When I set off for college in the fall of 1994, my plan was clear. I was going to major in English and become a journalist.
Good plan, right? Sure. Except for the little warning bells that kept going off telling me that maybe, in my heart of hearts, it wasn’t something I really wanted to do. Like the fact that I picked journalism because Jennifer Horton on Days of Our Lives was a journalist. Or that I picked a university that didn’t even have a journalism department.
I’m pretty sure my subconscious was telling me, “You don’t want to be a journalist,” but I heard, “You want to be a writer and this is the only way you will ever make a living. Journalism will be FUN! You’ll GROW to like it!”
My first semester I signed up to work at the student newspaper. And I hated it. I hated every minute of it. But, I was going to be a journalist and I was having FUN, dammit!
Then my roommate showed me a flier in the union looking for students to work at the campus radio station, KGRK. My first thought was, “Hold up…our campus had a radio station?” My second thought was, “Hey, that might be more fun than this whole journalism business.”
In my mind, I thought I would be a little bit like Christian Slater in Pump Up The Volume. I would play Leonard Cohen, smoke cigarettes and tell students the TRUTH, man! It didn’t matter that I didn’t know any Leonard Cohen songs, didn’t smoke (yet) or have any TRUTHS to tell. It sounded like way more fun than covering the renovations underway at Bartlett Hall. So I signed up.
The station was in the basement of the student union. Everything was in the basement of the student union – the student paper, the bagel/pizza shop, the game room. All that basement needed was shag carpet and you could have called it a rumpus room.
I was paired up with a girl named Julie to do two hours every Saturday afternoon. For our first shift, a junior named Mason gave us a brief rundown on how to run the equipment and explained the station had a set program list. You could NOT deviate from this list except for once every half hour when we got to pick a song.
And that was it. Since there were two of us, we split the DJ’s choice, meaning my sole job was to push buttons and pick two songs. There would be no Leonard Cohen (they didn’t have any) and there would be no cigarettes (smoking wasn’t allowed in the union). There would be no fun.
Julie and I barely knew each other so we had no banter to speak of. The two guys who came in after us brought in a box of props like they were interning for Dr. Demento. They made us look like complete amateurs (which were were). Why didn’t we think to bring props? Why weren’t we good at this?
We would get so desperate at times to make things livelier that Julie would get out a notebook and try to write us scripts. If our natural banter was bad, us woodenly reading Julie’s jokes about cafeteria food was worse. We weren’t funny at all.
Thank god the station’s signal was weak – it barely reached past the union – so the only people who heard us bombing were the dorks playing pool in the game room.
The one highlight was supposed to be the music, but even that wasn’t that fun. Most of it was obscure stuff that tiny record labels had sent the station for free. There were a handful of bands I knew … well, actually just The Talking Heads. That was about it. No Lemonheads, no R.E.M., no They Might Be Giants. What kind of college radio station was this?
So, for my first couple of shifts, my two picks were “And She Was” and “Road to Nowhere.”
Then one Saturday I dug a little deeper and realized the station had a copy of Cracked Rear View by Hootie and The Blowfish.
Before I go any further, I need to put this in perspective for you. This was the fall of 1994. Hootie and The Blowfish weren’t really a thing. VH1 had only just started playing “Hold My Hand.” No one was really playing them on the radio …yet.
Since I spent a lot of time watching VH1, I knew who these guys were. It was a relief. Now I had something to add to my rotation of the two Talking Heads songs I knew. It became my go-to pick. And, then suddenly, the band started to blow up. That song became huge.
Now, I know it wasn’t because of me that the band was hitting the big time. I don’t think those five dorks in the game room had that much clout. But it did make me feel like a real DJ, that maybe I could be good at it.
Unfortunately, even Hootie wasn’t enough to save me. The semester ended and I got busier. I had a part-time job in addition to working at the paper and the radio station. I needed to choose one, and while I enjoyed being around music, pushing buttons and playing Hootie once an hour just wasn’t enough for me. I quit the station and stuck to covering student government elections.
But every once in a while, when I hear Hootie (or the Talking Heads), I think about that one semester at the radio station and wonder how my life would have been different if I had quit the paper instead.