Tuesday, May 03, 2005


During my university days in Pennsylvania, I applied for job to host a weekly 1 hour show on a public radio station. I remember the excitement of waiting to receive my licence, expecting it to look like an FBI badge; a leather-cased ID with my photo, signature and printed in big bold letters would be the letters PRDJ (Public Radio Disc Jockey). Flashing this licence in front of unsuspecting 18-year-old female students would cause them to swoon and fall at my feet.

My dream was shattered when the station manager handed me my licence. It was nothing like I had imagined. It was a wrinkly, old, yellow piece of paper, with my name misspelled in blank ink. What a jib! The local FCC office must have hired kindergarteners to make this crap. But I guess I had no reason to complain as I hadn’t paid jack for it (and obviously jack wasn’t too happy about that).

Mind you, the test to qualify as a public radio DJ was a fairly difficult process.

Station Manager: Who wants to be a DJ? We have a 3 pm slot open for Wednesdays.

Me: Me!!

Station Manager: Great, you’re hired. Report back here tomorrow morning for a Voice test.

Me: Shouldn’t that be conducted before someone is hired?

Station Manager: Do you want to be Station Manager?!

The voice test results were surprising to say the least. I know I wasn’t expecting to hear myself sound like James Earl Jones but God Almighty! I sounded like Andy Kaufman speaking through the butt of Gerbil that is trapped inside a canvas bag placed at the bottom of a deep well. I sent my demo tape the head of the Linguistics department at my university, and his best guess was that I was speaking in some ancient form Aramaic, (in reverse).

Following the successful completion of my voice test, I went through a detailed studio orientation program, conducted by the Station Manager.

Station Manager: You see those 8-track looking, blue tapes over there? That is your complete song selection. The other batch of black tapes over there, are your public service announcements. That dial on the console has to be turned up to level 3 before you speak into the microphone. When you’re done speaking turn the dial back down to 0. Play songs throughout the hour; mention the call sign every 10 minutes; play the PS announcements every 15 minutes; report the weather every 30 minutes; read the news headlines every hour. The Swear Words List is pasted above the console, avoid saying them on air, or else the FCC will have your ass. That’s all, good luck with your show!

Me: Yes, but where is the ON switch?

Understandably, the first few shows were a nightmare. I suffered massive coronaries because of the mistakes I made while on Air. The worst of them was Dead Air pauses which happened frequently due to equipment failure, tapes not being rewound, or just simply me forgetting to speak. I had to come up with creative explanations for Dead Air pauses, like the following:

That was my rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s famous hit, 'The Sound of Silence'.

Playing the bloody public service announcements, every 15 minutes, was a major hindrance to my already disastrous show. The announcements were all so varied from ‘Don’t Drive Drunk’ to other really silly ones like ‘Don’t forget to tie your shoelaces’ or ‘Don’t break wind in public’. And I had to play them all.

One incident caused a serious panic with the Station Manager. I had just finished playing the ‘Don’t Do Drugs’ PS announcement, and I slotted in a Bob Dylan track (which I had not heard before), which included the line “Everybody must get stoned”. And the bastard Dylan just didn’t sing it once, but repeated it 5 times during the song! I had sweated a pint by the end of that show.

Being nervous during the show caused serious memory lapse. I kept forgetting the call sign of the radio station during the shows.

You are listening to Classics Hits on WXRV, ..no sorry, that’s WRXV, Damn! that’s WRVX??….WRVW?…WBMW? Bugger! Bollocks! Merde!

At least I remembered not to use swear words familiar to an American listening audience.

Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck by the end of each show. As a result, my grades fell; I started smoking 3 packs a day, and started drinking heavily. (I couldn't afford alcohol so I drank the next best thing; apple cider past its expiry date). By the fourth week, I was even suffering from serious hair loss. And the few remaining hairs on my head were turning white in their gallant effort to cling on to dear life. I finally realized why the Station Manager was bald.

These damn shows were killing me, so I prayed to the Almighty for a miracle. And the miracle appeared rather expeditiously in the form of Public Radio Demographics for the Williamsport Area. I realized I was doing shows for a total audience of 4, which included a 67-year-old lady, a retired Vietnam vet, the Station Manager’s wife, and her 2-year-old dachshund named Toby.

The shows after that were superb. I did not falter once, and quite enjoyed my weekly radio show. I even got a live request on air for the first time, from a member of the listening audience. It was that 67-year-old lady calling to complain about the revolting music I was playing. Damn! I really miss my DJ-ing days….sigh.

I wish I had collected the recordings of my weekly show before I left the university. The last I heard, I think the Linguistics Department transcribed them for Mel Gibson to use in his script for The Passion of the Christ.


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