Howard High School teacher Robert Nykyforchyn spun his first crackly 45s nearly 20 years ago at a school fund-raising dance.
Now the Columbia resident has hit it big as one of the area's most famous disc jockeys. There he is, on page 50 of this month's Baltimore magazine, named Charm City's best announcer.
A "hometown celebrity," the magazine calls him.
The 43-year-old Spanish teacher, who goes by the professional name of Bobby Nyk, is surprised the magazine bestowed the honor on him, yet exudes the confidence that he's one of the best in the business.
"I never in a million years would think I would be named best DJ," d Mr. Nykyforchyn said. "For me to be honored that way and not to work for a radio station was just really great."
Baltimore magazine's executive editor, Lois Perschetz, says, "He has an incredible talent for energizing the crowd and working them and knowing what kind of music they respond to. I've never seen so many people on the dance floor when he plays. "
Columbia resident Claudia Mayer, who booked Mr. Nykyforchyn for family bar mitzvahs and a Christmas party, says he's "just so unique. He has several different wigs that he uses with certain songs. He'll lip-sync and he'll dance. He'll get everybody in a row and they will do leg kicks. "
Mr. Nykyforchyn (pronounced "nicky-fortune") began spinning records in 1977, a time when disco was hot and wide lapels and bell-bottoms were in. He was Atholton High School's cheerleading coach looking for fund-raising ideas. Bake sales and other traditional money-making events were good, but dances were profitable, he found out.
"After that, things just started to blossom," says Mr. Nykyforchyn, a 5-foot-11-inch, 245-pound former linebacker and place kicker for Culver-Stockton College in Missouri.
His big break came in 1987, when he was tapped to be disc jockey at Baltimore interior designer Alex Baer's 40th birthday bash, an event that drew more than 1,000 well-connected well-wishers who took notice of Mr. Nykyforchyn's work. He signed up with P. W. Feats, a booking agency that was able to get him "the right jobs at the right times."
Since then, he's hammed it up at the 1993 Major League All-Star Game post-game party at Camden Yards; pre-Pimlico Preakness parties at the National Aquarium; and benefit galas for the Baltimore Zoo. He also volunteers annually to work for the Cystic Fibrosis Sports Challenge in Washington.
But his biggest gig was on a cruise ship in Barcelona, Spain, on a contract with NBC to entertain advertising and network executives during the 1992 Summer Olympics. There, he met the likes of film director Spike Lee, boxers Evander Holyfield and George Foreman and Michael Jordan's father.
"It was an unforgettable experience," he says. "To quote Lou Gehrig, 'I've got to be the luckiest man in the world.' I'm playing music and I'm going around the world. "
Although he plays country, reggae -- virtually all types of music for any type of crowd -- his specialty is Motown and '60s era music, tunes with lyricism and romanticism, he notes.
He says he's amazed at how popular group dances such as the electric slide, hokey-pokey and the achy breaky have become. And he talks about the days when disc jockeys such as Johnny Dark, Casey Kasem and Dick Clark ruled the airwaves.
Mr. Nykyforchyn sees himself as "a lightning rod that goes to other people. . . . They have the magic. They can vicariously perform through me. There's nothing more than being able to spend time with people and help them enjoy themselves more. When people come to see me, I want them to escape for a little while and have a little fun."
Music has always played a big part in Mr. Nykyforchyn's life. He studied piano for seven years at the Peabody Institute as a child and played the oboe in his high school band. His mother was a professional singer and dancer at New York's famed Radio City Music Hall. She was also in the USO.
"Music for me has been a real joy," he says, adding that being a disc jockey "gives me an opportunity to perform. I've always wanted to perform in some way. As long as people still come and have a good time and I have a good time doing it, I'm going to continue."
Being a disc jockey gives Mr. Nykyforchyn a different type of satisfaction than being a teacher -- a wild and crazy side where he can become Frank Sinatra, Li'l Orphan Annie and Jimmy Durante with the change of a wig and the flip of a hat.
"A lot of my colleagues have seen me perform, and it's interesting to see me in a different light," he says. "Sometimes people think it's a distraction from teaching. But it's a different kind of satisfaction."
Aside from spinning records and playing compact discs to high school students, neighborhood folks and senior citizens, Mr. Nykyforchyn has other interests.
In 1987, he became the first U.S. citizen to umpire a baseball game in Cuba since the 1959 revolution -- he has Fidel Castro's autograph on a baseball as proof. He is the host for and produces "Sports Scene Six," a local cable talk show. He fought a bull in Spain in 1981 and was named Howard County's Coach of the Year in 1982.
"My secret desire is to become a sportscaster," he says. "That's what I'd really like to do."
Still, he doesn't want to quit his day job because "there's real meaning and value in being a teacher and making a difference," he says. "I [DJ] yes, for money, but mostly for a different release. This is fun. It's rarely a chore. It doesn't pay the rent. It could, very easily."