A long time ago (over 10 years ago) I used to work at a radio station. Yes, I was a Disc Jockey. I spun records over the airways for the listening pleasure of everyone (in Burlington). You may ask yourself, “Over 10 years ago? That would make him 17/18ish.” And you are correct, I was a rockstar at an early age.
WHERE WBSD IS FROM
WBSD call sign stands for (W) Burlington School District. The station was a High-School, non-commercial radio station. Run mainly by high-school students with a small amount of adult supervision. The format is Triple-A, which stands for “Adult Album Alternative.” This was the format that was pretty much run from the hours of 8am-5pm on weekdays. It featured artists from Bob Dylan to Garbage and Stereophonics to Led Zeppelin. During the hours the station didn’t run the format, students were allowed to host their own shows.
At the time, in order to have a person sit behind the mic and run the station, they needed to obtain their FCC license for broadcast. It was no easy task. We had to take classes in school and take the federally mandated test. Once you obtained your license to broadcast, you were allowed on the radio.
I WAS A DISC JOCKEY
You never really started out with your own show, you first had to go through the ranks. It starts out with reviewing the endless stream of albums coming trough the mail from every sort of recording company. See which ones were the good tracks, catching the profanity and omitting the 80% of garbage bands.
From there, after you do your due time in the trenches, you’re allowed to host a block of time of the formatted bit during class. Yes, students were allowed to work up in the station during their Study Hall or Broadcasting class. It was a great break from the norm and the station was a heaven away from the mundane life of being in high-school.
Then you get your own show! You could choose from an existing show such as Heavy Metal, Country, Blues, Hippy Music or whatever. When I was 16, I was allowed to take over the “New Release Wednesday” show. It was one of the most popular and highest in ratings show the station had to offer. I was dumbfounded. Here I was, 16 years old, just got my driver’s license and now I have one of the more popular radio shows in the area. Simply rad. After about a half year doing that show, I took a hiatus. (Focus on Boy Scouts, work and my artwork.)
IGNITION SEQUENCE START
When I was 17, I returned to the radio station. I asked my broadcasting mentor, Terry Havel, if I could have my own show, if there was a timeslot available. He said yes, there was the Friday night, 5-8 slot. I took it! I mean, I wasn’t one of those boozers in high-school, what else am I going to do on a Friday night after school? Watch movies? This was an excellent opportunity for me to develop my own show. A show to kick off the weekend.
I created a techno show called Ignition Sequence Start. I created my own playlist based upon my (at the time, limited) knowledge of the dance/techno scene. Since I was getting big into design, I decided to create my own flyers (such as the one you see in this post) to promote my show. (Keep in mind, I was only 17 without any formal education in design.) And what was even better about the show, there was a dance/trance show right after mine. So the dance culture took over the airways on Friday nights, just as it should.
I had the most enjoyable time at the station. I had my friends come up to help DJ and provide witty banter over the air. I received free albums, tickets and almost interviewed the band Garbage.
WHAT I LEARNED
I learned a great deal from working at the radio station. And since this post is long enough as it is, I’ll bullet point them out for you.
• How the record industry works.
• How to speak to the FCC.
• What not to say on the radio and to the FCC.
• Transmitter maintenance.
• How to manage and operate a mixing board.
• Creating promos.
• How to be cool over the air.
• Free CD’s can get a bit overwhelming.
• Radio is cut-throat business.
• Coat racks make the best door stops.
• It gets addicting. (I still want to be on the radio.)
• It can be extremely political.
• You really have to be prepared for your show.
• Top and bottoms of hours are for station identification.
• If you want to be a jerk, you can bleed your signal onto other stations.
• Ignition Sequence Start was one of my first successful branding attempts.
• Promotion and advertising is the way to get noticed.
• Working at a radio station in high school will not get you the ladies.
• It doesn’t matter if you get the ladies, you work at a freaking radio station.
So there you have it, my 89.1 WBSD FM radio experience. It was truly an amazing, fun and learning experience. I would go back on the radio in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity.
And I would like to personally thank Terry Havel for turning me on to it and nurturing my passion for music along the way.