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On the Radio – A Day in the Life of a DJ

Posted by on September 24, 2012

Get all Tom’s music at tomwaits.com.

I walk into the KEXP studios. The collage of PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Underdog and 200 others meets my eye over the partition.

Years ago when that cubicle was my office, I made the 10 x 3 foot bar of art to create a wall between me and the grey days, the fluorescent hall lighting and the chaos of bands loading in and out.

kexpcollage

The colored mosaic of band pictures (mostly) also symbolized the edges of a room within the space. An office I hoped for.

A KEXP member would later gift to the station a real room with a door for me to make radio documentaries in.

It’s this small office next to the kitchen that I spent more time in than I’d like to count. It used to be the copy room. First I shared with Chilly, then Chris, then Michele, then Matt. It takes a certain personality to edit audio all day. It’s a puzzle and an art.  A pleasure. When the documentaries ended I knew I’d miss the office. They still let me keep my compilation cases and strobes (yes I use party lights for my radio shows sometimes) in there.

Unlocking the door, I get my lights and CDs.

Down the hall the record library greets me. I can feel the talent all around: Billie Holiday, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Digable Planets, Otis Redding… they are all there. Over 20,000 CDs in these tall, movable bookcase-like shelves. They are really heavy. And I can only kind of reach the top level. There are library stools for petite folks like me. One on each side of the room.

I go to the DJ booth and look at the rotation. That’s the collection of new releases. They’re broken into categories: Heavy, Medium, Light and Recurrent/New. With Heavy being the one you play the most of.

It’s always fascinating to look and see what’s in the back (the CDs the DJs have just played, the artists’ releases most in demand), what’s just come in (if people haven’t played brand new ones yet, and you’re the first, they’ll be up there) and all the new stuff you already know is good.

Next I listen to the new releases and pick out CDs from the library to complement them. Small piles of CDs (and some vinyl) are planned sets. I post on Facebook and Twitter that I’m going on the air. On there I list the new and legendary artists I’ll be spinning. And right then when the DJ before me (today it will be Cheryl Waters) does their last mic break, the needle on the clock soars.

Time to collect all my lists and music and move them into the booth. Grab a cup of tea and water and some food. Then wait by the door to the control room looking at my first set.  The DJ vacates and it’s mine!

I set up the strobe lights, the hand light and compilations. Pull my favorite choices out of rotation. Load up the first (recorded) spot. “This is Grandmaster Flash, and you’re with DJ Michele Myers on K – E – X –  P.”

I hit the button for the first track. Right on time. If you transition correctly, each set should kind of feel like one long song. It’s the segues (pronounced “seg-ways”) that really make a show exciting. Yes, the music is paramount, but putting it together is an art on its own.

The show is exciting. Four hours of non-stop intensity. I’m juggling music choices, assistants, historical bits of information, talking in public, recorded spots, e-mail, the real-time playlist, concert dates, a business log and 50 buttons. At times there are engineers in the room or people pulling music. Sometimes the CD players skip or stop in middle of a song. You have to be ready for anything.

I’m so thrilled to be on the radio. For 3 years I did night shift on KCMU (our former station name). Then filled in and made radio documentaries for a long time. On my 10th year at the station, I got a great Friday night shift. I guess working so long to get something makes me appreciative. Every moment is precious. I spin every show as if it might be my last.

Here’s a video of the strobe lights in action when some friends came to visit the show.

[wpvideo goTSaE4O]

See you on the radio today! I’m filling in 2pm-6pm on KEXP in Seattle 90.3 FM. You can hear the show live anywhere in the world by clicking “listen” at kexp.org. There are also apps for your phone.

Tune in to DJ Michele Myers Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP radio. Music Historian and Producer, Michele’s made over 200 radio stories for KEXP Documentaries. She’s written scripts, lesson plans and features for Experience Music ProjectUniversity of Washington and NPR.

One Response to On the Radio – A Day in the Life of a DJ

  1. Michelle S

    This is wonderful.,.

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