Brandon Glova's career is a study in perseverance. When the Philadelphia native first came to the University of Pittsburgh in 1998, he applied to host a radio show at WPTS, the university's radio station, only to be told he wasn't qualified, and that he should try out again next year.
Today, Glova, known as DJ Bonics, is one of the city's best-known DJ exports, recognizable as Wiz Khalifa's tour DJ, with his signature line, "My name is DJ Bonics, and I came to rock the party." But the journey wasn't quick — or easy.
At WPTS, Glova became a host (known then as DJ B-Bonics), and then hip-hop director, managing the new hip-hop music coming into the station from record labels and independent artists. In just a few months he advanced to assistant program director, and later station manager. He began performing gigs as a party and club DJ; the club scene introduced him to DJing for a live audience.
"You got to see how motherfuckers reacted, which is addicting," he says.
Glova remained dedicated to his own development in the radio business. He interned at WAMO — then the city's major urban FM station — after his sophomore year at Pitt. At the end of his senior year, he landed a local urban-marketing job with Clear Channel, the largest radio station group owner in the country.
The relationships he began building with store and venue owners paid off. Bonics was the opening DJ for headlining acts such as Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco when they toured through the city.
Eventually, a radio-hosting demo disc he had put together landed on the desk of the new program director at Clear Channel-owned KISS-FM, a Pittsburgh Top-40 radio station. It wasn't long before Bonics became a mix-show host on the station.
"I was playing mix shows on the radio ... live from the club ... with vinyl ... for four hours straight and no repeating," Bonics says with a laugh. "I can't even believe I used to do that."
Bonics was quickly establishing himself as one of Pittsburgh's premier radio personalities.
"I was just a little kid from Philly who was shy," he says. "The kid who was told to take the marbles out of his mouth in eighth grade is now one of the No. 1 jocks on the air."
Bonics was determined to use his success as a platform for other local artists. At Pitt, he had booked a teen-age Wiz Khalifa to perform at Bigelow Bash, an annual WPTS-sponsored concert. At KISS, Bonics began working Khalifa's music into his mix-show playlists.
"It was an honor," Khalifa says, looking back on the first time Bonics played one of his songs on the radio. "Bonics is a local celebrity, so it was a huge deal."
It was a daring decision, as Clear Channel radio stations are programmed to play from a list of major-label songs that generally don't include local and independently signed artists.
"I didn't necessarily agree with what was going on at the radio station at the time," explains Bonics. "There was a long period when I wanted to host a local show. I was playing Wiz Khalifa on the mix shows, and I wasn't supposed to. The first time Mac Miller ever got played on the radio was by me, and I really wasn't supposed to.
"Sometimes you know when the world is calling you. There were a lot of things going on at the time, things that I didn't understand. It got to a point where I was frustrated with work."
Then he got the call to become Khalifa's official tour DJ. (See sidebar, "The Call-Up.")
In 2010, the Waken Baken Tour with Khalifa and Bonics made stops in 56 cities and was sold out across the board; Khalifa's buzz was growing bigger. But just weeks after the tour ended, while still celebrating his return to Pittsburgh, Bonics had a health scare.
A visit to the emergency room confirmed that one of the DJ's arteries was blocked and he would have to undergo surgery. The surgery was successful, and served as a precaution about the fast life he was living. Four days after getting out of the hospital, Bonics joined Khalifa on BET's 106 and Park. It was their first national-TV performance.
"Nothing was gonna stop me. I actually had some backlash from people who were like, ‘Dude, you're trying to get healthy and you're gonna perform, that's fucked up.' And I'm just like, ‘No, it's not fucked up to me. Wouldn't all of you love to use a heart attack as an excuse not to come back to work?' For me it was like, ‘This is what I do, this is what I love, this is what my heart is made of. And I'm not gonna let that stop me.'"
Now 32, Bonics is continuing to tour with Khalifa and his Taylor Gang crew. Bonics can also be heard on the radio in Pittsburgh on KISS-FM every Friday night and in Philly on WIRED 96.5 FM every Saturday night.
"Wherever I am, I bring a microphone with me," he says. "I make a mix, three hours of mixing music. And then I get on the mic and I record myself talking to whatever audience it's airing at. If I'm in Dubai and people are driving around in Pittsburgh on a Friday night, they can still hear me on the radio."
No matter where he's at, he embraces Pennsylvania's two largest cities as his foundation. And he's as passionate as ever about maintaining a presence in Pittsburgh.
"I can't let go — Pittsburgh's so fucking special to me. I'm still trying to be the No. 1 DJ in Pittsburgh, even if someone thinks that I already am.
"A little more than 10 years later," he adds, "I'm still learning things on the turntables."