PATERSON, NJ — New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. These are just some of the cities in which the voice of B.K. Kirkland has become a household name over the radio waves throughout the years.
However, after decades of befriending, showcasing, and rubbing shoulders with multiple musical superstars, the old school R&B disc jockey and virtual walking encyclopedia of music knowledge has not forgotten his roots. At a recent ceremony held at Paterson City Hall in his honor, Mayor Andre Sayegh awarded Kirkland a lifetime achievement award.
“B.K. Kirkland has left his mark on Paterson,” Sayegh stated as he addressed family members and friends of Kirkland in his office. “We are thrilled to be able to honor his life not only in the music industry but as serving as a role model for both youth and adults.”
Kirkland said that he played and listened to 45 rpm records while growing up as a youngster and that he eventually attended Eastside High School. A well regarded athlete, Kirkland starred on the basketball court and was known for his shooting and dribbling skills long before music became his calling card.
“I remember looking up to B.K. when I was a junior high kid. He was about four years older than I was,” Rev. Arnold Kuykendall, Pastor of Agape Christian Ministries, recounted. “When playing outside at the courts, we younger kids didn’t get to go against the older guys but B.K. always kept an eye on us in case we might get in trouble. He was always a leader.”
He attended Paterson State College (now William Paterson University) and majored in education with a focus on speech.
At Paterson State, Kirkland said he helped start a record club. “There were about seven or eight students that participated,” Kirkland recalled. “Sometimes we would sit around and listen to our records for seven or eight hours a day"
It was from that humble beginning that WPSC 88.7 FM, the current voice of William Paterson University, was born. During their years of study, Kirkland and his collegiate cohorts operated the station’s day-to-day activities and orchestrated playlists.
Upon graduation, Kirkland landed a teaching position at his alma mater, Eastside.
“I was around 25 years old, and I taught English and Public Speaking,” Kirkland said. “I enjoyed my time at Eastside. I remember that it was about six months until I was to be tenured.”
However, an unexpected phone call changed his life, he recounted for TAPinto Paterson.
Kirkland said the voice on the other end of the line offered him a job as a DJ at radio station WVKO, in Columbus, Ohio. “I had about 48 hours to make the decision,” Kirkland shared. “I made the choice to move to Ohio. Had I received tenure by then, I may not have done that.”
His career goal, even from a young age, Kirkland said, was to be a disc jockey, and he had sent out a number of resumes but received no responses. With so many seeking to follow in the footsteps of Alan Freed, and later prominent record spinners in the 60’s and 70’s such as Bob Eubanks, Wolfman Jack, Cousin Brucie, Jocko Henderson, and Casey Kasem, competition for DJ positions in the early 70’s was, “fierce,” Kirkland said, but he didn’t give up.
Reminiscing that he packed his car with all of his lifetime belongings in one day, Kirkland elaborated that he arrived in Ohio with $17 in his pocket.
Kirkland said he stayed at the Columbus radio station for a year, and it was then that his continental platter playing odyssey began when he moved to Detroit and deejayed on a soft rock station. Eventually, the biggest break of Kirkland’s career occurred when an opportunity arose to take over the position of the legendary Frankie Crocker at the classic R&B station WBLS, in New York City.
During his time at WBLS, Kirkland’s calm and assuring voice traveled over the air waves to over two million people weekly.
In a career that has covered every possible musical genre including rhythm and blues, smooth jazz, disco, and Northern Soul, Kirkland said that each area of the country has its own musical tastes.
“Whenever I would go to a particular city, I talked to people and did research to find out what kind of music people like to hear,” Kirkland explained. “Then, I would play those records. There was a balance between classic records and playing new artists.”
Considered a founder of the quiet storm format, Kirkland has served as the program director for Sirius XM Radio for the past 20 years. He can be heard Monday through Saturday, on Channel 50 from noon until 6 p.m., playing R&B hits from the 70’s and 80’s.
One of the most poignant moments in his career was when he helped oversee a concert by Stevie Wonder, on December 8, 1980, at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. In a time before mobile news updates and social media, Wonder made a shocking announcement to his fans in the packed arena.
“I want you to understand that I’m not a person who likes to be the bearer of any bad news,” Kirkland said Wonder told the crowd. “Someone has been shot. He was shot three times. I’m talking about Mr. John Lennon.”
“You could hear a pin drop,” Kirkland said. “That night I witnessed the hearts break of about twelve to fifteen thousand black people.”
Years later, Kirkland remembered, he was also present at a concert at the MGM, in San Francisco, when word broke that Marvin Gaye had passed away.
Over the years, Kirkland has said he has been “blessed” to have worked with music luminaries such as Ray, Goodman & Brown, The Manhattans, Smokey Robinson, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, the O’Jays, Quincy Jones, and Kool and the Gang. Several years ago, Kirkland emceed a concert at the Passaic County Technical Institute which featured Russell Thompkins Jr. and The Stylistics.
While Kirkland has received a myriad of awards over the decades, including in 1983 when he received a Gallery award as one of the top 100 radio personalities in America, and was recently named the #3 urban disc jockey of all time by The Urban Buzz, it's his roots in the Silk City that the now legend recalls most fondly.
“I am thankful for the lifelong lessons I learned while growing up in Paterson,” Kirkland concluded. “I have a wonderful wife and family that I am truly thankful for.”
IN LOCAL NEWS:
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