King honored for his part in history

Published 2:43 pm Friday, November 3, 2023

Holding up a small transistor radio he received as a gift in 1961 and still holds on to today, Calvin King shared how the device helped inspire his career as a broadcaster and entertainer.

Speaking before members of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Oct. 24, Lunenburg County native Calvin “Mister K” King said this radio enabled him to begin listening to a lot of rhythm and blues music on stations from Richmond and Baltimore, Maryland.

King was invited to the board of supervisors meeting for the presentation of a proclamation honoring him for his service to the community.

The Henrico resolution honoring him asked that its message “be spread upon the minutes of this meeting and a copy publicly to Mr. King as a token of the board’s gratitude for his stellar service.”

Henrico Board Chairman Frank J. Thornton brought Mister K to a podium at the front of the meeting room after supervisors unanimously approved the proclamation.

“I’m a person who believes in giving a person flowers when they can smell them,” Thornton told King and the many family members and friends present and watching the live stream. “And that’s what we are going to do with this resolution.”

He proceeded to read the honor aloud from a large plaque that was presented to King.

“On June 1, 1971, history was made when Calvin L. King took to the airwaves as the first African American DJ at WSHV/WJWS radio in South Hill,” he read, noting his show focused on R&B.

“Mr. King originally wanted to become a musician, playing the trumpet for Lunenburg High School and East End High School bands. After graduating from Park View High School, King went to the Baltimore Community College where he landed a job at the campus station,” Thornton said, reading from the resolution. “After graduating from Towson State University, he moved to Richmond where he began working part-time at WENZ radio before moving to WSSV-AM radio.”

MORE ABOUT KING’S HISTORY

The chairman went on to note that King was featured in the documentary “The Soul R&B Legends of Central Virginia,” which aired in May 2013 on WCVE-Channel 23 in Richmond.

“Working as a DJ allowed Mr. King the opportunity to interview Maya Angelou, Don King, former Gov. Doug Wilder, and Smokin’ Joe Frazier,” Thornton read from the resolution.

He said that Mister K’s advice to aspiring deejays is to be a good reader, to be diverse and that education and voice quality are very important.

“The Board of Supervisors of Henrico County, Virginia, thanks Calvin L. King and expresses its sincere appreciation for his dedicated public service to the county and its residents,” Thornton read from the plaque he then presented to King.

King spoke following the presentation by talking to both those who attended the meeting and those watching online, not only from the U.S. but also from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.

He said one of the questions he gets most often is how he became so interested in and developed such a passion for radio at such a young age.

“I began listening to a lot of R&B radio,” he said. “Folks wonder how could you do that in South Hill, in fact in Lunenburg County next to it?”

With only WJWS-AM in South Hill at the time, they didn’t have any soul deejays and played very little soul, broadcasting a mix of top-40, country and big band sounds.

THE LOVE OF A TRANSISTOR RADIO 

In 1961 when he was nine, King let Santa Claus know he wanted a transistor radio, holding up the very one from childhood for everyone to see. He also got a record player that year too, he said.

King said he used that radio to “empower myself” with music he enjoyed and deejays who helped him develop his radio persona.

Mister K shared stories from his days at both WENZ and WANT, where he spent 10 years on the air.

One of his mentors, Kirby Carmichael, shared a story with King later in life about a career move he led him to in Petersburg from WENZ in Richmond.

Carmichael told Mister K he was the best deejay WENZ had and that’s why he helped lead him to another market.

“I didn’t want you to be my competition at WENZ, so I sent you to Petersburg,” King said he told him. “I said thank you, Kirby.”

He also shared the story of how he was broadcasting hip hop two years before others in New York City claim they invented it.

“Mister K was hip-hopping in South Hill in 1971,” he said. “I had a segment of my show that I saved for 10:45 every night … It was a segment using two instrumental songs and rapping for the entire five minutes.”

He also shared a message for those who are laying claim to the sound.

“I just want the people in New York to know hip hop was active in 1973, but Mister K was doing it in 1971,” he said.

“I listened to all those guys in the early 60s not having any idea, but having high hopes that someday I might get an opportunity to work with those guys. And that day came,” he said.

King went on to thank the Board of Supervisors for everything they have done for him.

“And one thing I do realize that the day will come that no one will be left to remember Calvin Mr. K King. But the good news is that there will always be someone coming along to rediscover Calvin King and Mister K,” he said, ending by giving the “soul night kiss” from Mister K.