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Electrifying Mojo

Related: Detroit techno - radio

Techno's roots in Detroit date back to a black FM DJ named Charles Johnson-better known by his on-air name, the Electrifying Mojo. From 1977 into the mid-'80s, Mojo practiced a philosophy he calls "counter-clockwiseology": ignoring the strict racial formatting that afflicted the local airwaves. "When I first got to Detroit, it was like apartheid on the dial," Mojo recalls, "separatist radio." A typical evening's session of Mojo's genre-defying Midnight Funk Association ranged from Parliament's "Flash Light" to Visage's "Frequency 7," plus anything and everything by Prince. Most important, when the German electronic group Kraftwerk's Computer World came out in 1981, Mojo played virtually the entire album every night, making a lasting impact on impressionable young listeners like Juan Atkins. --unidentified source


Charles "The Electrifying Mojo" Johnson, was a Detroit, USA radio disk jockey from the 1970s through the 1990s, whose on-air journey of musical and social development shaped a generation of Detroit music-lovers, and was of paramount importance to the development of Techno.

His seminal radio show, The Midnight Funk Association, ran from 1977 through the mid-1980s, and while broadcast on stations marketed at the African-American market, his programming was an inspired blend of the best soul, funk, new wave, and rock that defies common radio industry classifications.

He is recognized for having "broken" many artists in the Detroit radio market, including Prince, the B-52s, and Kraftwerk, and was occasionally thanked on-air by the artists for his support of their work. Because his habit was to play entire recordings without interruption, regular listeners became deeply familiar with each recording.

The MFA moved from the smaller WGPR to WJLB in its prime years, then on to WDRQ as its star passed.

The 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.

He also dedicated airtime to reading excerpts from his 500-plus page book, The Mental Machine. A work of poetry and prose preaching community and lamenting societal ills, The Mental Machine did not avoid the traps of cliche and triteness common to this type of writing, but was frequently compelling nonetheless--particularly when read aloud by the author. Both his on-air persona and his writing seemed to put a Christian spirituality more centerstage than his previous shows.

But his sense of humor and creativity shone even as he paid the bills. His two primary sponsors at the time were a deli and an insurance agency, and together had the lion's share of the commercial time on his show. The spots for them produced by Mojo were loose and low-production, with plenty of booming reverb on Mojo's admonishment to "save on auto insurance!"

The late 1990s brought Mojo to WCHB-FM for a stretch in 1998. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Electrifying_Mojo [Apr 2005]

Intro (2)

Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, "The Electrifying Mojo," a.k.a. Charles Johnson, was an eclectic and influential Detroit radio DJ during the '80s and '90s.

DJs playing in clubs and at private parties around Detroit had some great playlists and spun music more closely associated with what we know think of as techno (e.g. Italo-disco), but Mojo is a part of our consciousness -- thousands of kids literally grew up listening to his show. Put more succinctly, Mojo may not have influenced the development of techno as a form of music per se, but he did help prime a generation of listeners for unusual sounds.

Mojo played a wide range of music, especially considering the increased pressure to stick to the "format" of Detroit's urban contemporary stations. Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Visage, J. Geils Band, Cybotron, film scores and even classical music have found their way into his playlists. This tenacious eclecticism is why he moved from station to station (six in total) and at one point even dished up music on the toll-based telephone number 1-976-MOJO.

In 1998 he began webcasting his show on WCHB (105.9), accessible at the time at www.electrifyingmojo.com. The site generated sizable traffic and pulled in listeners from all over the globe, but it came down soon after Mojo left WCHB later that year.

For the moment, Mojo has put radio to the side in order to focus on writing and, as he says, "observing." In 1995, Mojo published a 539-page opus, The Mental Machine, a compilation of poems and essays, self-published on his J-Stone Audio Books imprint. There is a book slated for a 2000 release about former Detroit mayor Coleman A. Young entitled "Coleman A. Young The People's Mayor," and one called "Great Black Classical Composers" that is still a work in progress.

Some highlights and interesting facts: http://music.hyperreal.org/lists/313/09.html [May 2004]

From Derrick May

Derrick May once described techno as "just like Detroit, a complete mistake. It's like George Clinton and Kraftwerk stuck in an elevator." "I've always been a music lover," says Juan Atkins. "Everything has a subconscious effect on what I do. In the 1970s I was into Parliament, Funkadelic; as far back as '69 they were making records like Maggot Brain, America Eats Its Young. But if you want the reason why that happened in Detroit, you have to look at a DJ called Electrifying Mojo: he had five hours every night, with no format restrictions. It was on his show that I first heard Kraftwerk."

From Dan Bell:

d-the thing that really, really, REALLY did it for me was...um, my grandparents had a cottage on the canadian side of lake huron...and, i would stay with them over the summer, and you could get all the detroit radio stations. when i first started listening, around 15 or 16, there was one guy i started listening to, his name was electrifying mojo. he did this show on, i think it was WJLB at that time... the stuff he used to play...just really opened my eyes because i had heard kraftwerk, and knew all their stuff, i had heard "planet rock," and then one night when i was going round...he used to start his shows at 12 o'clock midnight, and one night i came across it and i was like, "holy shit." he was playing cybotron, afrika bambaata, a LOT of kratwerk, a lot of model 500, and stuff like that, that i had never heard before. plus, he played a lot of parliament, funkadelic, and a lot of funk like zapp and all that stuff. i really wanted to do music after i heard those shows...i listened the whole summer. and the reception was kind of weak, so i had to hook the back of the radio, the antenna, up to a clotheshanger and everything...so i could get the station (laughs). but it was just...man, i loved that show. and it influenced a lot of people.

From Jeff Mills

[...] I would have to say Electrifying Mojo, a local DJ in Detroit. He plays anything he feels like playing and the whole city is always with him man, he's a cat. Mojo would play anything from James Brown and Jimi Hendrix to Alexander Robotnik and Tangerine Dream. We heard Kraftwerk, we heard YMO, and all this right in the middle of the inner city, he's been doing it for years. They kick him off the radio every couple of years but he's a true rebel, he's like a leader to me. And then Jeff Mills had a radio show at WDET, that's like the State college station, for years he was playing stuff like Meat Beat Manifesto and Nine Inch Nails, a lot of alternative stuff. He played a lot of interesting music and Jeff Mills was known as the wizard. He would play a lot of Chicago, a lot of Detroit techno and a lot of hip hop coming out of New York and he'd mix them all together. So at that time we had Mojo and Jeff Mills on the radio and some heavyweight music getting played. The state of affairs now is we got a little radio show that we're trying to sponsor to educate the kids but it's gonna cost a lot of money so we'll have to wait and see.

Juan Atkins


"Detroit's a very unique city," Atkins said, pointing to the town's auto industry '60s heyday, when good salaries flowed into both black and white households.

"Black kids had money, and it kind of created this attitude, almost bourgeois attitude, and you go to other cities and you don't find that. They wanted to hang out with themselves," recalled Atkins, 36. "They didn't want to hang with the kids from the projects. They needed their own music."

By the late '70s/early '80s, these kids found some of that identity in Italian disco and German art-rock, especially the hard, electronic, minimalist beats of Dusseldorf's groundbreaking Kraftwerk. A popular local radio DJ — Charles Johnson, a.k.a. The Electrifyin' Mojo — mixed up all sorts of European dance music and American new wave and funk.

According to Spin editor Simon Reynolds' well-researched book about the global dance-music scene, "Generation Ecstasy," a Euro fascination swept through Detroit in the '80s, elevating continental acts such as Front 242, Depeche Mode, and Meat Beat Manifesto as well as new-wave American groups such as Devo, the B-52's and Talking Heads to star status. The Euro attitude can best be summed up in the title of a recent song by Underground Resistance: "Afrogermanic." --Juan Atkins

Classical Music [...]

The man known as The Electrifying Mojo, though a mysterious figure of the nighttime airwaves, is very real. From WAAM, to WJLB, to WGPR, to WCHB, and for a number of other stations, the man has made a definite (and sometimes defiant) impact on Detroit radio. It was in the early 1980s on WJLB that the Electrifying Mojo established himself as one of Detroit's musical icons. The show was called the "Midnight Funk Association" - less a radio program than an underground movement - and with it, Mojo had the ability to take the mainstream and turn it underground. And vice versa. It was the only program where the Supremes could coexist with Afrika Bambaataa and Was (Not Was). It was also here that many were introduced to Detroit techno. Detroit's reputation as the techno capital of the world was spread by the man who was an avid supporter of funk and innovation. When Mojo left WJLB and came to WGPR in the mid-1990s he would quote from a fictional work, the Mental Machine. Many listeners began asking for copies. Without missing a beat, Mojo became an author, creating the tome himself. A mix of poetry, art and commentary, it is now in its third printing. Mojo's stay on WGPR was about to take an interesting turn. Asked if there was a such thing as a black composer of classical music, he didn't have an answer. He found that, indeed, there were and he played the music on air. He assumed there'd be no problem playing "black music" on a "black radio station" - regardless of genre. That was not the case. He was given a deadline to cease playing classical music. He violated the deadline, and the show was canceled. Though, he stated that he wouldn't return to radio, Mojo threw everyone a curve by reappearing on WCHB. His Mothership soon landed at the station with a regular Sunday night spot. When Radio One bought the station, a number of popular DJs and programs were canceled - Mojo's was one of them. Never clearly photographed and slightly harder to catch than the Loch Ness Monster, Mojo's legend has grown through his communication with his listeners and his community activism.

Anonymous Testimonial

Back in the day, Detroit radio was king! Detroit airwaves were controlled by selectors that were more than entertaining. They were inspirational. Whenever a hot new record would hit the airwaves, people in this city would lose their minds! I remember when I heard Cybotron’s “Alley’s of Your Mind” and Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator” for the first time on the Electrifying Mojo’s radio show. The next day at school, everyone was talking. Or the first time that I heard The Wizard cut up the words “It’s Time.” It was such an unbelievable sound. Damn, it was the sound of the future. What happened to those days?

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