What kind of radio show would you DJ?
December 3, 2004 1:26 PM   Subscribe

CollegeRadioFilter: What kind of radio show would you DJ, given the opportunity?

Beginning in January I will be DJing a radio show on my school’s station. My tastes are diverse and adequately hip, but what are some radio show concepts that you’ve found particularly enjoyable? I’m looking to shy away from “Indie Rock Show #6” and things of that sort. Ideas so far include a covers/remixes/mashups show, or a mix-tape type show with a new theme every week.

Because this is my first show, the timeslot will probably be terrible, like 3am or 6am. My listener base will probably be a lot of people waking up for work or commuters, so I’m leaning towards something moderately accessible and not too sleepy. But really, I’m open to all suggestions.

What kind of show would you do?
posted by rfordh to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
All Johnny Cash, All the time.
posted by vidarling at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2004

Showtunes. No, for real.

Best college radio station in the country? 88.9 WERS in Boston by Emerson College. On Saturdays, they play Showtunes on "Standing Room Only" 10-2, "All Acapella" 2-5, and Kids Music on "The Playground" from 5-8 (or 9, maybe). I've moved out of the Boston area, but still listen on the web whenever I can. "Standing Room On" is the show I would want to emulate.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:32 PM on December 3, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders so far. Two years ago my sophomore year I got my first time slot, 6 till 8am and played Euro trance because that's what I was all about at the time. Surprise, surprise, no callers. After that short lived mistake I took to playing soft yet still interesting jazz, my listenership started to pick up and all was well.

Stick to things that you think are time appropriate. My station recently switched to a block scheduling format which has increased listenership A LOT. No more 6am hiphop shows for example.

What ever you pick, find small ways to continue to make it interesting. Awesome DJs get burned out and start pumping out crappy shows and it sucks to listen, so keep it fun for yourself.
posted by asterisk at 1:42 PM on December 3, 2004

What station are you DJing at? Will there be restrictions on your show's content? If not, I would suggest playing whatever the hell you want. Multiple copies of LPs at different speeds. Field recordings of wild birds. The Beatles. Long live free-form.
posted by thirdparty at 1:51 PM on December 3, 2004

The best luck I has was when I kept it intentionally low-key. By my senior year, I was doing a show with a good friend with radically different musical tastes, and we'd alternate songs, giving people a pretty wide variety (like, going from Uncle Tupelo to Pulp to Bruce Springsteen to Garbage). It worked really well. At our station, at least, everyone tried way too hard to be off of the cool scale, so just chilling out turned out to be pretty revolutionary and reasonably popular.

It was also several orders of magnitude more fun than when I tried gimmick shows.
posted by COBRA! at 1:52 PM on December 3, 2004

6am is a great slot, really. If that's what you get for your first show, be happy. We used to throw newbies into the 2am-6am slot where the inevitable dead air or 33's-played-at-45 wouldn't hurt anyone. If it's 3am, you might start with mellow stuff and ramp up the pace as you go.

I used to do an all-imports show on WUNH, ages ago. Only works if your station (or you) buy/receive a lot of imports, of course.

A mix-tape or themed show is a good idea. It'll require a lot of planning, which I wasn't terribly good at, but if you are, I'd say go with it. As asterisk says, your listeners will let you know if you're on the right track.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:54 PM on December 3, 2004

There was a show at the station where I worked called "Take a Chance on Me", in which the idea was that the DJ worked through the library in alphabetical order and played tracks only from records he hadn't heard of (maybe it was just hadn't heard) before. Don't know how it worked out since reviews are kind of uneven but I thought it was a pretty cool concept.
posted by kenko at 1:56 PM on December 3, 2004

Video game related music. Old 8-bit masterpieces, orchestras and indie bands performing covers, spotlights on composers who've jumped from consoles to movies, etc.
posted by Jairus at 2:19 PM on December 3, 2004

The problem with "songs about boats"/theme-show is that it will be fun for one or two shows, but as your ideas start to wear out and finals get closer and closer, the amount of energy it takes to come up with a set list can burn you out super-fast. If you're going to pick a theme, I'd pick a big, wide-open theme that you'll be able to explore indefinitely and without making finding new material your full-time job ("techno" works; "mashups" probably not so much). When you're feeling more energetic, put some time into making structured explorations of some specific facet of the theme; when you don't have time, just grab records that look neat and play 'em.

(I was a college radio DJ for three years, FWIW.)
posted by jacobm at 2:28 PM on December 3, 2004

Speaking as someone who has become disenchanted with FM radio, I'd fill my own radio show with music from actual musicians, not teenie-boppers or hardcore shouters who sound like their throats will explode when they shriek. Load up the playlist with Billy Joel, Elton John, Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins / Genesis, Chicago (both the Kath and Cetera years), and Eric Clapton. But here's the catch: don't just play their popular famous songs. Mix in some B-sides and other tracks that just don't get radio play. A lot of these musicians have stories behind their songs. Find the stories and share the memorable ones on the air. Most people know that "Piano Man" was inspired by Billy Joel's days working in a piano bar, but how many people know that "Allentown" started out as "Levittown" and had some very uneventful lyrics?
So I'm living here in Levittown
And there's really not much goin' down.
I don't see too much when I look around
The grass is green, the trees are brown
And I'm living here in Levittown

That's what I'd do, anyways. I have no idea how you'd handle the licensing of the music for airplay.
posted by Servo5678 at 2:48 PM on December 3, 2004

And go easy on the vinyl-at-wrong-speed/two-tracks-at-once/pitch-shifted-mp3 trickery. It's very rarely illuminating, and the amusement doesn't last long--unless you are *really* good at it.

Just play stuff you like, or would like to explore, that you wouldn't hear anywhere else.
And don't get yr station fined by the FCC.
posted by mookieproof at 2:52 PM on December 3, 2004

WERS has a lot of great programs. "Women in Rock" (I think) always had a great mix of strong female vocals -- Garbage, Billie Holiday, Cyndi Lauper. My favorite is the Coffeehouse, though, which is 6-10am. All acoustic rock, folk, and indie music, lots of local stuff. They are my definitive Perfect Morning Music Show.

You can check out their programming online, too.
posted by occhiblu at 3:05 PM on December 3, 2004

(Ooops, didn't mean to relink that. Sorry, PinkStainlessTail.) But I will take this opportunity to say that one of the things I like most about the Coffeehouse is that they'll play both current and classic stuff -- Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Dar Williams, Postal Service.
posted by occhiblu at 3:07 PM on December 3, 2004

(And by "PinkStainlessTail" I meant ThePinkSuperhero. Gah. Sorry.)
posted by occhiblu at 3:07 PM on December 3, 2004

Response by poster: (I didn't want to self-link, but since somebody asked, KZSC.)

The station is open to lots of ideas, but we try to keep each show grounded somehow. I don't know if the free-form thing would go over so well, but that's some interesting reading. When there are holes in the schedule that would normally be dead air, we can go on and play anything. I'll keep it in mind.

Pre-planning is my biggest concern with that themed show idea. I'm hoping to grab a Powerbook pretty soon, and I could build playlists all week and DJ off that with Traktor or something, but, still. It would take some effort.

Thinking more about the remix and covers idea, I could imagine an older audience getting some taste of their old favorites and then a glimpse at more current happenings through the new versions. Could be interesting.

Thanks for your feedback, guys n' gals...
posted by rfordh at 3:26 PM on December 3, 2004

You can get mileage out of a theme show idea by only having part of the show devoted to a theme - even a tiny part. You could do "hip indie rock plus the occasional Huey Lewis B-side/ showtune/ video game song" for example.

Getting a partner in crime can also help sometimes.
posted by furiousthought at 4:11 PM on December 3, 2004

If you've got 'em, dedicate a show to old recordings on dead media. I currently DJ a 78rpm-only radio program, Shellac Attack. Most of these discs haven't been heard by any substantial audience since the '30-40s, so there's nothing old, so to speak, about it.
posted by The White Hat at 4:31 PM on December 3, 2004

Back in the end of the '70s, I had the 6 a.m. Wednesday shift one year at KCMU (Carnegie-Mellon) and while everyone else was playing The Wall wall to wall--so much that we had a special staff meeting to outlaw it--I did outlaw country mostly to be different. Today, given the chance, I'd do Jersey Rock.
posted by billsaysthis at 4:36 PM on December 3, 2004

Hmmm, Either 2 hours of classic American Punk Rock, or 2 hours of pure Scandanavian Black Metal!

Either way, I would call it the "Rat and Roll" show.
posted by punkrockrat at 5:48 PM on December 3, 2004

(And by "PinkStainlessTail" I meant ThePinkSuperhero. Gah. Sorry.)


Anyway, back when I did college radio (almost 10 years ago now gaak) I had the 3-6AM block. my musical choices were nothing special, but around 4:30 I'd slap on a Firesign Theatre album for the edification of anyone who happened to be up, and to give me a nice long break.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:01 PM on December 3, 2004

I love mashup shows. Experiment. Make noise. Do spoken word stuff. Invite all your friends to come down and perform in some either totally improv or totally choreographed noisefest. Do radio theater.

There's generally plenty of people willing to dig through the stacks and play eclectica, and there's always way too many people playing the latest deadly-hip indiesnot 7-inches.

And it doesn't have to be mashups/experimental all the time. Once you elbow yourself enough room by making some noise, you're free to explore any and everything from trucker records to old gospel to kids records or audio system test tones. Whatever you do, have fun with it and be unusual and bizarre. If you create something so unusual, perverse, offensive or out there you start getting people calling up to complain, you've done your job and instigated something. I guarantee there's going to be people that love it in spite of them, and maybe they'll call in as well.

One of my favorite experimental/noise sessions of all time involved patching both studios together, with studio B going through some long-ass delay with 99% feedback, and then taking the on-air signal back into the mix, so there were multiple soundpaths with multiple delay sources. Every monitor and radio in the station was cranked up and then every mic in both studios was turned on.

Audio being fed into this octopus varied from cheap swapmeet noisemakers and bleepy things to records being mashed and scratched into the mix, and the reverberations of the entire station itself, static from the on-air signal, and more.

Because of the length of the delays involved the feedback loop developed over about 3 (out of 6) hours into this pulsing, harmonic and full-spectrum sort of rhythmic space dub unlike anything I've ever heard, then or now, with subtle bass notes and nuances, melodic mid-ranges and twinkling high notes.

The highlight of the evening was when the host of this particular timeslot stood in the lobby of the studio with this amazing cacophony going on all around him with a megaphone. He'd key up the megaphone and silently make mouth-shapes into the microphone, effectively giving him a tunable resonance cavity amidst all this feedback looping, giving him control of something that was a mix of a banshee's wail, angelic whispers and some kind of strangely pulsing noise engine.

I swear we almost found the destructive resonance of the studio that day. Things were just on the verge of rattling to pieces, CDs were falling off of shelves.

Did it sound good on the air? In a word? Not really. There was no way in hell the telelink from the studio to the transmission tower could handle the dynamic range and amplitude of what we were doing. It sounded fantastic in the studio, though, and the open-air recording of it sounded amazing as well. They ended up playing that at a later date, and recieved positive feedback.

So. Long story short, if you have the inclination to experiment and push your own boundaries, seize the opportunity because it doesn't last long or come around very often. Go nuts. You'll be surprised what you'll learn, and what kind of cool weirdos and fringefolk you'll attract in the proccess.
posted by loquacious at 9:14 PM on December 3, 2004 [8 favorites]

I would host the "beg people to call in and verify there is actually someone out there listening" show.
posted by stp123 at 9:19 PM on December 3, 2004

My personal rules from many years of college radio:
  • Play what you like, but also stretch yourself; make sure you play some things that are out of your usual range, that you don't quite like yet but sort of want to know better.
  • Mix it up. You can keep a mood going for a while, but too much of anything the same (tempo, style, intrumentation, whatever) gets tiring on the ear.
  • Strange juxtapositions can be interesting, but don't frighten your audience. This doesn't negate the previous point, but you don't want to be too jarring: going straight from something very soft to something that starts out very loud will make people leap for the dial (maybe volume, but possibly tuning).
  • Tell people what they have been hearing but don't talk too much, the music is what's important.
  • Mediocrity has its place. If you limit yourself to "the best" (artists, songs, whatever) you will end up with sterile shows. (Not that you're trying for a mediocre show, but balance, interest and variety are sometimes helped by playing things that are interesting/amusing even if they aren't truly great)

    posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:38 PM on December 3, 2004

    For four years (2001-2004) I hosted a radio show at NYU that had two themes: The first, that only music from the 90s was worth listening to, and second, that every song we played had to be connected to the song played before it, either via band-members-in-common, record label, shows played together, etc.

    Our biggest fanbase, strangely enough, was in Melbourne, Australia.

    The previous two statements may or may not be related.
    posted by saladin at 10:06 PM on December 3, 2004

    In high school I hosted a radio show, that my cohost and I tried to improvise on-air, a radio theater piece. We cooked up an incredible storyline with all sorts of plot twists, and we did the sound effects and character voices all in realtime. It worked brilliantly for the first two shows, and then we burnt ourselves out, and ended up just playing Bob Marley songs and dancing in booth for the rest of the year.

    So, perhaps don't try to improvise the whole thing, but radio theater, is something that you don't hear all that often. It's actually pretty easy to find tapes and CDs of old shows. If nothing else, I'd recommend getting some of those and rebroadcasting them (if it's legal.)
    posted by geryon at 11:54 PM on December 3, 2004

    From time to time I host an 80's show up at the university. One of the things I like to do is a music map ie. groups that are related to each other in some way, the more tenuous the better. For an easy example: Bauhaus -> Love and Rockets -> Tones on Tail -> Dali's Car -> Jazz Batcher -> Peter Murphy ->David Sylvian -> Japan. You could just as easily make it current: Death Cab for Cutie -> Postal Service ->DNtel -> whatever Ben Gibbard is doing today or New Pornographers -> A.C. Newman -> Neko Case -> Caroline Mark -> Sarah Harmer (I think) -> Luther Wright and the Wrongs. Anyway, you get the idea. It's a neat way of playing some good groups that's eclectic, has a storyline that your listeners will want to follow and that you can learn from.
    posted by ashbury at 12:25 AM on December 4, 2004

    loquacious, that sounds awesome.
    posted by kenko at 8:08 AM on December 4, 2004

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