Celebrating KMOJ’s 40 years of ‘Q-Bear’

Q Bear \\ Photo by Steve Floyd

KMOJ’s eight annual Soul Bowl is set to honor Walter “Q-Bear” Banks, Jr. as more than a popular radio personality, but also paying homage to the community-minded media veteran as a veritable institution.

Long a household name, Banks has worked at KMOJ for 40 years, including his current positions as programming director, operations coordinator, and afternoon drive-time disc jockey. Through his work, he has become a beloved figure for countless personal appearances at not only prestige events, but also neighborhood goings-on, particularly those benefiting youngsters.

The January 21 event will also be a fun-filled occasion, featuring cordial competition for family and friends to get away from it all and connect for a good time while setting them up and knocking them down. There’ll be first-, second- and third-place trophies along with awards for the most strikes, highest scores, and a gag prize for the most gutter balls, so that even losers can win. 

The MSR sat down with Banks for an amiable chat at the station about his upcoming event and serving the community.
MSR: How did Soul Bowl come about?
Q-B: It started out, there was a young man I used to bowl with and teach youngsters at Nokomis Bowling Alley in South Minneapolis, Alonso Lucas, on Saturday mornings. We then came up with a tournament, and from there began Soul Bowl. Just got a lot of people together who loved to bowl. 

It’s been a great thing because, for me, Alonzo was a great person who may never get the recognition of how good his game really was. He’s passed on, but, he was one of the better bowlers when it came to representing the Twin Cities Bowlers Guild… 

Alonzo has a son who’s an amazing bowler, as well — Marcus. We call him “Big Cheese.” He’s a bad dude on the bowling alley. I see a little bit of Alonzo in him. Quiet as it’s kept, there’s a lot of great bowlers of color in the Twin Cities… 
With bowling, it’s competitive, but it’s about community as well, giving people the opportunity to socialize. It’s a positive force. You find yourself encouraging each other to do your best and to talk and laugh, just have a good time.

MSR: This particular event sounds special.
Q-B: It is. There’s trophies, plaques, that kind of thing. Beyond that, at KMOJ we have, like, 15 deejays and will have music there as well throughout the whole time… It’s the kind of thing that, personally, I like instead of so much negativity.

During the summertime, I take kids fishing. That’s one of the things I came up with. My pops would take me fishing. I was asked in an interview…if there’s a memorable moment I could repeat [from his many celebrity contacts], what would that be? That thing was the chance to go fishing with my father. He taught me a lot about what it is to be a man.

MSR: You sing?
Q-B: Yeah. I sang with Vera Jenkins and the Angelic Chorus. Also with Gospel Choirs United, James Cleveland. Actually, gospel was my first time on-air. Angelo Chapman got me in at the station. I was singing with his chorus and he said, “Why don’t you come by? Just to see if you can do it.” 

From attending North High and at lunchtime doing stuff at the microphone and deejaying for dances, I had technical skills as well as knowing music. So, they let me be a gospel announcer. Then, somebody didn’t show up to do their show.  

I didn’t have all the skill, but I had enough, could work a turntable, and I knew how to communicate. You have to have all that besides having respect for the station itself and the system of doing things. 
I had a lot of tutelage from a lot of people and I was a young kid, just open-minded and learning. One day Angelo said, “I’ll be right back.” By the time he returned, the program was over and they were getting calls asking, “Who was that young man that was on-air?”

MSR: When opportunity knocked, you opened the door.
Q-B: I walked through that door with open arms and book bags — and respected the space. Something I learned from my mom, dad, grandmother and granddad — that if you respect the space, it will respect you. That’s about being positive, being community-minded and being good to other people… 

Not at any time did I think I would be at KMOJ, now, 40 years. It’s about your title. It’s about your work ethic and what you do.

MSR: How important is it that we have KMOJ serving the community?  
Q-B: It’s a huge, unique thing. You can’t run into a lot of stations in the whole United States that do what KMOJ does. To also be of color. It’s community, community, community… We’ll go to community events, basketball games, some of the stuff that’s going on in the schools. We also deal with the political realm. 

You have to have balance, and we have to bring our reality. A lot of people have come in, got a solid foundation, and gone on to work elsewhere… It’s our responsibility to help people grow.  

MSR: You’ve a seen a great deal of history here, including growing pains and controversy about how things have been handled. What’s your experience with that?
Q-B: Because something’s in front of you doesn’t mean you have to be a part of it. There’s been a lot of different changes, allegations this person did this or that. My responsibility and my job is the survival of the radio station. I don’t care about the politics, the nonsense or none of it. 

I’ve been through nine to 11 different station managers. Some of them have been good, some have been great, and some have been horrible. My growth throughout my time at KMOJ, the number one thing has been community. That’s been it for me. I want to see somebody sit in the seat who is about the mission statement. Which is about us, the community.

Soul Bowl salutes Q-Bear on Monday, January 21, 10 am – 4 pm, MF Southtown Lanes, Bloomington. For more info, visit kmojfm.com.