If you drove around Miami in the 1990s, you probably remember the name DJ Ballistic Billy. At 7 and 9 on the dot every night on Power 96, he would play his mixes, mashing up rock with hip-hop and house. Though he found himself broadcasting on a major radio station at the insanely young age of 15, his early breaks were accompanied by a lifetime of physical hardships, ones he openly shared with New Times. "I want people to know just because you're born with challenges, you can still accomplish what you want to accomplish."
Billy Miller was born in Hollywood, Florida, to a family well-versed in show business. His father worked the lights and sound in movies and theater, most notably on The Honeymooners, which was filmed at what Billy still likes to call the Jackie Gleason Theater. Billy's parents were older when they had him, and there's more than a decade age separation between him and his siblings. Billy was born with reflux nephropathy, a condition that causes a backward flow of urine into the kidneys. He says his illness was the major reason he got into music. "It's a kidney disease that forced me to live in the hospital the first few years of my life," he says. "I grew up fast because I had adult situations. I was limited with what I could do — no tackle football. I gravitated toward things I could do by myself."
One of those things was mixing. Inspired by Miami bass, the freestyle scene, Debbie Deb, and 2 Live Crew, Billy amassed a record collection that surpassed 5,000 pieces of vinyl. But he broke into the business at the bottom, as a ticket taker at the now-defunct Davie roller rink Skate & Putt. "I was a kid, and one day the DJ didn't show up, so I got to do it. On that first day, a kid whose stepfather worked at Power 96 liked what I did and introduced me to him. We made a deal: If I helped him in the studio, he'd help me make a demo to get on the air."
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From 1992 to 2001, Billy worked for the station, learning under the tutelage of DJ Laz and other on-air personalities. Program director Frank Walsh gave him the name DJ Ballistic Billy. "That's why I say DJ Ballistic Billy was born in Miami. I was born in Hollywood, but DJ Ballistic Billy was born on the airwaves of Power 96. Radio was in my blood," he says.
He eventually found himself as the touring DJ for members of 2 Live Crew, but he had to quit because his kidneys began to shut down. "I was in and out of doctors' offices all the time. Every other day for three hours at a time, I was attached to a machine in order to live. There was no time to do anything else." After three years of dialysis, he finally underwent a kidney transplant at Jackson Memorial Hospital in 2011.
Following surgery, Billy found himself motivated by two passions: inspiring others to overcome their personal hardships and mixing. Since receiving his new kidney, he's played clubs in Mexico, Canada, and Las Vegas. He's working out the details for a tour that will take him from New York to Cancún, with stops in between. He'll play Mokai Lounge in South Beach this month (the date has yet to be determined). His show features "high-energy, open-format music," he says. "There's a lot of house, hip-hop, EDM. It's a real banging time."
He says his most recent health issues gave him a real appreciation for every moment and opportunity he has to make people dance, something he views as a finely tuned craft. "I love being mindful of what the crowd is reacting to. You're shooting yourself in the foot if you don't adjust what you're playing and react to the crowd. You learn a lot — especially when you've been doing it for 25 years."