Tuesday, December 5, 2023

LISTEN HEAR: DJ T.O. representing the underdogs

DJ overcomes stutter, health setbacks to find his voice

“It’s the T.O. Show, Baby!”

There was a time when Todd Kyles could not have imagined stepping before a crowd to introduce himself like this. As a boy, he was enrolled in years of speech therapy to overcome a severe stutter. The thought of speaking in public made him break into a sweat.

Today the man known as DJ T.O. spends most weekends behind a microphone, hyping up crowds at weddings, corporate events, private parties and school dances. “I’m all about entertainment,” explained Kyles. “I love to see people smile and have a great time. I love it.”

The winner of the City Paper’s Best of Toledo categories for DJ and Wedding DJ for two years running and Best Dressed Man for 2020, Kyles credits his evolution into DJ T.O. largely to the persistent encouragement and support of friends and family.

His journey started with a love of music and a huge collection of CDs and cassette tapes. A friend who worked as a DJ told him he could make money with it, but he initially resisted the idea. Then in 2004, his life changed when that friend showed him his first CDJ — a digital turntable. 

Kyles still remembers watching the friend combine a Prince instrumental with a Michael Jackson acapella to make one song. “I was mesmerized,” said Kyles. The next day he arranged a loan for $2500 to buy his first mixer and two turntables. 

A couple weeks later, Kyles’ friend called him in a panic because he accidentally double booked himself. Kyles reluctantly agreed to cover the club gig. He played the hits, everyone had a great time and that was the first of many nights he would DJ at that club over the next 15 years.

Taking the mic
For years Kyles worked alongside talented MCs, but he resisted taking the microphone himself due to concerns about his stuttering. Then in 2016, an MC backed out on him for an anniversary event. He overcame his nervousness, took what he had learned, and worked the event by himself. He still remembers with gratitude “Mrs. Davis,” who came up at the end of the night to compliment him. “You don’t need an MC,” she told Kyles. “She said, ‘Baby, you could do this by yourself. Just believe in yourself.’ When she said that, the T.O. Show was born,” he said.

As his confidence grew, Kyles began working more and bigger events by himself. He invested in a stylish stage facade with enhanced lighting and a video screen, something he had only seen in larger cities. Things were going well, and then in October 2016 he began experiencing vision loss in his left eye.

When life knocks you down
Kyles was diagnosed with a detached retina. He needed surgery, and the doctor gave him 50/50 odds of saving his vision in that eye. “I left there crying. It was devastating,” he recalls. The surgery at Cleveland Clinic was a success, but then he developed glaucoma that required a second surgery in early 2017. 

Soon after that, Kyles faced another setback when he suffered a severe back injury while working at his day job at an automotive supplier. A year of pain, doctor’s appointments and a search for alternatives to surgery followed. He discovered the field of adult stem cell regenerative medicine, and received treatments in Toledo and Denver.  As the pain slowly receded,  he was gradually able to resume a full schedule of work and DJing on weekends. 

“If life knocks you down, you’re going to fall, of course,” said Kyles. “But you gotta get up. You gotta pray about it and you gotta believe.”

Reading the room
Kyles still describes his DJ career as a hobby and identifies as an “underdog,” but his calendar is booked most weekends. He is always on the lookout for new equipment to enhance his show and to set him apart from the competition.  Kyles considers it a gift to be able to use his talents to help people have fun and to create great memories. He also prides himself on his ability to get people up and moving.   He explains, as a person who loves all genres of music, that a good DJ always needs to be able to adapt his playlist. “I believe you walk in and you read the room. That’s how you get great results.”

DJ T.O. can be found on Instagram and Facebook @deejaytomusic and at deejaytomusic.com.

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