What It’s Like Being a Radio DJ.

When I sit down and look at it, I’ve lead a decently interesting life — a lot more than I would have thought when I was in high school, with absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life.

One of the most favorite things I’ve ever done professionally was being an on-air personality for an actual radio station! I say professionally, as in “I got paid for doing it,” but truly, I would have done it for free. In 2007, every Saturday between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, I was Alan Stone: “Happy Valley’s Polite DJ” on 105.9 Joe FM (the era of 105.9 between “the Buzz” and “QWiK Rock”).

I am the proud student of Drew Shannon in the ways of broadcasting — Drew is easily one of the most recognizable voices in the area and a very good friend of mine. In fact, if it weren’t for Drew, I wouldn’t have ever had the opportunity. So, if I’ve never said it before: Drew, thank you for everything you’ve done for me along the way; you’re an incredible friend and an amazing person.

When folks find out that I’ve spent some time behind a microphone, they ask the same universal question: “What was it like?” For this week’s blog, I thought I’d take a few minutes and tell you about it.

The average day of working as a radio DJ usually begins with showing up an hour to a half hour before your shift — I used this time to review the logs (playlist of what would be played that day) and see if anything interesting popped out at me. I’d plan what time I’d take my breaks and see if there was anything interesting in the world of Country Music before I’d take the mic. I tried to get into the habit of warming up my voice, much like a vocalist would, I didn’t want to sound like a I had a rubber tongue. The hour before your shift is also a good time to familiarize yourself with what’s going on with the station as a whole: where there new Live Reads to be handy? Was there a new sponsor that needed special mention? In the case of a remote (commercial breaks that were taking place on site somewhere else), were all of the connections and signals strong enough for the show upcoming?

The first break (time to talk), was usually the stiffest for me. Drew worked with me a lot on my delivery and how to be natural when I speak on air — it took a couple of shows, but I eventually found my rhythm. My show wasn’t trying to be a hot gossip mid-day program, or the drive-home “call in to win a case of beer” show, my show was in the Saturday time slot when the people of the Happy Valley, the Moshannon Valley, and the Logan Valley, were outside, working on their projects, and I tried to craft my program to that — a good mix of music, some factoids, encouragement to keep your workflow moving.

Between breaks, when the music was playing, I’d field phone calls from listeners — there was one listener who called in daily to the station just to tell us how much she loved the music, and I remember Shirley fondly every time I think about being on air. Listeners would call and and request a song or two, I’ve had family call in on the air, and all around had a very good support system. It’s one of those big things that I’ll always get to say I did and I have Michael and Diana Stapleford to thank — thank you both, very kindly!

There are a lot of ideas about what radio is, that just isn’t. The folks who work in radio are some of the most passionate, hardest work, most engineering people I’ve ever met. I’ve heard incredible legends about equipment malfunctioning and radio personnel performing field surgery that made Hawkeye Pierce look like an amateur! I’d hear stories about the signal going out in the middle of the night and the president of the company having to go out and see what was wrong. I’ve sen for myself, one of the most dedicated men in radio, load up his SUV with gasoline and tools so that he could fix a transmitter in the middle of the woods (read: on roads that weren’t maintained by the state).

People often ask me why I’m not still in radio, and the answer isn’t simple. A lot of different passions came across my lap, different obligations that I felt I owed the best for, and so I went looking for the most promising opportunity available to me. Even this many years later, living a life completely different than “Happy Valley’s Polite DJ” Alan Stone, I still miss it. I still miss the studio, the people who worked there, the safety of still being a student and not having to fully embrace the working world yet.

To those who afforded me that opportunity: I am still very much in your debt. Here’s to the lifelong friends I’ve made and the memories that I will cherish above most others.


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