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Play what you like in Minturn

Charlie Owen
Vail CO, Colorado
AE DJ for a Day PU 1-18-08
ALL |

Just because I have a face for radio doesn’t mean I have a voice for radio. I found that out the hard way when I sat in front of the microphone to do a two-hour stint as a guest DJ for 107.9 FM, Radio Free Minturn.

I didn’t have a cool DJ name prepared, in fact, I didn’t even know what songs I would play until I arrived at the studio, but I was prepared for a crash-course in radio broadcasting with the station’s program director, Leo Spaziani.

“What’s really cool is when you play a song and somebody calls up and is like ‘who was that?’ with baited breath,” said Spaziani, who hosts his own show on Thursdays called Revolutions 33 and a third.

Because DJs are free to play whatever music they like during their show (barring obscenities before 10 p.m.) this is a common occurrence at the station, Spaziani said. He also said that he looks forward to listening to other DJ’s shows because he almost always discovers new music that he really likes through their shows.

Needless to say I was nervous when I entered the tiny studio, filled with broadcasting equipment.

“So this is where it all happens,” I though to myself, “a room the size of a broom closet.”

Spaziani gave me a brief, yet educational, summary of what each of the dials, knobs, switches and levers control. Of course, I understood none of it, which became apparent as my question asking lasted the entire run of my show.

“Am I doing this right?”

“What does this button do?”

“What do I say when I go on the air?”

While he never showed it, Spaziani’s patience had to be wearing thin.

But after a few songs and a few times speaking on the mic giving public service announcements and mentioning the station’s underwriters, I began to settle into an even flow. The soundboard and microphones and keyboards sitting in front of me in the studio became less intimidating with every passing minute. And then there was the comforting knowledge that Spaziani was there to cover me in case I made any obvious mistakes.

“Our website asks if you have any experience with radio. Essentially nobody that we have trained has experience,” Spaziani said. “That’s kind of what we do, train people to do it themselves.”

To become a Radio Free Minturn DJ, all one must do is go to http://www.minturnradio.org and fill out the DJ application. Somebody from the station will contact the applicant and hopefully there will be one more permanent DJ on the air.

The owner’s and directors of the station realize that a non-paying DJ gig doesn’t make for a very promising career, but it can make for some very good experience and credibility-building in the industry. Spaziani said that the station is committed to training fledgling broadcasters regardless of eventual career choices.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s just a free ride that future DJ hopefuls should expect. There are some projects such as fund raising and helping out with hosting special events that Spaziani said everyone involved with the station should be willing to lend a hand with. Commitment to a time-slot is another thing that is expected of guest DJs.

“It’s hard to train people and have them show up for a couple of weeks and then decide ‘oh, I’m not really into it, or I’m going to be skiing,'” Spaziani said.

My show was going along nicely. I opted to use my iPod to play the music that all those antennas in listener-land would pick up. I had a simple formula ” play whatever I was in the mood to hear at the moment.

I fired off songs by The Strokes, Wilco, The B-52’s, Cornershop and much more, while Spaziani and I listened, bobbing our heads to the music. Growing up, I must have listened to the radio for countless hours wondering what it was like to be a rock-star. But I also wondered what it would be like to be in control of the airwaves. What music would I play? How much would my mood influence my choices? How many mean things could I say about artists like Britney Spears and Ricky Martin?

It turns out, I had to use every ounce of concentration I could muster to keep track of the time so that I could do required things such as PSA’s for local charities and mention the stations name and call letters. I couldn’t focus on slandering Spears or Martin … maybe next time.

Radio Free Minturn is still in an infancy as a local radio station. Going on its second full year as an officially licensed station, 107.9 FM feels more like an experiment than an actual success story, but listenership is strong and the station is starting to find a permanent place on many local radio dials. Add to that the eclectic music selection that airs on an auto-play program when no DJ is in the studio, and strong support from local businesses and residents, and it appears that the future for RFM may be a bumpy but satisfying ride for its listeners and staff.

The fact that the station is so willing to take a chance on rookie DJs speaks volumes about its integrity and only helps its popularity with locals.

And while it’s fun playing whatever you want to, the DJs at Radio Free MInturn know why they’re there.

Matt Payne, who hosts a weekly show called The Dreams Come Later, knows that it’s really all about the listeners.

“What is the point if nobody is listening?” Payne asked.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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