GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Aris Hampers, a West Michigan radio legend, has died. He was 73 years old.
Friend and fellow local music legend John Sinkevics of Local Spins broke the news Sunday night, saying the DJ passed away after a long battle with cancer.
Hampers graduated from Ottawa Hills High School and Western Michigan University before jumping into the radio business. He worked for roughly 40 years across several different stations but was most known for his work in the 1970s at WLAV, helping the station become a rock ‘n’ roll staple.
“He had a great voice for radio. In addition to having all this great information. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge about a lot of music,” Sinkevics said.
Hampers revealed in 2019 that doctors had found a cancerous tumor in his windpipe that required surgery and cost him his voice.
“It was a 14-day stay in the hospital requiring two surgeries equal to the cost of a mid-sized home on the West Side,” Hampers said in a detailed social media post. “I remember my first thought when I awoke from the first surgery unable to speak — it was simply ‘It is what it is.’”
The two surgeries were successful. Hampers’ cancer was considered “non-invasive,” meaning it wasn’t expected to spread to other organs, and surgeons confirmed all remnants of the tumor were removed. However, at some point in the last three years, the cancer returned.
Hampers was a longtime smoker and called himself the “latest poster child.”
He reportedly told Sinkevics that the “only positive aspect” to come from his battle with cancer is that “seven people have told me that my disclosure of my health issues three years ago finally prompted them to quit smoking.”
Kevin Matthews, a former radio personality in Grand Rapids, had known Aris for more than 40 years before he lost his battle with cancer.
“He led the charge to discover so many artists we know today, that’s what’s amazing,” Aris said. “He’s so responsible for telling all of us, ‘Hey, you’ve got to listen to this band called Genesis, or you’ve got to hear this band called Ambrosia, or you’ve got to hear this talent called Bruce Hornsby.’”
Hampers was known for nurturing local talent and helping the music community thrive in West Michigan. As a musician himself he had a strong appreciation for the craft.
“You’d see him at shows. He also hosted Aris’s Hometown Rock Search,” Sinkevic said.
Friend and WYCE Radio Station Manager Phil Tower said Arris loved meeting new people especially when he owned a record store.
“Getting to know fans, listeners, obviously a mutual respect and love for him from band members and musicians was the same,” Tower said.
Despite the sadness of the loss, friends like Matthews say they are trying to stay positive and celebrate Aris’s life.
“If anybody knew Aris, no, no, no. Don’t you dare mourn Aris Hampers if anything listen and celebrate music,” Matthews said.
Matthews said he is working to create a scholarship in Hampers’ name at Grand Valley State University.
Funeral information had not been announced as of Monday morning.