Jeff pre-qualified me tediously for the job by checking to see if: 1) I knew what a radio was; 2) Could speak in complete sentences; and 3) Had a pulse. Assured that two out of three wasn’t bad, I was offered the position.
The experience was a blast, and thanks to a few entertaining guests and a solid producer, at least my show didn’t embarrass the station. But I must admit that I had butterflies of anticipation leading up to my 4 PM On-Air time since it’s been a long time since I got behind the mic.
My timing was a half click too fast and my transitions were rusty, but I still remembered the three golden rules of radio: 1) Always read the copy advertising, 2) Repeat the station’s call letters and guest names every ten minutes, 2) and don’t swear like a drunken sailor.
A million years ago (OK, 1992-3) I was a Disc Jockey for my college radio station at the University of Connecticut. 91.7 FM went by the call letters WHUS, with the slogan “Radio for the people.” The only problem was that there weren’t any people listening – at least to my show.
As a newbie, I was awarded he worst possible time for a radio show: 2 AM to 5:30 AM on Thursday mornings. My first class, Weightlifting 101, was at 8 AM so it was a challenge just to show up, yet alone bench press with that lack of sleep (and lack of muscle).
Manning a professional radio station by myself was also a big responsibility. I had to read public service announcements (PSAs) every 15 minutes, report the weather once an hour, and announce the call letters frequently so the people would know which station they weren’t listening to.
There were about 1,000 buttons, dials, and levers in the sizable radio booth, at least nine of which I mastered after six months of practice. Also, I was informed very seriously that if I cursed while I was live on air, the FCC could fine the station $10,000 and could put them out of business.
The other members of WHUS chain smoked, reserved sour lemon looks of scorn for anyone not deemed as “alternative” as them, and obviously spent hours perfecting their disheveled outfits until they’d give off an “I don’t care about my outfit” vibe.
But I made the best of it, and I was rarely alone. My roommate, Garnett, always came along with me to listen to the newest hip hop records, and, circa 2:30 AM, Jake the Pizza Delivery Guy would always roll in, red-eyed and carrying a few free pizzas he’d managed to commandeer.
Together, to pass the three hours of silent blackness, we turned the radio show it into a big party.
But every record label sent early releases to the station to promote their hot new artists and albums, so we got Nirvana, Dr. Dre and Snoop, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Counting Crows, Radiohead, the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, and others all six months before the general public. It was heaven for this music lover.
We turned the volume way up. We danced. We tried to rap. We laughed. I ranted and raved on-air. We used the station’s phone to make long distance calls. We stole duplicate CDs. We took turns falling asleep on the couch. And we recorded endless mixes as if this music jackpot might suddenly disappear.
I gave shout-outs to friends all the time just so they would listen, spread maliciously irresponsible rumors about our teachers, and invited anyone and everyone in as a guest so we could discuss their sexual exploits.
By the time the middle aged and well mustached soft jazz DJ showed up at 5 AM to prepare for his morning show, the studio was littered with empty beer bottles, dank clouds of smoke, stacks of vinyl and CD cases, the remains of Hawaiian pizzas, and a snoring Garnett.
It snowed a lot of Thursday mornings that winter, and thus my inglorious DJing career at WHUS soon came to an end.
I ended up failing Weightlifting 101, a new low-point in my already low academic career. But Garnett and I were sought out for our new mixes and soon recruited to DJ parties. Jake the Pizza Guy would even stop by.
Twenty-five years later (wow!), getting into the booth at ENERGY FM rekindled those memories. Pulling the mic close and shouting out those call letter maybe even created an itch that needs scratching.
Perhaps I'll volunteer to guest DJ in Dumaguete again? Or, even better, I can record my own little podcast about traveling, culture, and general musings about this thing we call life.
But this time, I think I'll call it “Stormin Norman in the mid-afternoon," and strong coffee will replace all of those cold beers. I can even make a call to see if Garnett and Jake the Pizza Guy are available.
P.S. A version of this story first appeared in the Dumaguete MetroPost newspaper.