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Monday 22 Jul 2024

The Life of a DJ
Matt Seinberg

For those of us who work or worked in radio, some habits are hard to break and some stereotypes are hard to shake off. Arriving early is one example and, for many, full preparation. If you're a "radio lifer," you know most what I mean

If you were a disc jockey (DJ), a radio personality, not matter what you work at, today, you react to music the same way. You hear a song, say, in an elevator, and you talk up to the post. If you nail the post, the point where the vocal begins, you grin from ear to ear: still got the touch.

If you're still working radio, but not on the air today, you answer your cell phone as if it were a studio line. "WKKK-FM, Hot 97.6, Home of 97 records in a row, with no commercials," you say. "You gotta learn to sell time," your six-year-old daughter says from the other end of the call.

Still on or currently off air, your wardrobe consists mostly of tees that no longer fit. Your closest houses a tee from every station you worked. As well, there are several hundred tees from bands, record labels and one from "Mona's House of Scratch and Crawl," which you claim not to remember.

As a DJ, you moved your place of residence so often you have all the national moving companies on speed dial. After your eighth move, you decided short-term renting, of furnished digs, was the better strategy. You did buy a new inflatable bed, which rolled up into the trunk of any rental car, because a used bed or mattress is gross.

Even DJs need their own space, a place to sleep, store their stuff and hook up an answering machine. On the answering machine you do much production to impress a PD, from, say, Cincinnati, who needs an all-night DJ, starting tonight. As Bennett Cerf might say, "All radio personalities are peripatetic." Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls.

After all the years and all the moves, you often wake up, at odd hours, disoriented. Where am I? Is this Cleveland or Peoria? When did my shift begin? Who is this person beside me?

Almost all DJs have made this slip. To start your first shift at your first major radio market station, you flip open the microphone and scream the call letters, WXXX-FM, from the station you just left. The "bat phone" rings, the programme director (PD) is frantic, but subdued, "What did you just do? Did I make a mistake hiring you? You said you could read. How can I go to bed, how can I sleep, knowing your on the air?"

After twenty years, on air, you welcome fans that approach you on the street, usually. The other day a fan came up to you at a remote broadcast from a mattress store and said, "Hey, Tom, I'm your biggest and oldest fan." Then, when she showed you her Social Security cheque, you noticed her Social Security number was three.

You have so many ex-wives and oh-how-many girlfriends that you refer to all of them as "babe," as you can't remember all the names. Same goes for all the children, except you call them by some generic nickname like honey, sweetie, Scooter, Spike, Spot or Sport. Your recall may be better for those to whom you continue to write cheques.

After a week or ten days, all the strippers and lap-dancers in town know your name. Worse, yet, they know your credit card number by heart. Still worse, they refer to you as honey, sweetie, Scooter, Spike, Spot or Sport.

After 48-hours, you can beat every vending machine, in the station, for food and drinks. Then you notice all the sales people, the account executives, can beat the vending machines, too. You start pay for food and drink from the vending machines.

If off air, you still want to attend every concert, even Brittany Spears, with a backstage pass. You don't like most new bands or the top bands from your heyday as a DJ. You miss the backstage goodies, not the music.

You used razor blades for editing Mylar tape, not threatening another on-air "talent" for stealing your food in the fridge. "I misread the crayon writing, on the sandwich," said the newsperson. "I was sure it read 'Yours," not, 'Yogi,' you off-air name."

You're at a party and someone asks you to do your "radio voice." Do a "time and weather break," in your best puker voice and no one bothers you for the rest of the night. Still, don't wonder why no one invites you to another party.

You're on vacation, staying in an intimate cabin, on a peaceful lake. You notice an antenna hanging from a tree in the backyard of an old, run down house. You follow the cable to where a 14-year-old runs the only radio station, in town, from his bedroom; you scope out the bedroom for when you might need a job.

Your DJ career is booming. You found someone to marry and you do. You're on your honeymoon, in an intimate cabin, on a peaceful lake, not far from the station you work. The PD calls, asking you do a remote from a car dealership: "It's about 300 feet from where you are," she says, "no problem."

During sex, you recite the "American Top 40," mimicking the voice of Casey Kasem or Shadoe Stevens. It drives your partner crazy. She or he also works radio.

Your family does something stupid, funny or both. You can't wait to talk about it on the air. You don't want to go home after your shift.

You enjoy hearing dead air and other mistakes on competing stations. You call the Top 40 competition, from your studio, while you're on the air, requesting a Mantovani record. You get a special chill up your back when the DJ plays your request, but can't pronounce "Mantovani."

People say, "You have a great face for radio."

You use the line, "I work in radio," to impress people or pick up potential sex partners. Sometimes, the response is a sour-lemon look on the face of the other person. Mostly, you get a menu.

If one to five, of these items, happened to you, you're a "Baby DJ," with much radio life to experience. If six to ten, of these items apply to you, you're a "Teen DJ": a rewarding career awaits you in another line of work. If eleven to fifteen of the items apply to you, you're an "Adult DJ." If sixteen or more of the items apply to you, it's time to find another line of work.

If any of these items happened or apply to you, you're eligible for firing, maybe more than once, by Clear Channel, Citadel or Cumulus, the radio chains.

Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.

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