On the Mic
Radio personality and producer Sean Dolby sat in his Hanahan office. Pictures and music posters cover the white walls surrounding his desk. In an adjacent room is a small studio space where Dolby works on original music or records local artists of all types.
“The one thing I’ve learned is that the radio business is more cutthroat than the record business,” Dolby said.
Words like this don’t come from a place of defeat, but experience. Since the 1980s, Dolby has been something of an unsung hero in old school Charleston hip-hop. Some who know him are passionate supporters of his place in local music history. Despite that earnest praise, Dolby quietly passed his latest landmark in November — 40 years on the radio.
Through the years, Dolby found success in several outlets, including music production across genres. But, one of his first and biggest claims to fame is helping to shepherd the hip-hop scene in Charleston from its humble beginnings in the 1980s, through the boom-bap era, into the 2000s.
And while he admits he’s a little tamer than he used to be, he’s still got some of the spark that attracted people to his radio shows through the decades.
Hell and a Good Time
Dolby got his start in radio at an unusually young age. “I always had this voice, even when I was 13,” he said.
On a whim, a 14-year-old Dolby called Charleston’s WPAL-AM to ask if he could be on air. Cutting school, he rode his bike to the station after scheduling an interview. “They thought it was funny at first until they took me into the room,” he recalled. “[They asked,] ‘Do you want a part-time job?’ That’s when it became serious.”
In his earliest days, Dolby found comfort in rock and pop. “Hip-hop was never my first love,” he said. “It was always classic rock and singers and standards, the Sinatras and a lot of classic country.”
Born Sean Porcher, the DJ adopted “Dolby” on air in the ’80s, when he started doing shows that mixed “AM radio and FM radio with humor,” he said. The new style and his skill behind the turntable came from experimentation.
One of his shows from 1984, “The 25th Hour,” was a platform for hip-hop in the Lowcountry — and as Dolby recalled, a risk for the network. “When we were younger, nobody understood what we were doing. Hip-hop was too new,” he said. “Everybody thought it wasn’t going to last, but the kids loved the show.”
Chawle Dawk the Superstar, of the local rap group Langston Hughes III, was quick to point out how influential Dolby was to Charleston’s hip-hop scene, referring to him as an “elder statesman.” They never worked together extensively, but he considered Dolby a mentor.
“There’s no South Carolina hip-hop history without him,” he said. “He’s on the Mount Rushmore for South Carolina, definitely.”
Chawle noted Dolby was an influential producer, as well. “He covered radio; he covered the actual street with making, producing music and grooming groups; and he was the No. 1 DJ in the clubs,” he said. “He could work with rock groups; he could work with pop groups. He’s done a little bit of everything.”
At 54, Dolby looks back on his experience during the ’80s and gives one piece of advice: “Don’t give a 15-year-old that much money,” he said. “I got the big head, moved out when I was 15, moved to Folly Beach when it was affordable.” Dolby described the hard-partying lifestyle of his youth as both hell and a good time.
The life of a local celebrity became increasingly surreal as the decade wore on: people whispered about him in the grocery store, Dolby would encounter his high school teachers at clubs where he would DJ and he began partying with lawyers and doctors instead of people his age.
“My teenage life was destructive because I never got to do teenage things,” Dolby said. “While everyone else was going to Godfather’s Pizza and the skating rink, I went to the Market and was playing jazz piano with Oscar Rivers.”
The ’90s was the golden era of radio, in Dolby’s opinion, thanks to new options for DJs to remix tracks and some of his personal favorite music. But near the beginning of the next decade, he started to fall out of love with one of his jobs.
Don’t Quit, Just Reinvent
The Lowcountry has been Dolby’s home for the majority of his life, but there was a time when he bounced from station to station across the Southeast. After one of several stints at Z-93 Jamz near the turn of the century, Dolby began traveling between Charleston and Atlanta.
Later, he set up shop in Montgomery, then Central Florida as a radio personality for a retirement community. “Playing golf and riding horses—that’s what I was doing off the radio,” he said.
Upon returning to Charleston, Dolby found, once again, that he wanted nothing to do with radio, opting to produce music instead. It wasn’t until roughly three years ago that he got back on the mic at Star 99.7.
“I had a problem with radio. I was at war,” he said. “I thought I was blacklisted, not because of anything, but because I am known to be an asshole.”
Dolby often fashioned himself to be the “bad boy” of local radio. In the past, on-air discussions about the church and its influence in politics would push listeners’ buttons, he said. Occasional on-air expletives helped burnish that image.
As he looks at modern radio from an outsider’s perspective, after 40 years of being in the booth, Dolby believes local radio isn’t doing enough to support local artists. Some stations, like 105.5 the Bridge and Ohm Radio, do focus on Charleston music to varying degrees, he said, but there’s always more radio can do.
“I think what urban radio does is it doesn’t pay attention to a lot of other things that are the non-popular topics of discussion in the Black community,” he said, citing autism awareness as an example. “I’ve spoken a lot about depression in the Black community because I went through it. You don’t ever really get healed from depression. It’s like being an alcoholic, and they go hand in hand.”
Dolby’s radio career came to a hushed slow-down in December 2019 for reasons that he mostly attributed to the pandemic and “a bad stroke of luck.” Steve Crumbley, Star 99.7 program director and operations manager, declined to comment on why Dolby is not hosting his radio show at this time.
“In the few years that I have known him, I respect his talent, it’s amazing,” Crumbley said. “His production is funny, it’s good, he comes up with clever ideas and things to do for his commercials … He dares to do something different and push the envelope to the edge.”
Dolby is still under contract with Star 99.7, he said, and still does the Afternoon Drive Time mix every Friday. “I’m heard,” he said. “I don’t really trip too much on it.”
In 2020, at the time of his 40th anniversary on the radio, Dolby said he celebrated by announcing that he was ready to leave the airwaves. “I’ve done enough,” he told the City Paper. “I don’t ever want to quit. I just want to reinvent.”
Dolby has continued speaking on air, but in a more modern fashion with his podcast, Seanie After Dark, co-hosted by musician Heather Rogers.
Say what you will about Dolby, but he stays busy. As he began to add production credits to his name outside of radio, he steadily built his own production group, Kamillionz Media, through the 2000s. As early as 1984, he was producing beats for rap duo Skip Ski and Double D. Later in his career, he worked with artists like Fatman Scoop. In 2020, he co-founded a distribution label, KamRok Unlimited.
Despite a career in radio that spanned most of his life, Dolby is still surprised musicians of certain eras recognize him. His voice and airwave antics were how many got introduced to him, but his time behind the scenes has given him staying power.
Some of his local hits, like “Everybody Rock Up” and Mista Taylor’s “Mirror Dance,” are still heard in local clubs today.
Twin D, founder and producer at local cornerstone rap studio Twin D 1st Century Entertainment, said Dolby’s work made him a pioneer. “[Dolby’s] definitely a trend-setter,” he said. “Without Sean, we would possibly be one step down, if that makes sense. He was one of the first guys that brought the light to the music scene here in Charleston.”
Twin cited Dolby, alongside artists like T-Mac and the Carolina Pathfindaz, as influences on Twin D 1st Century.
Last year, Dolby produced Record Player, an album he described as “DJ Khaled-style,” making the tracks or the hooks and bringing on other artists to collaborate.
The album is a mixture of rock and hip-hop, with local guest spots from Missy and the MeerKats, Chris Dodson and Mason Jar Muzik.
Record Player’s unofficial sequel, Street Player, is in the works now. The LP, a satire of newer hip-hop, will feature younger artists Dolby’s met in recent years, including Pora and Downtown Brown.
Among Dolby’s long-time followers, he’s noted for producing across genres. His influences are heavy-hitters like Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin, producers who have a knack for finding obscure talent and putting them in the spotlight.
Near the end of one career and in the midst of continuing another, it’s tough not to wonder what the future looks like. “[In 10 years], hopefully I can sit back and watch some of the people I’ve trained get their flowers,” he said, expressing interest in musician activism and grabbing awards. “By 64, I promise you, I will be married and not doing this, observing from the outside.”
But for the time being, he’s still got a few songs in him, even a few rap beats; although, he doesn’t care for much modern hip-hop.
“I work with a lot of young cats,” he said. “And, they’re always like, ‘You’re 54, and you know how to do trap beats?’ I’m like, ‘Please.’ ”