Radio veteran reflects on his storied career, health concerns and community support
Walter Banks, better known as “Q Bear,” is well-known in the Twin Cities as a KMOJ radio personality with over 30 years of broadcasting experience. He has held many positions and met many celebrities over the years, including James Brown, Gerald Levert, The O-Jays, The Temptations, and hometown greats like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and the Sounds of Blackness.
But one thing people may not know about Q Bear is how he got his start with broadcasting at KMOJ. He actually started as a singer for a gospel group called Angelo Course, under the direction of Vera Jean Jenkins. He also sang in the Gospel Choir United, Minnesota Chapter, and his father was a deacon at Orthodox Baptist Church.
“Through doing engineering work, [I met] Angelo Chatman, who was one of the directors of the choir. He also worked at KMOJ,” Banks told the MSR.
He recalled how he was going through employment issues after working with Sears (now the Global Market center) and Wax Museum record shop previously located at 419 W. Lake Street in Minneapolis.
“In the process, I had time off, and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like sitting in the house not doing anything,” Banks said. “Angelo knew I knew about music from working at the record store. In the process, Angelo invited me to come over to KMOJ to help out and volunteer.”
He started volunteering during the gospel slot, then blues, jazz and reggae. “I’ve done just about every slot in the 38 years I’ve been there [at KMOJ],” he said.
Banks reflected on the radio personalities and programming that have become KMOJ’s trademark, such as DJ Disco T and Dan Speak with old school hip hop, Trava-Tron with the Hip Hop Shop, Urban Agenda with Lissa Jones, and Brother Mahmoud El-Kati, to name a few. “We didn’t just give you music, we gave you information.”
Banks says one of the reasons he loves KMOJ so much is because they have helped other people excel in their profession of broadcasting. “KMOJ radio is the [heartbeat] of the community. We have people in radio and television in different states, but they came from KMOJ — right from the community.”
Among all the celebrities he has met during his careers, the most notable is Minneapolis legend Prince. He still remembers his passing as if it was yesterday.
“I still struggle with that, because we were really friends,” Banks said sentimentally. “We would talk about everything. He was a part of the Southside but was more known from the NorthSide community. He was active and about his music.”
In recent years, Banks has begun to have a few health complications, specifically, walking pneumonia and congestive heart failure. “Sometimes we think about how young we used to be and how we used to run, thinking we can still continue to run that way,” Banks said. “When you get older, your body does different things; your metabolism changes and you eat differently. That’s what I’m going through now.”
Banks noted that he was having breathing problems. “My breathing got heavy and short. If I needed to walk 30 yards, I would have to stop three times,” Banks said. “I thought it was just a cold; so I would take [various medicines] chicken noodle soup, etc. It just kept lingering. Once my breathing got short, and I could only walk a short distance, that’s when I knew something really wasn’t right.”
It was KMOJ staff who urged him to go to Urgent Care to see what was wrong with him. “I just knew something internally wasn’t right. As a Black man, we don’t care too much for doctors because of our egos. If you don’t go, those couple of days you think it will pass, you will pass. If something doesn’t feel right, go get it checked out.”
He added, “From being in the hospital, I got claustrophobic to the point they had to leave the hospital room door open, because I felt so closed in. I’ve never had walking pneumonia, or [know] where it came from. [In addition to] congestive heart failure, that’s a whole new ball game.”
This was a period when Banks recognized the people who really cared about him and had his best interest at heart. “When you have good people around you, people look out for you. If it wasn’t for Renee Williams and Ray Seville taking me to the hospital, I never would have found out what was going on physically with me.” Seville even started the Go-Fund Me page to raise funds for his hospital expenses.
After his health ordeal, Banks started meditating tactics, including simple measures like going to the park and just relaxing. He also encourages Black men to embrace their mental health. “We are walking around as wounded people; you have to add the word trauma.
“Most people think, ‘if I go see a psychiatrist, something is wrong with me.’ [Seeing a mental health professional] doesn’t make you crazy; it just means you need some assistance getting to where you want to be. If you have to go see a psychiatrist or therapist, do it. There are Black psychiatrists that understand you.”
Banks said that he has changed his diet since getting sick, eating low sodium foods and consuming more chicken and fish, tuna and salmon. “I eat grilled chicken instead of fried chicken, but I am still the grill king!” Banks said proudly.
Overall, Banks remains in good spirits, and has an outlook to continue nurturing his overall well-being. “The memories I have of the radio business — the good, the bad and the ugly — will never leave. It’s been an uphill climb and a blessing, as well.”
Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.