Written by: Mr. Substitute

Remember this album? It was Reel Big Fish’s sort of claim-to-fame album because it had their big songs at the time–Sell Out, Trendy, Beer, just to name a few. But for me it was always the title that just grabbed me by the collar, just like the album art suggests because it reflected my attitude at the time: the radio sucks, pop music sucks, if it’s on the radio, it sucks…

But please oh please don’t touch my Oldies radio station that I love oh so much!

I grew out of the mentality that pop music is terrible, thankfully. What never left me, however, was my deep love for Oldies. I’m currently listening to the Mamas and the Papas’ album “Golden Era Vol. 2” on vinyl (because I am a newly anointed vinyl snob) and it feels like a blanket, so cozy and warm. And growing up in a small town like I did (and then left and then came back and left and came back again) in the 90s, your choice for entertainment in the car was usually limited to what your parents listened to. For me, a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary. I can recite “Puff, the Magic Dragon” under extreme pressure, I’m not proud of that. But the go-to radio station was set to our local Oldies station: I grew up with the jingles stuck in my head, knew the different DJs, knew who the owners were, ect. Small town stuff.

Small town stuff indeed. My friend got a job there and after a couple years working there an opening for a DJ spot came up and he suggested I apply. 3 weeks later I’m working for the Oldies station I listened to basically my whole life.

I’ve been working as a small town disc jockey ever since.

These are a few things I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. A lot of people still listen to the radio. I’m laughing at my younger self for that unjustified dislike for radio–oh the things we would do to try to look cool to God only knows. The station I work for is actually two stations: one plays Oldies, the other plays top 40s. We regularly get people calling in for either requests or to know what song just played. I occasionally get the nice phone call of people who say they really enjoy our station and have been listening since they were kids.
  2. A lot of people still need the radio. We give frequent updates on weather, traffic, news, and other important information that is really vital to our small little agricultural town. But it’s this factor that really humbled me and made me realize how dependent I am to… well… the internet. A portion of our listeners are elderly citizens that are not as technologically savvy as a pallid 30 year-old staring at two monitors. I’ve received calls while I’m working from people asking what the temperature is at that very moment. My favorite (and I do hope you understand I’m not trying to be mean in sharing this experience, I often think about this woman when I’m at work and hope she is well) was when an elderly woman called in May of this year and asked when the football game was on. I asked what she was talking about and she told me she was watching TV and saw the Rams just won the Super Bowl. I had to graciously break it to her that she was, in fact, watching a rerun. So when I say we are a lot of peoples’ go-to place for information, we really do answer a lot of non-radio related questions.
  3. A lot of people have misconceptions as to what a disc jockey does. Putting it bluntly, I sit and do a lot of clicking, talk occasionally, record some stuff, and pretty much listen to Oldies music for the duration of my shift. Now, other DJs have other jobs and responsibilities around the office so they are always busy while they DJ, but they’ve been doing this since the Stone Age (and I LOVE my coworkers, don’t get me wrong). The most frequently asked question I get is if I choose what music plays. Yes and no. For the most part, it’s pre-programmed and could technically run on its own. Whenever we need to add a song for timing, we get to choose what song we want to play. As a DJ, our job is to keep the listeners informed and entertained. Each of us on the air has their own personality but the format usually stays the same no matter who is on the air.   Being the weird Cancer that I am, my on-air personality depends on my mood at the time, but for the most part I try to add my dry comedy as much as I can.
  4. A lot of people think being a DJ is the coolest thing ever. I’ve had a few grown men go from austere to fanboy when they realize I DJ for our local station and it cracks me up. Let me put it this way: any job can be the coolest thing ever if you’re into it. I think crab fishermen are the coolest, but would I ever want to do it? Hell no. And the same applies with being a DJ, I suppose. Maybe the allure is that not everyone thinks they could do it, that’s why they think it’s such a cool job. It comes naturally to me. I think I was nervous maybe my first couple of shifts, after that I felt like a duck in water. And I love my job. I mean, did you read what I do during my shift? It’s great! But it’s also not for everyone, and I think that just makes me appreciate my position even more.

So I hope you learned a thing or two about what it’s like being a DJ in a small town. I would imagine it is similar in a big city, just busier. Call your local radio station and tell them you read an article that made you appreciate what they do just a little bit more, I’m sure it’ll confuse the hell out of them.

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