Are you a college/community/LPFM/unlicensed music show host? Does the show that comes on before you have an impact on your program, or your efforts to cultivate an audience? I ask now because I forgot to mention the question when I moderated a National Federation of Community Broadcasters workshop panel on great music programs.
I first started thinking about this issue back in the late 1980s, when I did substitute music show hosting at KPFA-FM in Berkeley. It’s an odd story. I took a studio board operation training class at the station with then operations director Jim Bennett. Once I got reasonably good at handling all the microphones, patch cords, tape reels, and turntables, I ran the board a lot at KPFA. I never developed much of a “brand” at the station, but I became someone who could fill in for other music and public affairs programmers when they didn’t show up. This sometimes happened in the evenings and weekends.
It was a short lived career, but I did notice something. It sometimes mattered what came before the show that I was presently helping or hosting. One day, for example, the previous programmer signed off by playing a song by an artist with whom I wasn’t very familiar. As I recall, it was late summer in 1988. The lyrics went like this:
Don’t you know, they’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time, in the unemployment lines
Sitting around, waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know, they’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution
The host outrowed the tune with a breathy intonation of the word “Revolution!” and signed off. I then took over the board. My memory on this is a bit sketchy, but I think the evening’s entertainment was a pre-recorded show about Pete Seeger and other folk singers of that era.
As I sat there in the studio, all the phone lights started flashing. I knew that this couldn’t be about Seeger (no offense Pete), so I started to take them.
“What WAS that last song??” the first caller pleaded.
I didn’t know, I admitted.
“Please . . . ” the caller begged. “I have to find out!”
The next few calls went along similar lines, with the same desperate tone. So I ran out into KPFA’s main lounge, and there to my enormous relief was the previous host. I asked to see the last album he’d played, and wrote down the artist and the song title. I spent the next ten minutes telling callers who sang that song.
It was Tracy Chapman, “Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution,” I explained. People thanked me like I had just given them penicillin for their kid.
During those minutes, it didn’t feel like people were listening to the show I was board-opping. It felt like they were still listening to the previous show. Since then, I’ve wondered what other music programmers thought about the impact of what comes before their stint. So I’ve been asking around via e-mail and our Facebook page. Here are the responses I’ve gotten so far.
From Patty Oey, DJ Pax Humana, host of Searching for the Holy Grail, KFJC Thursday mornings:
My weekly show in on Thursday mornings from 6 to 10 a.m. It is an eclectic mix of rock, electronica, jazz, folk, country, blues, international, psychedelic, soul, well…everything except metal. The preceding show is always a graveyard shift by a different DJ each week, so I’d have to say that the format of the show before mine really has no effect on me personally. Since the grave shift (from 2-6 a.m.) is eclectic as well, and since KFJC is so diverse, it does not really matter that the shift from the grave to my show may be abrupt.
Karl Hauser, KFJC:
About the only thing I’m looking at when I come in to take over is what the previous DJ played in the last hour. Our station policy is that if you’re not doing a specialty show, you have to play 35% of what’s in the Current Bin. Sometimes I come in with a few tracks in mind that I really want to play out of current and I’ll check to see if the last DJ played them in the recent past. Sometimes I’ll here something on my way in to do a shift that I think I’d like to play and then try to find something that is similar. Since I try to arrive early, by the time I get it on the air, an hour or so may have passed. Once I get to the station I stop listening to music and focus on pulling together what I want to play during my shift. A few times I’ve had a moment or two of inspiration and have managed to get something on in a timely manner to compliment the previous song or two.
I consider myself to be a ronin (samurai without a shogun) here at the station. I fill in when I can on the air, but I don’t have a regular shift. Trying to cultivate an audience is something I really don’t give much thought to. I like to think that there is someone out there listening, but unless they call in I have no way of knowing. I try to remember to announce that I play requests (then I know someone’s listening). I personally like trying to shoe horn in the request to the set or the music I happen to be playing.
The DJs here at KFJC are a pretty diverse group. There’s lots of overlap but I usually don’t worry too much about what someone has played before my shift.”
I come on with an electronic music show right after Democracy Now. I find it hard to play celebratory music after hearing about how we spend Sagans on war and the FBI is spying on us. Occasionally I will riff on a subject like radioactivity or US imperialism in the Philippines. Yes there are tracks that reflect these themes, believe it or not. Maybe it’s a good thing to follow the news with entertainment that takes people’s minds off the burdensome stresses of the day. Or is it diffusive?
Anthony Bonet, KALX-FM in Berkeley:
Every programmer would probably like to feel that he or she exists in their own universe. Deejays who are lucky enough to be able to be allowed to program their own shows may feel that their particular aesthetic is so pronounced and so uniquely their own that their listeners will come to them irrespective of what precedes them. Anyone who has had to follow a “news special or a prolonged lacrosse tournament can tell you that an audience can vanish for many hours given the appropriate impetus.
If one were to think “in the usual way,” one might be inclined to say that a punk rock deejay leading into a classical deejay would not work. A more subtle analysis suggests that it depends on the audience expectations of the station. If an audience expects innovative, adventurous programming, a lead-in program that emphasizes a particular style of music – let’s stick with punk rock as an example – transitioning into a programmer who tends towards quieter instrumental pieces could actually work. I am one of the few deejays on KALX who regularly play “classical” music. I am preceded by one of my favorite KALX deejays who leans toward Joe Strummer inspired, political punk. He and I both get calls saying they love the combination of our two programs. What we have in common is that we both try to be thoughtful and creative each week and we do not pigeonhole ourselves.
If he plays the Clash at 8 o’clock, by 8:30 he may be playing a corny Henny Youngman routine. Likewise, if I’m playing Arvo Pärt at 9, I might be playing the B-52′s at 10. The challenge is to be diverse without being arbitrary and when programmers succeed, their audiences will stick along for the ride.
Natalie Sibert Freitas:
For a few years I did a show of “alt rock”, funk and more… it came after a show that was primarily Americana and old trad. rock. I felt like I could hear what little audience was there run away. Building an audience was also hindered by being on twice a month. (that’s the short version)
Funny that this is the topic. The show before mine on FCC Free Radio is a news/current events show while mine is an interview show focusing on Bay Area indie,and unsigned bands. Last week he suggested that we do a “Mr. Phil Songs of the Week” featuring the two bands appearing on my show. It’s a great idea that makes an excellent tie-in.
my show on KUSF was from six to nine in the morning…the jocks before me usually did a great job of hooking the 4-5 AM listeners, especially dj zoe b…the fact that i have a pre recorded show intro that forcefully announces my presence on the air/internets also helps…when i was on radio free burning man, the situation was so drug addled and disjointed that it was a wonder that we were able to even keep a regular schedule…but we did, and the programming there could be light years ahead of what any college or community oriented station could dream of producing, no matter who was ahead or behind you…
Thanks to all the folks above who offered feedback on this question. If you have any further thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.