Emerson Dameron teaches the new batch of college radio DJs to fish. A slightly different version of this article appears in Airwaves, the alumni magazine for WUOG-FM, the University of Georgia's student-run station.
Be a College Radio Messiah
Act like you belong on the air, and people will generally accept your presence.
Your base station assigned you a license and an airshift because it believes in you. If you behave as though you don’t deserve this trust, you imply that you’re smarter than your station. Arrogant, yes?
You’ll make mistakes, as everyone does. Just don’t make the mistake of hacking up simpering apologies on the air. Nine out of ten listeners don’t catch your little fuckups, and the other one doesn’t care. Breathe deeply between breaks. Act as though you have everything under your thumb, and it shall be thus. If you can’t purge an irritating peccadillo from your makeup, turn it into an amusing quirk.
Don’t cop an obnoxious ‘tude born of transparent, juvenile fear. Be classy. If you accidentally let a few swears slip through the filter, say nothing. If someone out there takes offense, that person’s indignation will cool in time, while other listeners will forever admire your unintentional subversion.
If you accidentally eject a CD halfway through a track, put the machine in cue and use manual fast-forward to pick up the tune about thirty seconds after the point where you dropped it. People will assume they lost the signal and blame the cruel fates for that momentary disconnection. During the silence, they will long to take refuge from the cold chaos, and you won’t keep them hanging.
There’s no such thing as “dead air.” When there’s no signal, there’s static. In order for genuine silence to hit the waves, someone has to broadcast it. That’s your own version of composer John Cage’s silent symphony, and it’s what the Master Pimp calls “sweet torture.” Leave your listeners alone with their clattering thoughts, and they’ll return more eager than ever for the salvation you provide.
Contrary to what you’ve been led to believe, radio has not been displaced by television, and barring the apocalypse, it ain’t gonna happen soon. Audio media retain some distinct advantages. Through radio, you can plant your disembodied voice right into a distant stranger’s brain. They’ll take you at your word and never see the pubes and poppy seeds caught between your teeth.
Don't like rotation? If you insist on circumventing rotation entirely, it's a good bet that a lot of your listeners find you obnoxious. More than you realize. If you check the music snob ego, you might discover some good new shit from spinning rotation - and play a better, more balanced show - but if you need some space, play all your rotation right away and keep the rest of the shift for yourself.
Program music that imprints your worldview. Don’t beat the listeners over their tender li’l heads with didactic anthems, but weave songs together to reflect a pattern of thinking. How you do this is up to you, and experimentation is the only good teacher.
When you back-announce, speak in a clear, confident manner that indicates you mean what you say. Don’t forget: You merit attention. You have a message. What is that message? Radioland wants to know!
Don’t whine. Don’t ramble. Keep it subtle. Say a lot in a few words. Put on the next song and let your ideas sink in. Language is a virus, and if you play it right, you can infect the surrounding area before its skepticism bails it out.
Blitz your listeners with Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and you can get whatever you need or want from college radio. This is your big chance, kid. You can move on to a depressing existence behind a cash register, scrawling the names of free-jazz and musique concrete giants on dollar bills in vain hope of saving your peers from overrated old-person drivel like Wilco. Or, you can graduate with an army of acolytes at your command.
Plato says that those who play a nation’s ballads need not concern themselves with who writes its laws. Make those two hours memorable.
By Emerson Dameron