Three Tips for the Beginning College DJ

Three Tips for the Beginning College DJ

Be the voice you wish to hear in the world.


Ah, college: the place where you and countless others will inevitably try new things and, more than likely, unearth aspects of your character previously unbeknownst to you. In addition to one new, unprecedented set of responsibilities, you now have a host of extracurricular activities available to you. Better yet, they're ones that mom and dad have never heard of before -- let alone hand-picked and advertised to you.

Those of us with undergrad experience tucked safely beneath our belts are well aware of that nagging undertone of a question which frequently haunts the new college inductee: What am I going to do with my spare time, and to what degree should my choices benefit my later career goals? What are my career goals? Anxiety abounds.

Lucky for you, there's college radio. To some of us, such a suggestion is befuddling.

"College radio? But I'm a nursing major."

"But I'm studying biology. Messing around on the airwaves couldn't be less relevant to me."

"But I'm a music major. I'm all about the classics, the musical greats. Isn't college radio just a bunch of uneducated, punk-ass hipsters?"

These are all fair, and partially valid points. Indeed: What is the point of college radio? It's difficult to grasp any sort of benefit of participating within such an institution beyond that which is most obvious and superficial: that indie music is fun to listen to -- and someone, you guess, has to make it happen. The truth, however, is that working as a disc jockey has the potential to improve you as a person (in a multitude of ways) as well as the community in general -- when it's done diligently and with an open mind, that is. I'm here to impart the three key strategies I've managed to ascertain after five years of my life spent with a weekly sesh in the DJ booth. They've assisted me in becoming an altogether happier and more productive person.

1. Create sounds that you would want to listen to.

We are all aware of the college radio DJ stereotype: She plays whatever the f*** she feels like playing and if you don't like it, you can go to G105. Having a hard time relating to the fifteen-minute smorgasbord of abstract sounds scattered across some overlapping, dissonant guitar strumming and off-key, nonsensical lyrics? Well, so is the rest of the audience who could have been tuning into your show, and guess what? They're never tuning in again -- at least, not on purpose.

As a college radio DJ -- no matter what level of prestige your station boasts -- you are a creator of public, entertainment-based content, the most basic idea being that you are delivering humor and ideas to the average consumer who should not have to do any work besides lending you their ears. If your goal is to encourage music appreciation, do it with organization and focus. If you seek to inform and persuade, don't dump foreign sounds and quietly hope that some stranger will take hold and do the additional research required to understand it all on their own. Be the helpful disembodied voice who goes the extra mile to introduce something obscure, and follow it up with something recognizable to draw your listener back into a general comfort zone.

DJ'ing is obviously about self-expression, and taking my advice is by no means the only way to carry yourself on the air.

But there is a discernible difference between treating the booth like your personal playground and putting together a quality show. Hey, you can do both. But make it accessible whenever possible. This goes for patterns of speech and word choice as well. I personally relied on my experience in customer service in retail settings, as silly as that might sound; when I was there, alone, leaning into the mic, I'd picture a crowd of strangers staring expectantly back. My goal was to appear unique -- quite possibly more unique than I actually am -- and to make as many friends as I could.

2. Establish a personality.

So you've made it to the DJ booth; you've got the flannel, the beanie, and at least four days of music picked out. You're ready to go. But wait, who are you right now? None of the people who are about to stumble upon your killer artistic selection have any idea of how awesome you already are. You've got to prove it to them.

Some people are so free of social awkwardness that they can just kick things off with every bit of confidence required to prevent sentences from mangling themselves in their mouths and to earn them an automatic gold star of celebrity DJ status. I was not one of those people. Having begun my college career in a somewhat unbearable and thoroughly unpopular social state, I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified at the prospect of recreating myself under the guise of a conversational sweetheart with an aptitude for selecting nostalgic bluegrass tunes and old-timey treats. For two hours a week I was completely alone, and had all the time in the world to prepare. Well, correct that to the fifteen-or-so minutes before my show. Anyway, it seemed easy enough. It wasn't. I can't even count the number of times that semester I found myself wishing that no one had been listening just then, because that particular moment or sentence or musical transition was God. Awful.

The point is: It is in your best interest to seem better than just a monotone playlist narrator, and unless you're naturally an unbelievably charismatic person, you've got to become someone who's just a little bit -- or 100% -- different from yourself. It might help to jot down a few points of conversation. You know, besides a) the weather, b) the exams coming up next week, and c) a complete summary of the music you just heard. It will help to differentiate yourself from the blur of other voices and choices comprising your school's station, and it will give that one or two faithful listeners something to look forward to the next time you're on the air. (Shout out to you, Tate Street Jimmy John's driver.)

3. Convince yourself that you're an expert.

The best thing about college radio is that it's open to everyone! Some schools even extend their application process to non-students. But no matter how much dedication to your favorite genre you embody, it's hard not to be intimidated by the mass of foreign CD's and records surrounding you, or by the complex set of knobs and buttons before you. When compared to other hobbies available on campus, though, DJ'ing is a relatively easy skill to acquire. You need only pay attention during your training and stay hyped about the plethora of sounds you are capable of presenting to the masses.

The secret to being a good college DJ is this: You're already an expert. So you may be inexperienced in actually putting together a show -- but do you listen to music? Do you watch TV? Do you browse YouTube for hours on end when your history textbook just isn't cutting it? Then you know what today's cultural consumers want: diversity, creativity, and just enough humor to remind them that this world ain't so bad. Radio work is an incredible platform for enlightenment and education, and it's been a favorite component of American music culture since 1917.

Get in that booth and own it.

This is DJ Sophresh, signing off.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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