Who’s Been Playing Records in His Bedroom?

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Who Disco?
Who Techno?
Who Hip-Hop?
Who Be-Bop?
Who’s been playing records in his bedroom?

Who rocks out?
Who’s spaced out?
Who brings you?
Who sings you?
Who’s still workin’ on his masterpiece?

The great intoxication
The mental generation
Sound effects & laughter
Stupid ever after
Hopin’ it was cranked up
Loud enough for you to hear

He’s drunk and he’s insistent
Shy but he’s persistent
Boisterous & jumpy
Disorganized & funky
Every day he wonders
What the hell she sees in me?

— David Byrne, The Great Intoxication

When I write the post for each radio episode, I usually say how great/fun the show was. Then sometimes I delete that and write something less adjectivey, or leave it without comment. The thing is, for me every show is great and fun. I love doing radio. When I started (just over a year ago now, oh my) I usually sat in the chair. Partially because back then I was doing the 6am slot and I was tired, but mostly because that was the body language of most of the other djs I had trained with. Nowadays I’m driven to stand through the whole show. Or, yes, dance. I love doing this stuff.

Doing radio is probably an anachronism. Having one clique of the technically anointed choosing the playlist for a region may not make sense in a long-tail world of customized content. Everybody has the technological power to access the zeitgeist, or the many mini-zeitgeists of genre and locale, and shape their own experiences of them. Why would you count on radio djs to pick the music, when their only real credential is that they were willing to jump through some training hoops and caffeinate themselves through a first-term early morning shift? If you have internet and a willingness to deploy peer-to-peer software, you effectively have access to a larger music library than any physical radio station can house. And if you can read some audio blogs and music interzines, or just go to some local shows, you can get just as solid a finger on the pulse of the scene as anybody else, including the wannabegentsia with the clever names on the radio.

Apparently I don’t believe in the relevance of the college dj. So why do it? For one, ego, obviously. It’s fun to think of yourself as a radio disc jockey. But wait, there’s more. It’s true that having a real live person doing the work of putting songs together into a musical comment thread is different than having the intercloud dump a bunch of generally great music on you. Knowing that there is some one person doing it is does enhance the focus somehow. And for some reason, it helps if you know they are within a few miles of you. There is a bit of drama there. The real possibility of failure makes it more interesting. (And that’s one thing I know I can provide to an audience.)

But these are reasons why I like listening to radio, not why I like doing it. I should point out: I don’t just like listening to campus radio. I love it. College djs didn’t know they were getting me through my first two years of undergrad. They didn’t know they made my computer-staring existence in Virginia a degree of exciting. They don’t know they chivvied me through a good portion of this new degree thing I’ve been doing. They don’t know I miss them now that I’m in an office and can’t crank the radio when other folks are in there.

I recently had an email exchange with the wcbn programming director in which we both admitted that we kept cassette tapes of campus radio during undergrad. That’s right, when I got home from class I used to sit down at my desk, turn on the radio on my early 90’s stereo and press record on the tape deck. If the song wasn’t good, I would back it up, then press record again, in case the next one was. And those tapes got played again and again, and I regret not knowing where they are today.

So I definitely like listening to campus/community radio, but again: why do I like doing it? I could play the same music at home. And I sure do. Well, the ego, as mentioned. And the sense of power. Driving the transmitter tower, coating the whole town in radio frequency electromagnetic waves of my own choosing! And I really think I have some music to play that someone in town might like, as so many djs have played music which was a big deal to me. When you’re in the booth it’s hard to conceptualize the audience, but they must be out there. Sometimes they even call to tell you so. If there’s a slim chance I’m replicating the role of the djs who have shown me so much great and unexpected music, that’s an exciting chance.

Anywho, this week’s show was great and fun. I think it started out strong and dissipated towards the end, but it hardly matters does it? Because I had fun. A whole hell of a lot of fun.

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