As I enter my 39th year as a professional DJ/MC, there is so much to reflect on – so many memories and so many experiences. One of the true pleasures has been my opportunity to attend years’ worth of DJ conferences and Expos – what a career-changer these events have been for me!
So, with that, I would love to take you back in time and re-live what it was once like attending these seminal DJ shows of the ’90s… to really get an idea of what it was like then, try to imagine a world with no Facebook, no YouTube, no social media. For most of us, the internet was in its infancy. Yes, it was there, but we were just getting used to it.
The year was 1993, and I was down in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on a vacation. While driving around, I ran into a DJ store, which blew up my brain because this was mostly unheard of back then. Where I lived in New England, we didn’t have DJ stores! Appropriately, this place of business was called… “The DJ Store,” and I bounded in through the door with great anticipation.
What I got was a full showroom of DJ toys – lighting, loudspeakers, mixers, cables, etc. And I loved it, I mean really loved the scene. As much as I loved the gear there, there was something I found that was even more special to me and that was a DJ magazine called… DJ Times.
“Wow,” I thought, “we actually have our very own industry magazine!” Then, as the dust cleared, I bought up the current issue and all the back issues of DJ Times. Needless to say, I didn’t put the magazine down the whole way home on the plane. Things were about to get good!
This experience opened my eyes to the huge possibilities of what being a DJ really could be. But it was one particular advertisement that really caught my attention – and that was an ad for DJ Times’ upcoming DJ Expo in Atlantic City, N.J.
“An exposition for DJs? What? No way!”
Back at that time, this was a positively mind-melting development, and I was intrigued. So, I cleared my schedule out for that August and headed down to the 1994 DJ Expo, which was held at what was then known as the Trump Regency.
I went to the sign-in desk and claimed my badge. Then, with huge excitement, I went through the door into the trade-show floor. I’m sure most of the thousands walking around the floor felt my jaw hitting the ground. This was way more than my DJ brain could process at the time. Just to repeat for you millennials out there… we didn’t have social media back then, so I wasn’t blessed to have anything I wanted delivered to me at the touch of my smart phone. We didn’t have Amazon to ship things overnight to our door. Much of these DJ-related items were being seen live for the first time, and there just was an overwhelming amount of merchandise, an overwhelming amount of options.
Would you believe that in 1994 there were actual CDs for sale in the trade-show booths? Ultimix, Promo Only and many other providers had full DJ series for sale. Oh yes, we didn’t download or stream our music back then either. We had to actually pay for our music, but that’s another article for a different time. In addition to music, one could purchase any DJ-related piece that you could imagine. It was a DJ Xanadu for sure, and I was living the dream.
Exhausted from the overwhelming experience, I headed over to the pier mall to grab lunch. Thinking I would be alone to collect my thoughts, I sat down to eat… only to have two other DJs come over and ask if they could join me. (I guess the DJ badge around my neck gave me away.)
And I was really glad, because for one hour we shot the breeze about everything and anything DJ-related. I realized at this moment that other people had gone through many of the same experiences as me, and I could teach them as well as learn from them. Friendships were forged that day and business cards exchanged. Remember, we didn’t have smart phones! We had to make real-life, in-person connections with real people.
After lunch, I went back to buy up a ton of product and then drove home feeling that I had just experienced one of the great days of my life. There is no doubt that I made advances that day which would impact my business and myself personally as a professional entertainer and business person.
The impression was so great that the next summer I went back for the 1995 DJ Expo, and this time I bought a Full Expo Pass to attend the seminars and enjoy the after-parties. Probably the biggest takeaway for me was the Expo’s “DJ of the Year” competition, where a dozen or so mobile jocks let it all hang out with their best presentations and routines before a panel of judges. In the end, John Rozz, a local DJ from my state of Connecticut who would go on to earn O.G. status in the mobile world, won the competition with his spirited and energetic version of “Simon Says.” It was a blast to see all that talent in one room and learn from others.
The next year, for me, was the greatest of any Expo I have attended. The 1996 event was loaded with an amazing showfloor, great seminars and not only the “DJ of the Year” competition, but also a DJ-mix competition which saw some of the most insane acts of CD wizardry you can imagine. It was just one big party which culminated in the “DJ of the Year” title being awarded to the late, great Gary Kassor, the Cleveland-based jock who just was a master at garter/bouquet skits and routines. That year I went with several of my DJs from my company and we all learned, all progressed, and all enjoyed.
I can go on and on year by year, but hopefully, you get the point: Attending DJ conventions like DJ Expo – now known as DJX and presented by DJ LIFE magazine – can be crucial to your development as a professional jock. Even though the seminars and shows are fantastic, it’s usually the relationships made in the hallway that have the most life-changing impact.
As I still attend shows almost 30 years after my first DJ Expo, I see many of the same cats that I used to hang with back in the 1990s, plus a ton of newbies who are just starting out on their own journey. Clearly, when I see a dinner table with 15 life-long friends all enjoying themselves and spending time together, it is clear to me that the greatest benefit of these events is not the gear, the knowledge or the tricks learned. That’s all important, but the truly great blessing are the friendships forged.
If you never attended a DJ Expo back in the “good ol’ days” – or if you’ve never attended a DJ conference/exhibition at all – I would highly encourage you join us this August 7-10, for DJX at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. And maybe, just maybe, you can have your own jaw-dropping moment that will change your life.
Since 1984, Mike Fernino has run Music In Motion Entertainment in Seymour, Conn., and since 2008, he has run the Facebook Group, DJ Idea Sharing.