Soul spinner

The enduring appeal of Jazzy Big Daddy's radio R&B

click to enlarge BOARD RUNNER: Wayne Facyson, aka Jazzy Big Daddy, presides over a classic R&B show at WRXB. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
BOARD RUNNER: Wayne Facyson, aka Jazzy Big Daddy, presides over a classic R&B show at WRXB.

Prince's first hit, "I Wanna Be Your Lover," is pumping through the studio's speakers, and Jazzy Big Daddy is snapping his fingers, elbows up, doing the two-step toward the microphone.

"Bringing you the very best of classic R&B on Old School Friday as we walk you down memory lane," he says sotto voce to his radio audience. Then his voice raises. "Howya doin' Tampa Bay! Ha! Ha! Keep it locked down on this station. The more you listen, the more you will enjoy."

He tells listeners about the recent death of R&B crooner Gerald Levert, promises an hour tribute to the "Velvet Teddy Bear," and presses play on a James Brown track. Then he's back to his soulful strut.

It's only an hour into Old School Friday and Jazzy is just getting started.

Located on the far end of the AM dial, past Michael Savage and the Mexican love songs, is Tampa Bay's 1590 WRXB. The station's studio is almost as hidden as its call number, tucked between two apartment complexes in the Perry Bayview neighborhood off of 37th Street S. in St. Petersburg. You can barely see the small blue building from the road; only a huge satellite dish gives it away.

For the last 30 years, WRXB has filled a niche in the Tampa Bay area's hotly contested radio market by offering a solid mix of R&B, blues and gospel music. Despite a low 5,000-watt signal during the day (and an almost silent 1,000 watts at night), WRXB claims more than 1 million listeners, most of them from the black community.

The station's cramped studio shows its age in the tan Berber carpet on the floor and the dark green carpet soundproofing the walls. CDs are piled everywhere. On one wall, long wooden racks bend from the weight of WRXB's music library. Two wooden stools stand next to the desk, which is loaded down with the analog mixing board, three CD players, a tape deck and a small computer that stores the station's public service announcements and commercials.

It is in this tiny space that Jazzy Big Daddy, 48, known off-air as Wayne Facyson, spins his classic R&B every Friday night. He's on the other four weeknights from 7 p.m. to midnight, playing a mix of R&B, blues, hip-hop and a little jazz. And on Friday evening, he spins a full five hours of the classics.

"It's not necessarily the old music from the '70s; it's a feeling," Facyson explains with a raised eyebrow. "There was a lot of old music, but they don't have that feeling. This music here has feeling, something to move your soul, something that makes you remember what you were doing at that time ... a lot of people now, they older and they got kids and they be like, 'Damn, I was in the back seat of a car!' Ha! Ha!"

Facyson isn't the only DJ spinning classic R&B in Tampa Bay; at WMNF, tshree DJs give FM listeners a heavy dose of "old school," and WTMP has a Sunday afternoon program.

"The music is timeless," says Jeff Stewart, who has brought 1960s-era Southern R&B to WMNF's listeners for 19 years. "I think time will show that the music will endure years from now."

Facyson, a St. Pete native, got his start spinning records in the Army. When he wasn't in Korea, Germany or Panama, he played military clubs and parties in the states. After 20 years in the service, he returned to St. Petersburg, and Tampa's WTMP picked him up to host the Citizen's Report, a weekend talk show. WRXB stole him away six years ago and made him program director.

"We're probably one of the last few stations that does not just play everything off the computer," Facyson says, searching for a new CD before an Isley Brothers track ends. "'Cause all the stations you listen to, everything is rolling off the computer. The actual DJs don't have creativity no more."

Jazzy Big Daddy sounds relaxed when he's broadcasting, as if he were lounging by candlelight in a cushy chair. But in reality, the hefty DJ is bustling around the brightly lit studio browsing through CDs or checking out musical facts via the Internet. On this night he's scrambling to find certain songs, because the Associated Press just announced singer Gerald Levert died in his home at age 40 from a heart attack. He knows his listeners will want to hear some sort of tribute.

"It's one of those nights where everybody wants to know about the guy who died," he says after the 10th phone query.

As a Chaka Khan tune starts to wind down, Facyson scoots over to the mic, slaps on his headphones and gets into his Jazzy Big Daddy persona.

"It's cool out there, but we're gonna keep the music nice and hot and steamy," he says, sounding a bit like Isaac Hayes. Facyson pushes play on Levert's No. 1 hit "Casanova," and sways his head to the rhythm.

Over the next hour, as Levert's music plays, Facyson shares his musical tastes ("I'm a stickler for good male singers"), favorite rappers (Nelly and LL Cool J) and how he got his moniker (his girlfriend). At 9 p.m., he switches to some classic blues, starting with a little B.B. King. Later, he'll interview Daddy V, a St. Petersburg blues player with a new album.

"It's a really fun job," he says. "You play the music you love, and you can talk to people on the phone."

It isn't his only job. Radio work doesn't pay the bills, so Facyson works during the day as an analyst for a radiology software company.

"I would love this to be my only job," he says, rolling his eyes. "I never lose hope. You never know — you found me."

Although Facyson may be an unknown in the larger radio world, every Friday night he has the attention of neighborhoods across Tampa Bay.

"They're sitting on their porch, in the yard, in the driveway, sittin' all over the place," he says, after an on-air shout-out to listeners in St. Pete's 13th Street Heights and Childs Park. "They love this old music ... I have had a lot of callers say, 'I cannot get out of the car, 'cause you're playin' hit after hit after hit that I like.'"

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