in the Lindbergh kidnapping, Block played records and created the illusion that he was broadcasting from a ballroom, with the nation’s top dance bands performing live. The show, which he called Make Believe Ballroom, was an instant hit. The term "disc jockey" appeared in print in Variety in 1941.
During the second World War the first DJ’s appeared as entertainers for troops overseas, persons armed with a turntable, an armful of records, and a basic amplifier would entertain troops in mess halls, spinning Glen Miller, the Andrews sisters, and Benny Goodman. It was much easier than sending an entire band overseas.
In 1943, Jimmy Savile launched the world's first DJ dance party by playing jazz records in the upstairs function room of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherd's in Otley, England. In 1947, he became the first DJ to use twin turntables for continuous play. Also in 1947, the Whiskey à Go-Go nightclub opened in Paris, France, considered to be the world's first discothèque, or disco (deriving its name from the French word, meaning a nightclub where the featured entertainment is recorded music rather than an on-stage band). Discos began appearing across Europe and the United States.
Within the United States the jukebox became the staple of nightclubs and lounges that didn’t have “live” talent. In the 1950s, American radio DJs would appear live at "sock hops" and "platter parties" and assume the role of a human jukebox. They would usually play 45-rpm records featuring hit singles on one turntable, while talking between songs. In some cases, a live drummer was hired to play beats between songs to maintain the dance floor. These announcers where instrumental in the creation of the music industry as we know it today, Alan Freed, Jockey Jack Gibson, Dick Clark, Al Benson ALL where DJ’s that expanded this industry. Meanwhile in Jamaica the concept of sound systems developed from enterprising record shop disc jockeys with reliable American connections for 45s. "Toasting" began in Jamaica dance halls - considered to be a direct link to rap music and Technics introduced the Direct Drive System, SP-10 turntable.
Kool Herc considered to be the first hip-hop DJ developed "Cutting Breaks." In 1969 Herc adapted his style by chanting over the instrumental or percussion sections of the day's popular songs. Because these breaks were relatively short, he learned to extend them indefinitely by using an audio mixer and two identical records in which he continuously replaced the desired segment. By using two identical records and playing the break over and over switching from one deck to the other. Hip hop derived from "hip hoppin" on the turntable.
In the mid-1970s, the soul-funk blend of dance music known as Disco took off in the mainstream pop charts in the United States and Europe, causing discotheques to experience a rebirth. Unlike many late 1960s clubs, which featured live bands, discotheques used the DJs selection and mixing of records as the entertainment. In 1975, Record pools began, enabling disc jockeys access to newer music from the industry in an efficient method.
In 1975 Grand Wizard Theodore in New York City discovers the scratch. The story behind the scratch is an invention of accident; apparently he was mixing away in his bedroom making far too much noise and his mother called up and said turn it off and instead of stopping the record with the stop button he used his hand and it made a nice sound. He then came back to the turntables and experimented with pulling the record back and forth across the needle. And so gave birth to the scratch.
1980 Roland introduced the TR-808 drum machine which allows DJ Frankie Knuckles to lay down drum machine-generated 4/4 beats on top of soul and disco tunes. 12" disco records that included long percussion breaks (ideal for mixing) contributed to the emergence of House Music. The addition of a mixer between the turntables allowed a different flow of music and the ability to scratch fast. This also saw the development of the Hip Hop movement.
Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five's first record, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1982) was the first record to show hip-hop deejaying skills. The Technics 1200 turntable’s back spin was perfect for "scratching", and to extend grooves and "breaks" by cutting back and forth from 2 records.
During the early 1990s, the rave scene built on the acid house scene. Some DJs, wanting to be the only source for hearing certain tunes, used "white labels" — records with no info printed on them — in an effort to prevent other DJ’s from learning what they were spinning. The rave scene changed dance music, the image of DJs, and the nature of promoting. Mobile Disc Jockey trade publications such as DJ Times magazine and Mobile Beat were founded in this era.
The innovative marketing surrounding the rave scene created the first superstar DJs who established marketable "brands" around their names and sound. Some of these celebrity DJs toured around the world and were able to branch out into other music-related activities. DJ Cheese (USA ‘86), Chad Jackson (UK ’87), Cash Money (USA ’88), Cutmaster Swift (UK ’89), DJ David (Germany ’90 & ’91), The Rock Steady DJs (DJs Q-Bert, Mixmaster Mike & Apollo (USA ’92) Mixmaster Mike & Q-Bert as The Dream Team ’93/4), Roc Raider (USA ’95) and DJ Noize (Denmark ’96).
Because selecting and playing prerecorded music for an intended audience is the same for every disc jockey. There are certain factors that make up different categories of disc jockeys:
Radio DJ– Plays over the airwaves, normally delivers between the record information and can not chose the music that is played.
Internet radio DJ – Plays over the internet, delivers information between music sets and picks there own music.
Club DJ - Using several turntables, CD players or a hard drive source, a club disc jockey selects and plays music in a club setting. The type of music played usually determines the type of DJ (Rave, Electro, Hip Hop, etc..)
Mobile DJ- They travel with or go on tour with mobile sound systems and play from an extensive collection of pre-recorded content for a specific audience.
Hip hop DJ - a DJ that selects, plays and creates music as a hip-hop artist and/or performer, often backing up one or more MCs.
Reggae deejays – This is traditionally a vocalist who raps, toasts or chats to a "riddim". The term "selector" is reserved for the person who just selects the record and plays it over the sound system.
Video Jockey (VJ) - Vj's mix a variety of video & audio sources together to create a unique video image throughout the night at large club events.
DJs have formed professional associations such as:
Canadian Disc Jockey Association (CDJA),
Canadian Online Disc Jockey Association (CODJA),
American Disc Jockey Association (ADJA), and
National Association of Mobile Entertainers
The DMC (Disco Mix Club)
The I.T.F. (International Turntablist Federation)
National Association of Disc Jockeys (NADJ), (In the UK)
South Eastern Discotheque Association (SEDA) (In the UK)
What will the future bring, I guess that will be history for our children.