Great DJ - What makes a Great DJ? | History of the DJ culture

Great DJs – What makes a great DJ?

A Great DJ –  The definition of a DJ: A person who plays music for an audience.

This is the simple definition, but what makes a great DJ?  What makes a legend?  To answer this question we must look into the art of DJing.  We also need to examine the history of DJing to fully understand.

History of Great DJs

It all started with the gramophone record.  In 1892, Emile Berliner produced the first disc record that was offered to the public.  Around 1906, Reginald Fessenden, of Canada, introduced the first audio radio transmitted broadcast, while also playing the first vinyl record.  The first record played was a contralto, which is a type of classical female singing voice, and the record was Handels Largo from Xerxes.

Did you know the worlds first radio DJ was from Northern California?  Ray Newby was  the first, and he was from Stockton, Ca.  Back in 1909, at a young age of 16 years old, Ray Newby started playing records on a little transmitter, at Herrold College located in San Jose.

First Great DJ

Ray Newby was the first Great DJ







Walter Winchell was the guy that made the term “Disc Jockey.”  It was the combination of a vinyl disc, and jockey, which was a common term for a person that operates a machine.  He used this name for the first radio announcer that became famous, who was Martin Block.  Martin Block would play music while waiting for updates on the Lindbergh kidnapping, to make people think he was giving announcement from a ballroom.  He actually had a show called Make Believe Ballroom, which was instantly a sensation.  The first time the word “Disc Jockey” can be found in print, was in Variety magazine, back in 1941.

The worlds very first party with a DJ was in 1943.  Jimmy Savile got it crackin (made the party exciting)!  It was a jazz party upstairs in the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds, in England.  Jimmy Savile made the claim, he was the first to use two turntables for ongoing play of music.  Also, the first nightclub to play recorded music, and not a live show was in Paris, France, at the Whiskey à Go-Go back in 1947.  It wasn’t until 1953, that a man by the name of Regine started playing music on two turntables.  Its also about the same time Disco started to become popular in parts of U.S., and some parts of Europe.

“Platter parties” and “Sock hops” became popular in the 1950s.  Basically, American DJs would come and perform live music, taking the place of the jukebox.  They would use 2 turntables, and sometimes a drummer was involved to keep the party going in between the music.

Around 1959, in the ghettos of Jamaica, they were “toasting.”  This was the time Jamaican DJs started playing dance music in the streets.  Toasting was a term where the DJ would banter to the rhythm of the music, hyping up the crowds of people.  I believe this was also the beginning of rap.

Sometime in the mid 1960s, specialized DJ equipment started to come out on the scene.  One of the first mixers was the CMA-10-2DL, and was invented by Rudy Bozak.  Shortly after the CMA-10-2DL came out, in 1969 DJ Francis Grasso, revealed beatmaching in a New York nightclub.  It was the introduction of a skill that one who is seeking to become a great dj must possess.  DR Grasso was also known for developing slip cueing.  Slip cueing is a dj technique, where you pause the vinyl record, while the turntable keeps going under it, then letting it go at a specific time to create a perfect transition with the record thats already in motion.

The First Great DJ Tool

CMA-10-2DL Mixer One of the first mixers for djing








DJ Kool Herc is a historically great DJ.  He is recognized around the world as the ‘Father of hiphop culture.’  DJ Kool Herc introduced the break around 1973.  A break was a technique used to extend the instrumental part of a song by switching back and forth between the records to make it last longer.  Herc is one of the original founders of Turntablism, because he was also the first to manipulate the vinyl records and create completely new sound.

The first 1200s came out in 1974.  1200s are turntables made by a company called Technics.  These are in my opinion, the greatest turntables created.  Technics started off with SL-1200s, then in 1979 evolved to the SL-1200 MK2s.  1200s were the DJ standard, until unfortunately Technics went out of business in 2010.

In 1974, a German music group called Kraftwerk made a 22 min. song called Autobahn.  I believe the Autobahn scratch was named after Kraftwerk, because of the length of the combo, and also because of the influence Kraftwerk had on the hophop culture.  It is said that Kraftwerk had a major influence on Frankie Knuckles, and also on Afrika Bambaata.


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One response on “Great DJ – What makes a great DJ?

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