The DeeJays Speak!

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Twenty years ago a grand experiment was conducted by a man named Barry Mayo. It was a radical step that has had far-reaching results to this day. What did he do? He introduce the adult urban contemporary format to listeners with the unprecedented transformation of WBMX 102.7 FM into WVAZ 103 FM. It was the beat box heard ’round the world.

Now, a generation later, the station has won the NAB’s prestigious Marconi Award three times over and helped shape the radio dial of today. Shortly after celebrating the 20th anniversary of the station, William Hageman of The Chicago Tribune interviewed the team responsible for this success.

The whole interview is great reading, but the following excerpt, an exchange between on-air personality Herb Kent and program director Derrick Brown is my favorite part. In answer to a question about what the next twenty years will hold, the following dialogue ensued:

D.B.: The challenge now would be, there are other outlets for listeners to be entertained. Could be the Internet, could be iPods. There’s still a role for local radio. An iPod cannot tell you what’s going on in the community, cannot introduce you to great music. Can’t re-introduce you to older songs. However, there is a way we’re finding to integrate the Internet into what we do. It’s a quick way to get news distributed to the community. You can listen to us online. [Listeners] can receive e-mail communication from us.

HK: And enlarging on what Derrick said, when you just play music—I don’t care how good it is, just back to back—it’s totally uninteresting. You go to your cable, go all the way to the end of the channels, and they’re playing music. I look at it sometimes. I get bored easily. You have to have a jock in there, saying stuff. The music sounds better. An iPod would bore me to death. I’d find no joy in that.

DB: I’m with Herb. Music on a radio station, that’s the meat and potatoes. That’s why they come. The jocks are the spices. The seasoning.

To me, this is spot on. Personality, character, a unique voice — these are the things that I see as being the foundation of good radio. It is even more important in the age of social media.

As many companies and individuals are discovering, social media is all about the conversation. It is the interactivity and the “human touch” that have value on this field. Groups that attempt to embrace social media strictly to self promote, without adding to the ongoing conversation they have joined are doomed to fail. You can see it on platforms like Facebook and Twitter all the time, just watch the conversations.

This holds true for radio, the medium that first brought us interactivity with the call in programs of its early years. The human element is paramount. Just poll radio listeners and see how many of them tune in at particular times in order to catch specific DJs.

Photo courtesy of Jesus Presley, used under its Creative Commons license

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