Life Lessons from a former Disc Jockey

humwithStrumI was a part-time DJ in the 80s at WDHA-FM, an album rock station in northern New Jersey. The program director at the time was my good friend Mark Chernoff, now VP, Sports Programming at Entercom. My talent was modest at best, but I loved every minute.

In 1983 Mark offered me the overnight shift Friday night/Saturday morning. (2am-6am). By the way, the station was located at the time in Dover, NJ, about 45 miles from our home in Edison. So there was an hour commute on both sides of the 4 hour overnight air shift. Oy vey. And the shift paid $20 total, $5/hour. Of course I jumped at it. I did have a “day job” at BBDO/New York as a management guy on several accounts, but getting paid for playing rock and roll records….what a blast!

Mark and I were buddies from our days at Rutgers in the early 70s (and still are). We worked as disc jockeys at the college station, WRSU, and truly enjoyed our time at the station. Radio was my first love, as it was Mark’s. I made the business decision that a career in marketing/advertising was a better way to make a living. My buddy Mark went on to get his MBA in accounting, hated it, and left early on to pursue a career in radio. It paid off as a wise move for him given his later success in New York at WNEW-FM, K Rock and WFAN.

The role of the DJ was far different back then:

1. At WDHA you selected the music you played, within the format, but that left tons of room for creativity.

2. You “cued up records” on a turntable. I love cueing records and there is always something special about vinyl. (BTW: CDs were in their infancy and you actually plugged when you were playing one like it was a big deal …here’s Dire Straits On CD).

3. I loved talking up to records–talking over the instrumental part but closing the mike when the singing began.

4. Local “terrestrial” music radio was still a big deal. No satellite, streaming, etc.  Radio was how new music was introduced.

So with that background, I submit several life lessons I learned from my stint as a DJ:

1. Do the things you love—obviously the $20 per shift pay was not the motivation. I really, really wanted to be a DJ and I was ready to sacrifice to do it, even though it often crushed my weekends.

2. Think/plan ahead—As a DJ you need to be ahead of the audience. Next songs selected and cued, commercials all lined up. Planning was important, as it is in life.

3. Weather is important—No matter what station, what format, everyone wants to know what the weather is

4. Don’t talk too much—There are few people that can maintain interest of their audience just by talking. People listen to music stations for the music (duh). I realized that as a DJ I was merely a conduit to the tunes. So I kept my chatter to a minimum with some graceful segue ways, a few interesting tidbits about an artist and their music, and then start the next record. I think the life lesson for us all is simply…know when to turn off the mike! Less is more in dialog in life.

5. Music connects with people—obviously the format was an album rock station so the audience skewed younger. But music of all types touches people, it connects them with others, excites them and brings them back to a time in life and serves as a trigger of happier thoughts

6. Speak clearly, slowly and distinctly–skills that work in life.

Being a DJ was a real pleasure. It was a challenge, and I learned far more from my short DJ “career” in the 80s than I realized at the time. Nothing like spinning discs and being paid to do so.

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  1. Mike Crowther says:

    This is horrifying, Lonny…I used to buy advertising on DHA for Dorney Park in the ’80s. I might have actually been helping pay for that $20/night!

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