The longest-running Black music radio show in Atlantic Canada recently celebrated its 25th year anniversary on the airwaves.
Ryan Somers, aka DJ R$ $mooth, has been hosting $mooth Groove$ on CKDU 88.1 FM since 1998. The show, which airs every Sunday from 5pm to 8pm, broadcasts out of the Student Union Building on the campus of Dalhousie University.
“I always think of the show as like a home base, like no matter what’s going on… most people can hear me that Sunday,” said Somers in a recent interview with BlackNSnews.ca, ahead of $mooth Groove$’ 25th anniversary episode.
Somers currently teaches radio as an instructor at NSCC in the Radio Television Journalism program. He said he remembers his first experiences as a DJ growing up in the Black community of Beechville.
“There’s a guy named Moosey from our community, Tory Wright, he used to take his home stereo equipment and set it up at our rec center in Lakeside,” said Somers. “So, I wasn’t necessarily DJing, I was just playing tracks [at first].”
“Then, I think it was October 92, I actually deejayed my junior high dance. That was before coming to the radio.”
Somers said he used to accompany his father while he was running errands.
“And every time he’d run in somewhere, he’d turn the key back on the truck and leave the radio playing,” Somers said.
“So, I always used to scan the dial, and one day I came upon CKDU and I was like, ‘What is this station?’ It just sounded different than every other station.”
“And I realized, ‘Oh, it’s a Dalhousie University community campus station,’ which you can volunteer to play music. And I was like, ‘What? I would love to do that.’”
In 1993, when Somers was 15 years old, he went to CKDU to learn about the radio business. He sat in on a few shows at first, but said he knew it wasn’t the type of show that he wanted to do.
“But I knew of this show on Sunday called Funk-N-Effect with DJ Delight, aka Kendall Mulder, rest in peace,” Somers said.
“I called him up one day and just like, ‘Hey, you know, I’m looking to get some experience. Do you mind if I come in and sit on your show?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, come on in.’ And then I came, you know, that week and, you know, I loved it, every part about it.”
Mulder invited Somers to come back the following Sunday.
“Suddenly that just became four years of me co-hosting the show with him,” Somers said.
Near the end of 1997, Somers said he and Mulder got into trouble for something their guest did on the air. Somers and Mulder were suspended from CKDU for a year.
“And then the funny thing is, at the time, I was in a course for radio, television, arts,” said Somers.
“It just was stupid for me to be in this course and not have a radio show to do. So, I got a few people, including my teacher at the time, to kind of write a letter to kind of appeal the suspension. Then they cut [the suspension] to six months. So, June of 1998 was when I was eligible to kind of be back on CKDU.”
“And I always wanted to have my own show, so I just kind of pursued it. And then that was where $mooth Groove$ was born.”
Black music in Halifax
Somers said he wanted $mooth Groove$ to be like the “BET (Black Entertainment Television) of Halifax radio.”
Though, there’s been some small changes in the past 25 years, Somers said in 1998, “there was no R&B, there was no rap or reggae being played on the radio,” in Halifax.
“Funky-N-Effect was more like funk, R&B. But then when I came there, I kind of brought more of the rap and more the reggae and obviously some more R&B as well.”
“$mooth Groove$ was like hip-hop soul, which is kind of like rap-flavored R&B. But then obviously rap and reggae and that kind of thing [as well].”
Over the years, Somers said $mooth Groove$ and CKDU also helped provide a platform for many local artists of Black and urban music.
“That’s the difference now. These days music is so accessible, and you can usually find it. Back then it was like you had to listen to the radio for when that song came on and then record it,” he said.
“And people would request it, ‘Hey, can you play that again?’ or ‘Play that next week.’”
“There were other DJs and other shows doing things… I think CKDU as a whole helped with the scene with their various shows, so I would never be like, ‘It was just me,’ there were other people for sure that were out there as well.”
As a DJ who’s hosted parties and events throughout Halifax and Black communities around the province over the years, Somers credits many other local DJs for inspiring him.
“Like I say, DJ Delight, he used turntables and was really good at mixing and like beat matching and stuff like that.”
“But then there was Nasty Nuck from North Preston, who taught me how to rock a party just from me seeing him and watching him and seeing how he did things and what he played and how he played it. So, I always give him credit,” said Somers.
“[I learned] like scratching and stuff from Looney Tunes, Mark Mirage, seeing them do what they do. There are so many other DJs. I’m probably forgetting many, but, you know, those are local anyway, some people that I kind of got some experience from.”
Black community connections
Through $mooth Groove$ and DJing at events, Somers said he’s gotten to know many people in Black communities across Nova Scotia.
He credits his mentor, the late DJ Delight, for helping him initially tap into that following.
Through $mooth Groove$, Somers said he also helps support various community initiatives and events by sharing information on the air, through interviews, and by having people phone information into the show.
“We’ve always, and still continue, to keep the door open for any community group that wants to announce [something], whether it’s, you know, for-profit or not,” Somers said.
“One thing I think CKDU needs more of now is more like involvement from the students.”
Radio career opportunities
Somers said he’s received many other opportunities through his career in commercial radio in Halifax. He’s worked at University of King’s College, CBC, and at commercial stations such as C100, 101.3 The Bounce, and Q014.
Somers said he’s promoted, opened for, and hosted many concerts and events in Halifax, many of them involving big-name music artists and celebrities.
In 2004, while working for C100, he had the opportunity to accompany contest winners to the Much Music Video Awards (MMVAs) in Toronto, which he said he turned into an another opportunity.
“I honestly think it inspired the MMVAs to do a media room,” Somers said.
While backstage at the MMVAs, Somers said he approached various artists, like Kanye West and John Legend, who were relatively new on the music scene at the time, and asked them to record radio ID promos for $mooth Groove$.
“I was backstage and, you know, people are walking by and I’m finding people, ‘Hey, what’s up?’” Somers said.
“Now, this is again 2004, before social media, so I wasn’t even thinking of taking a picture or anything like that. I wish I did, but at least I got the radio drop.”
Full circle and beyond
Somers said he first started forming his vision for career plans from 1993 to 1996.
“Getting ready to graduate high school, I was like, I want to do this and take it seriously and become professional,” he said.
He moved to Kentville to attend the Radio, Television Arts program at the NSCC Kingstec campus.
“In 2017, I succeeded my former instructor, Dave Bannerman, by becoming the radio instructor of the… now it’s called Radio, Television, and Journalism Program,” Somers said.
Click here to listen to $mooth Groove$, the 25th anniversary edition, which features audio clips of memories shared by listeners and local musical artists.