Photo by Matt Crawford
One of the biggest Bay Area hip-hop stories of 2013 doesn’t have much to do with music. On his last day at the station, KMEL DJ Chuy Gomez was invited for a meeting with the station’s general manager and the program director.
Since he doesn’t normally meet with the program director, Gomez immediately had a feeling something was up. “I just knew it was gonna go the wrong way,” Gomez recalls of the encounter.
With no explanation other than, “We’ve come to a crossroads and think we’re going to go in a different direction,” the Clear Channel station execs decided to immediately release Gomez, a 20-year employee at the station, and replace him with KMEL’s afternoon DJ.
“There was no farewell,” Gomez says. “There was really no closure to that era. I wasn’t allowed to say ‘thank you for the years of listening, thank you for letting me be a part of your life, thank you for allowing me to wake you up.’ There was none of that. That was a little cold.”
“I know it’s a money thing,” Gomez says, who was due to renegotiate his contract with the station. “What else could it be? My ratings are great. I was getting ready to renegotiate and I don’t think they wanted to pay me what I think I was worth, or what they thought I wasn’t worth.”
Instead of airing out his thoughts on social media and letting his fans know that he was fired, Gomez packed up his belongings at the station, turned his phone off and stuck with plans to take his two daughters to the circus.
In the day that followed, Twitter blew up with an outpouring of support for Gomez and disdain for KMEL. Bay Area rapper E-40 chimed in (“I’m not happy about this!”), along with countless others, including San Jose’s own DJ Cutso (“Thanks for all of the great years of laughs and great music”) and longtime KTVU traffic correspondent Sal Castaneda (“I’m sorry, but KMEL won’t be the same without Chuy Gomez on the radio. He’s a legend. Not a fan of the move.”).
“I was definitely in awe and humbled, completely blown away,” says Gomez of the outpouring of support. Though he was aware of the influence he had amassed over numerous decades in local radio, he had no idea how much he’d had on so many people. “It was almost like a eulogy, but I’m alive.”
Not only is Gomez alive, even while he’s off the air between jobs, he is still one of the most visible Bay Area radio personalities. On any given night, Gomez can be found at parties throughout the Bay Area, from a regular Taco Tuesday event in San Francisco’s Marina District to multiple parties in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
“If listeners give to you by listening, you’ve got to give something back,” Gomez says. “I want to be right where they’re at. I’d rather be in the audience watching the concert than backstage with the artist.”
One of the first post-KMEL events for Chuy was a party thrown in his honor at San Francisco nightclub Mighty where veteran Vallejo rapper Mac Mall stopped by for a surprise performance.
“He has his finger on the pulse of the Bay Area, from the street dudes to the corporate cats that only party on the weekend,” Mac Mall says. “He’s been there since the start of my career, so I wanted to show him some respect at the end of his KMEL career.”
His San Jose appearances are rarer, but his November 8 party at Fahrenheit Lounge will be a special throwback of sorts for Gomez. He’ll join his former KMEL morning show partner DJ Mind Motion, who remains a DJ at the station.
“It’s a one-two thing—Batman and Robin back together,” Gomez says. “We’re going to be out there definitely embracing our folks in the South Bay.”
Despite a calendar full of appearances and seemingly inevitable decline of terrestrial radio don’t expect Gomez to make a full-time jump into promoting parties and events.
“Radio is the only beast that I’ve known for the past 25 years, and it’s where I want to be at, but anything is possible,” Gomez says.
Taming the Beast
Growing up in San Francisco’s Portrero Hill neighborhood, Gomez would call into Spanish station KBRG as a child to request songs for his mother. When he was 6 or 7 years old, DJ Salvador Homero Campos invited him to the station to show him how radio happened in person. That’s where Gomez says he was first fascinated by radio.
“Watching the lights ringing from the phone calls and the lights blinking from the records, I was blown away” he recalls. “I remember going to meet Campos and him handing me a stack of 45s, then going home and going through the music that he gave me.” That was a huge deal to a boy who would buy three or four 45s with the dollar his mother would give him once a week.
After forming a DJ crew with some friends in high school, he met KSOL DJ Marcos Gutierrez while working a quinceañera. Gutierrez liked what Gomez was doing on the mic and invited him to hang out at the station. When that went well, he was invited to intern.
“Next thing you know, I’m answering phone calls, helping them get coffee and everything under the sun,” Gomez says.
When KSOL switched to Wild 107 (now Wild 94.9), Gomez became radio personality Erich “Mancow” Muller’s sidekick and “goodwill ambassador,” helping him conduct a number of wild stunts. In 1993, they made national headlines when Gomez, with the help of a few others, blocked traffic on the Bay Bridge while he got a haircut. In response to news that President Clinton held up traffic at LAX for two hours to get a haircut, Mancow aimed to stage a replicated incident in jest.
Chuy and his crew slowed to a halt in their vehicle on the span, blocking four lanes of traffic, and when a semi tried to move around their blockade, all five lanes were jammed. Gomez was fine with the honks, but when he heard that some bigger guys were walking over to confront them, and he noticed traffic choppers circling the bridge, the crew took it as a sign to leave as quickly as possible. He emerged unscathed, but Mancow was convicted of a felony for the stunt.
That same year, Gomez moved over to KMEL, starting on the evening shift then transitioning to mornings. He remained at the station for 20 years, until he was let go this summer.
More Than a DJ
When speaking to others about Gomez, it’s clear just how apt the term “goodwill ambassador” is when describing him. More than just his many years on the radio, it’s his continued support of community events and Bay Area artists and a humble personality off air that have made him a respected local figure.
Gomez learned the importance of outreach during his early days at KSOL, and it’s remained a driving force in his life ever since. He’s currently organizing a canned food drive and a holiday toy drive, two of his favorite community events.
“If you can’t give back, I don’t think you deserve to serve the community,” he explains.
Journalist and community activist Davey D, himself a victim of the KMEL axe back in 2001, points out that while radio has grown distant from listeners over the years, Gomez has always kept the interest of his audience in mind over corporate interests or ratings. In doing so, he’s earned a loyal following that far exceeds many other Bay Area radio personalities.
“Chuy was somebody who had a love for the people, and he would go out and be a part of things,” Davey D says. “Chuy would show up at events even if he wasn’t invited, wasn’t on the bill and wasn’t getting paid. That’s not necessarily the same for many of his counterparts.”
Through this work and his ties with community and local music industry, Gomez has grown beyond the airwaves into a part of the Bay Area’s cultural fabric by doing what he can to support established and emerging artists and organizations and being a man of the people. Mac Mall, who came up in the ’90s during Bay Area rap’s most successful crossover into the mainstream, says Gomez deserves a mention alongside some of the biggest names to ever come out of the region.
“In the same sentence where you would say Mac Dre or E-40, you could also say Chuy Gomez,” he says.
Since being fired, Gomez has spoken to a number of stations about a show. Interested parties so far have included CBS, Univision and Entercom. ABC has also approached him about hosting a talk show on news radio station KGO, an offer that admittedly flattered Gomez. A few stations in Los Angeles have shown interest as well, according to Gomez, though he says “hopefully, it’ll be something that happens here locally.”
Although he’s had some initial conversations, Gomez says he is still enjoying his time off and plans to jump fully into his search for another job in radio in mid-November or early December.
Mac Mall echoes those hopes: “I just hope he doesn’t go to L.A. because he’s ours. He’s the Bay Area.”
Whether or not he returns to radio locally or moves elsewhere, Gomez continues on as someone who has made an indelible mark on his community. And unlike most, he got to live to see it.
Chuy Gomez and DJ Mind Motion will be at Fahrenheit Loung on November 8. Doors open at 9pm.