There was a time in Ocean City when a DJ was not considered entertainment.
“It was the head of the liquor control board at the time that made the ruling. I wanted to get into the entertainment listings in the paper. At the time it was all bands, because that was the way it was – even having a DJ at your wedding was unheard of,” Mike Beatty, aka DJ Batman – the elder statesman of Ocean City DJs — explains.
He kept all the papers – those without any DJ listings and, later, those who began listing just one.
“I owe that guy so much. I made a 30-year career out of that statement,” Batman said from behind his mirrored sunglasses, with his trademark visor pulled low.
Beatty began spending summers in OC at the age of 15.
“I had to lie about my age,” he chuckles between drags of menthol Pall Malls. “I was running kiddie rides on the pier and working at Old Pro golf, OK, I made$36 per week and stayed at the Ocean Manor for $18 a week.”
To scratch out a living at those rates, Batman made friends.
“Everyone had a connection. For example I went down to Dayton’s Chicken at the end of the night with a bag, OK, when they were throwing out their chicken they didn’t sell. If the guy liked me that night, he threw it in the bag. If he didn’t he would throw it in the dumpster and I would have to climb in after it anyway,” he said.
No one argues it was a healthy way to live.
“Another thing I would do is visit my friend at the candy store. If I gave her a dollar, OK, she would give me 5 lbs. of milk chocolate, and I would basically live on that,” Beatty explained.
The catalyst which transformed Mike Beatty into DJ Batman wouldn’t come for a number of summers.
“Robbie Rosenblit, the owner of the Paddock, came to me with the idea of the Big Kahuna. It was a small outbuilding close to the Paddock, OK, and it held about 200 people,” he said. “Booking me there is what did it – if I didn’t play there none of it – M. R. Ducks, Fager’s, Seacrets – none of it would have happened.”
Beatty describes how the Big Kahuna set the tone for what his show would evolve into.
“I don’t want to call it rowdy (but it was) so let’s say it was boisterous. The rules got stricter – now people would call what we did “breaking the law” but for me it was all good fun. We would form up a love train – and we wouldn’t leave until we had 90 percent participation at least, OK – but then we would leave the bar and I’d take everyone through the 7-11. Once, as a surprise, I made an arrangement with the owner of the Jolly Roger. No one knew it but me, but I put a long song on, OK, we formed up the love train and I marched everyone up Coastal Highway to the Jolly Roger and we went on the roller coaster. Today, well, they’d rather you didn’t do that.”
The times do change but Beatty has a good handle on where the second hand stops in OC. He calls it the 15-year rule.
“When I started playing it was 1960s rock almost exclusively. After disco it got tougher, and just imagine what would have happened to me if I played Journey even five years ago. Now it’s requested all the time,” he said.
The rule of thumb is that songs from 15 years ago will be a hit in Ocean City, and a mountain of evidence, plus at least one 30-year career — appears to support it.
“In Ocean City I think people want to hear songs that are comfortable. They may not like it – they may not love it, but they’re also not going to sit anywhere for any length of time and listen,” he said. “That’s a big change for me, maybe the biggest. I used to have to go out and see if a band was popular. Now the most popular bands play what I call a DJ set of music. It’s an inversion – DJs seeing bands to bands watching DJs.”
Today, Beatty hosts two shows at Ocean 98.1 and continues regular bookings at local nightclubs. He can regularly be seen on Coastal Highway astride his Batmobile – a little white scooter. His hair’s gone grey and he moves a little slower than he did just a few years ago because of injuries sustained in a Batmobile accident. He’s in all the Entertainment listings.
“You got to be really comfortable with yourself to ride around on that thing, especially now,” he said referring to Bike Week, which was taking place during this interview. “But I’ve clocked thousands of miles in a town with essentially one street, OK? It paid for itself within two years,” he added.
If the liquor control board’s decision had stuck, Ocean City would be a very different place. DJ Batman may never have existed at all, and Mike Beatty might only have teenage memories of this beach.