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Manard 'Busta' Brown has found a home at WZOO in Asheboro.     Larry Penkava/Randolph Hub

Busta Brown

ASHEBORO — Manard Brown’s life was saved by a duck.


The WZOO afternoon DJ, known more familiarly as Busta, was having fun entertaining his audience on Valentine’s Day when he was asked off the air, “Who is Busta Brown?”


“He’s a dude from San Francisco, California, who grew up in Hunters Point, back then the ‘hood.’ The Black Panthers made sure we had enough food and had a summer program.


“It was a tough place,” he continued. “I’m still an 11 years old kid who heard ‘Disco Duck,’ ” a satirical novelty song recorded by Rick Dees, originally from Greensboro, who became a national radio personality.


“The guy was a radio DJ,” Brown said of Dees. “He saved my life. I wanted to be Rick Dees and be funny. And it happened.”


From then on, Brown’s life centered around entertaining others. “Every day I would pretend to be on the radio. I would host concerts with the Jackson Five. I went on stage in my dream with Michael and all those people were calling my name.”


His mother, Deborah Brown, would have family and friends over on holidays and before they were allowed in the door, Manard would introduce each one, as though they were members of the Jackson Five.


During Brown’s sophomore year in high school, he asked the principal if he could DJ during the lunch break, using his own equipment bought with the help of his brother Darrell. “It’s what I loved to do.”


While songs were playing, he would run outside to see if the students were enjoying the music.


By that time, Brown had become “really good in basketball,” thanks again to Darrell, who coached him. But he didn’t want to continue in sports. “I wanted to go to broadcast school.”


After high school, Brown attended the Ron Bailey School of Broadcasting. There he met classmate Bailey Coleman, brother of Maya Angelou. 


“He was just having fun,” Brown said of Coleman. “He was one of the best men in my life. He told me I was funny and talented.”


So, Brown, on Coleman’s recommendation, went to a comedy club to do standup. The manager liked him but said, “If you can make the celebrities laugh, you’re funny.”


So Brown and all his family and friends went to the club on a night when there would be a host of celebs in attendance.


Just when Brown was to go on stage, the director brought on Robin Williams of TV and movie fame. “He shows up and destroys the crowd for an hour and a half,” Brown recalled. “Then they threw me out there. I was terrible. My mom said, ‘You were good but next time just be funny.’ It was one of the most embarrassing things in my life.”


After broadcasting school, Brown received his first job in radio doing traffic reports in San Francisco. That’s where he first experienced racism. A new station manager came aboard and said, “I don’t want no nigger sitting next to me.”


“The assistant manager told me to watch my butt,” Brown said. “But I was three minutes late one day and the manager told me to leave.” Understand, the announcers were expected to be at the station 30 minutes before they were to go on the air, so Brown wasn’t really late for work.


Meanwhile, Brown had been talking by phone to the manager of a station in Stockton, California. “The guy wanted me to send my picture, but I wouldn’t do it. Why does he care what I look like? Finally, I met him and I said, ‘I thought you were Black.’ He said, ‘I thought you were white.’ We laughed about that for six weeks. 


“Then six months in, this cat comes in and asks, ‘Who are you?’ It was the owner of the station. The next day, I was fired.”


From there, Brown was invited to interview as a DJ at a four-star hotel. The manager asked Brown to come into his office. “He learned my story and gave me the job. Then he said, ‘I don’t want it too dark in here,’ ” referring to Brown’s race. “I thought, ‘I can’t get away from racism.’ ”


The manager kept on Brown about the music being played. “I finally couldn’t deal with it anymore,” he said.


That took him back to San Francisco, where Brown would daily call the big radio station, KSOL, just to get in the door. At that time, Brown was engaged and his fiancee encouraged him to call again. “The manager said he had been expecting me to call. They would train me and put me on weekends.”


That was in 1989 right after a big earthquake that did heavy damage in the area. When he showed up for work, he learned that the night DJ was pregnant. She told Brown, “If there’s a bad tremor, I can get out of the building and you’ll get on the board (controlling the equipment).” 


“I said, ‘OK, I can die.’ ”


From there, Brown arrived in the Piedmont Triad in 1993 to work at 102 JAMS. “They hired me, then sold the station,” he said. But the new owners kept him.


“I was a mean guy back then,” Brown said, referring to being rude to callers or hanging up on them. “People thought it was funny and the general manager liked me. They let me develop into Busta Brown.”


But during his time there, Brown began mentoring youth, wanting to make a difference in their lives. He recalled a young girl saying she was near suicide but heard Brown say she was beautiful.


Now he saw himself as informing the community and being positive. That led to arguments with management.


In 2003, Brown developed polyps on his vocal cords and couldn’t talk. Surgery cured that, but during his time off, he said, “God made it clear He didn’t want me doing JAMS any more. I had outgrown that lifestyle (portrayed by the music).”


When Brown tried to explain his new way of thinking to the manager, they argued about the direction he was taking. “I walked out and went to WQMG, old school R&B. I had a nice run, but we argued there, too.”


He left for a station at Virginia Beach. But in 2005, WQMG bought the Virginia Beach station and made Brown return to Greensboro.


“We beat our competitors,” he said. “I was pushing out love. You aren’t going to beat that. It was the people’s show.” But when Brown’s contract was up, they let him go.


Brown was floundering until the “Angel of Randolph County” called. “Larry Reid (station manager for WZOO and WKXR) asked me if I wanted to be back on radio,” Brown remembered. “I said, ‘I want to have fun.’ He said, ‘You’ll have fun.’


“Larry got me in. He said, ‘You can be on a bluegrass station and people will like you. Just follow the rules and do Busta.’ ”


That was four years ago and, Brown said, “I’ve been loving it ever since. I never worked at a station I actually lived the lifestyle. This is the only station I’ve worked at that I listen to. I love being here.” He said he's never smoked or drunk alcohol.


The one drawback — and it’s a big one — is that Reid died last September. 


“I’m used to having him to talk to,” Brown said. “I come in the station and say, ‘Larry!’ He saved my life. I would have felt empty in my life without radio.”


Brown’s interest in mentoring young people has grown into a nonprofit called the New Cool Movement, an organization whose motto is, “Excellent character is not an option, it’s a must.”


Organizers, including Brown, often hold assemblies at schools on subjects such as How to Curb Bullying.


The question at one assembly was, “Why do bullies bully?”Brown said a boy of about 10 or 11 answered, “Because they have no power. Scaring people gives them power.”


Brown said he was amazed at the maturity of that answer.


Deborah Brown, Manard/Busta’s mother, used to tell her young son, “People like you, boy. So be yourself.”


“You’ve gotta be yourself,” he said. “That’s what I tell kids.”


So how did he get the name ‘Busta’?

His name is Manard but he goes by “Busta” on the radio.

“When I moved here, there was a guy who had the same name on radio,” Brown explained. “I had to think of another name. A girl I was going with said, ‘Why not Busta, like the shoe? I dare you.’ ”

Manard took the dare and people have been calling him Busta ever since.

And his laugh has become famous, too.

What does he call his laugh? “Goofy. When I laugh, I mean it.”

Brown said he can be in a restaurant and somebody at another table hears him laugh. “I know that laugh,” they’ll say. 

It must be Busta Brown.