Not much has changed about Bobby Patterson since his dismissal from KKDA-AM 730 this past May. Strolling into a Pappadeaux in Duncanville for this interview with one of his favorite walking sticks in hand, the 68-year-old cracks jokes and flirts with all the women in sight. The one-liners come and go while the women smile and laugh. "My last girlfriend was so ugly, she'd trick or treat over the phone," he quips. "She'd make the onions cry!"
For those who have known him for many years, they've heard these jokes dozens of times, but he has such a friendly and endearing side, these jokes don't feel tedious. He isn't the old grandfather telling you the same war stories over and over again; he's the kind of guy you like to see around, and he's very happy to see you.
Yet there is a palpable sadness when he talks about not being on the radio anymore. Due to financial strain, Patterson, along with many other beloved DJs like Cindy B. and Roger B. Brown, were replaced by an automated computer system that plays music and commercials. Like many radio veterans in the past two decades, Patterson and his co-workers had to move on, away from a microphone and request line.
He proclaimed that day as "not one of my best days," but he knew the sun was going to rise. Since Patterson sees himself as an entertainer, not having that daily outlet is still an adjustment after all these months.
"I always have foresight in this business," he says, a silver necklace featuring a tiny DJ microphone dangling from his neck. "I only take it one day at a time. I have a little more insight into radio than most artists/entertainers do because I worked for radio stations for about 40 years, and most of the AM stations across the country have been using only morning shows for about the last, five, six, seven years."
When asked if he was heartbroken to be let go, he thinks about the listener before himself.
"I'm sad for the people that listened to me. When I went on the radio as a DJ, I took a combination of all the entertainers I've ever met and decided that I wanted to make people feel good about themselves. This is a sad world. We've got enough sadness, and I don't want to tune in and have a DJ reporting some sad news or sound like he's sad."
Patterson came from an era knowing influential DJs like E. Rodney Jones in Chicago and Al Perkins in Detroit. Those were the days when there was only one black radio station per market, so even though the options were limited, there was an incredibly loyal fanbase.
"He was a superstar," he says of the role DJs use to have. "He made people tune in because of the entertainment that they would get. Nowadays, you have these cookie-cutter DJs that announce records and don't know much about the artists that they're introducing. They took the personality out of radio a long time ago, and so all of the jocks sound somewhat alike and you couldn't tell one from the other. People wouldn't miss you when you're gone because they'd just replace you with somebody else and keep on stepping."
Patterson hasn't resurfaced on another station, but he did make a guest appearance on KNON-FM 89.3 for a Cowboys of Color rodeo, and the phone calls quickly came in. "It went well," he explains. "It was good to hear from some of the old fans who used to listen to KKDA."
He's not one for bitterness. This is the guy who likes to say, "I'm walkin' on the dirt and the dirt ain't walkin' on me" and "If you're going through hell, just keep going" almost daily. "I thank God for all my enemies," he says. "I thank God for every job I've ever been fired from. I thank Him for every girl that left me. Because that thing makes you stronger. They make you who you are. And if you're gonna be in this entertainment business, you better learn to be strong."
A musician long before he became a radio DJ and record man, Patterson has continued to perform locally, including a memorable show earlier in the year with The Relatives at the Kessler Theater. He plays where he's asked to play, and most definitely wherever the checks clear. Not only does that include local and regional places, it also includes New York and the birthplace of the Northern Soul fan base, England. Fellow Northern Soul acts like Gene Chandler and Gloria Jones are treasured there, and Patterson is welcomed every time he visits. No matter where he plays, the amount of joy he receives from performing original songs like "T.C.B. or T.Y.A." and "What a Wonderful Night for Love" makes the whole experience worthwhile.
"This is a business to me and I see it as a job, and my job is to make people happy and I love this job," he claims. Meeting people in England, it's amazing the kind of knowledge that has carried across the pond.
"They know everything about Bobby Patterson," he adds. "They know where the record was cut, what musicians were playing on the record. They know things about the music that I don't know." His list of fans also contains Jeff Tweedy and Robert Plant, somebody he met for the first time in Marfa. And, according to Patterson, Plant knew all of his records.
As for what's next, Patterson has an inspirational album — something his mother always wanted him to make — in the works, and he hopes to have it out by Christmas. He hasn't listened to KKDA since he left, but he's open to coming back to radio if the offer's right. For now, he's telling the truth to you personally or from the stage.
"When I hit the stage, I put you in a rage. I don't care nothin' about your age. I'm trying to set a pace in this rat race that's why I'm on your case, all in your face. So I don't care how old you are, how young you are, when you come to see me, it's gonna be some toe-tappin' and hand-clappin' and finger-snappin' going on."