April 8, 2012


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The truth of how I entered the radio business is somewhat embarrassing. Though I’d always thought it might be cool to DJ for my school’s station once I got into college, when my freshman year rolled came around I missed Club Fair as well as all of the station’s recruiting events, more or less by accident. However, I still got my chance, thanks to a coincidence of sorts. One fine October day, as I was leaving Appel after lunch, I caught sight of someone with whom I’d had a very awkward date some weeks prior. Not yet having the social graces necessary to navigate that kind of unpleasant situation, I did what any embarrassed freshman would do – looked for a place to hide. Fortunately for me, WVBR was holding a promotional event right outside, and right then and there I decided I was meant to be a DJ after all. “Hey,” I said, ducking underneath their tent, “So… are you still looking for people to work at the station?” The moral of the story: It’s never too late to get started, and never underestimate the usefulness of a bad date.

I started work at the station shortly thereafter, shifting 11pm-2am every other Friday night. Taking the graveyard shift came with the reassuring freedom that I could say pretty much anything without fear, because, who listens to the radio at one AM? Drunk people, that’s who. Ask me sometime about the guy who used to call every week after midnight to request a different Black Sabbath song. Good times.

Now, two years later, I’m on air every week, usually Wednesdays from 7pm-11pm. I’ve got my smooth and professional radio voice down pat, though I’m still prone to rambling during talk breaks. I take requests a lot, both from random listeners who call in, as well as friends who make a point to listen every week. Working for VBR is a bit different from the typical college radio setup, since we are a commercial station and need to abide by rules that a university club wouldn’t necessarily implement. We’re an independent business, and therefore we cannot ever admit straight-out to being students during our talk breaks. We do have to abstain from using any of George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on TV, much to my chagrin. Also, we work from a predetermined playlist rather than choosing all of our music when we’re on air, primarily because doing so makes it easier on our business office when the time comes to pay royalties to record companies. DJs do get some freedom to switch it up — either from requests or just because certain songs are offensive to certain personal tastes.

My all-time favorite part of working at VBR, though, has to be putting together the “Top Ten at Ten”. Every day, the DJ on air at ten PM puts together a list of ten songs, held together by some sort of theme. The themes range from insightful to goofy, holiday-specific to totally random, and they are super fun to assemble. I’ve included a kind of meta-“Top Ten” for you all, comprised of ten songs that I’ve used recently on my Top Ten playlists and the rationale behind them. Enjoy! And, as always, thanks for tuning in.

Here’s the link to the Spotify Playlist:

10. The Magnetic Fields – Love Is Like A Bottle Of Gin

I did my first ever “Top Ten” playlist two years ago, the day after J.D. Salinger died, and so I assembled ten songs as a tribute to him (I know, I know, I’m a nerdy English major, whatever). This song balances cleverness and sentimentality without getting too precious, just like his writing.

9. Cold War Kids – Hang Me Up To Dry

Remember that gorgeous weather we had for spring break? Yeah, me too. I did a “Top Ten” based around songs to play when it’s beautiful outside, and this song was on it. Cold War Kids have exactly the bluesy, jangly nonchalance that’s perfect for blaring out your car windows as spring heats up.

8. Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math

I was on air on the night of March 14th, a.k.a. Pi Day, and did a pi-themed “Top Ten”. This was actually pretty hard, and I had to branch out into math-related songs, of which this is one. It is perhaps the moodiest tune ever written with a focus on math terminology. Check it out.

7. Mumford & Sons – Home

This song hasn’t actually been released yet, as far as I know, so I didn’t get to include it on my “Top Ten Is Where The Heart Is” list – songs that contain the word “Home” in the title. This is an awesome song, though. I’m so excited for these guys’ second album to drop.

6. Pixies – Where Is My Mind?

I can’t actually count the number of times I’ve included this song in one of my playlists. It’s so versatile. I believe its most recent appearance came in “A Questionable Top Ten”, where all of the song titles were questions. If you’ve never heard it, well, then you’ve also never seen Fight Club, and you should probably remedy both those things immediately.

5. The Talking Heads – Psycho Killer

Perhaps my most embarrassing moment on air – at 9:59 one night, a listener called in to request a song and dedicate it to the memory of a friend of theirs who had recently died. I obliged, of course, and then remembered that I had prepared a murderer-themed “Top Ten” for the evening. That certainly was an awkward transition.

4. Franz Ferdinand – This Fire

In continuation with criminal-themed playlists, I recently did a “Top Ten” centered around arson that went really well. You’d be surprised how many classic rock songs are about lighting things on fire. Or maybe you wouldn’t, honestly. Either way, I love this song and I love Franz Ferdinand.

3. Gnarls Barkley – The Boogie Monster

Technically, the slot from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. on WVBR is called “VBR After Dark” – thus I was very proud when, one Halloween, I put together a list called “Top Ten Songs Not To Listen To After Dark.” Clever, right? This Gnarls Barkley tune is actually not that scary, thank goodness – it sits somewhere right between creepy and groovy.

2. St. Vincent – These Days (Not available on Spotify)

There have been approximately one million attempts at assembling the “Top Ten Cover Songs”, but recently I did a list that focused mostly on weird or unexpected covers, and this song was on it. Siren-voiced Annie Clark of St Vincent transforms this folky Jackson Browne song about an outlaw who’s given up into something much more poignant and gloomy than the average twangy folk song.

1. Bobby Hebb – Sunny

Two years ago, I did a sun-themed playlist: “Top Ten Sun Songs”. As I am writing for the Sun, I figure it was only right to conclude with a tune from that list. Bobby Hebb was something of a one-hit wonder, but when your one hit sounds like this, well, who cares?

Original Author: Clare Dougan