You think countdown, you think NASA. I think countdown, I think WDAV.
In radio, time is always running out. Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know: in radio, it takes seven seconds for a fresh silence to wilt into dead air. How do I know it’s seven? I know my seconds. I know my minutes. I’ve been watching counters on CD players four hours a day every weekday for a collected seven years. Like it or not, I have developed an uncanny sense of time. When I tell someone when I’ll be arriving, I tell them I’ll be there at 3:12 p.m. I’ll be right. They’ll be amazed. When my son wants to know how long before dinner will be ready, I’ll answer “seventeen and a half minutes”. And I’ll be right. And he’ll be amazed.
On the job, I know if there are three minutes and twelve seconds of music remaining, I have time to walk from the on-air studio to the kitchen, fill a glass with water, drink half of it, circle by the mail room, pull an announcement off the printer, share a laugh with a co-worker and get back into the studio with fifty-eight seconds left to figure what on earth I’m going to say when the music ends. Forty-two seconds provide just enough time to go online and pull up the pronunciation for a composer’s name you and I have never seen, much less heard. Thirty-three seconds and I can get the current temperature for you instead of fudging it. Which, I confess, I’ve done. Twice.
There was a time at WDAV when on-air hosts answered the telephone. In retrospect, that was a screw-loose idea.
These were not calls we solicited, mind you. They were routine radio station calls which can range from the innocent inquiry to the nuclear meltdown. There were times when forty-two seconds on the CD counter meant I had forty-one to shake off a diatribe by a listener who despised ragtime. Thirty-three seconds might mean bouncing back from a paranoid-schizophrenic threatening to take me to court for talking about him on the air.
Part of me truly misses answering the phone at the station. There were other calls–the “What was that beautiful choral piece you just played and how can I buy it?” calls, the “Did I just hear you say Percy Grainger lived with his mother until she died?” calls–the calls that let me know you were there; that you were thinking about and interested in what was on the air. Pleasant or unpleasant, affirming or deflating, the calls made radio two-way communication.
That’s what this blog is intended to do, minus the distraction of having to watch the seconds tick away. I’m excited about it. It gives me the chance to share more with you about music and about what’s going on in our arts community. More importantly, it re-opens your lane on this two-way street. Fire away. (Easy on the diatribes.) Post comments. Ask questions. Share ideas. As soon as I roll the next piece, I’ll reply. But only when I have at least six minutes and fifty-four seconds of music remaining.
10 thoughts on “An Invitation to Two-Way Radio: A DJ Answers the Phone”
I only wish I’d developed Jennifer’s sense of precision timing in the years I was on the air for WDAV. Sure would hate to tell you how many minutes of dead air graced my shifts. If I’d have been blogging I bet there would have been even more. But I’m looking forward to this blog and the interesting things that will be discussed in this space. I think it’s a great addition to what WDAV does on the air. So blog on!
I am a Maryland listener of WDAV over the web. I have never been to your part of North Carolina, so my choice of your station is purely based your station’s music slection. People think “classical music radio” and they don’t know there are subtle variations. You guys seem to have a very nice mix of the popular and the less well known, and you cover different time periods – including a sprinkling of modern music. And I like your on-air personalities. I’m very happy to have your station as a companion in my little office.
Thanks for participating in this new blog at WDAV and thank you for your kind comments. You are right, there are plenty of ways to skin the “classical music radio” cat. I’m so glad you’ve chosen ours.
After hearing Jennifer talk about it this morning, I decided to explore the WDAV homepage a little more. Before I knew what was happening, I was watching a video of Gilles Apap improvise an electrifying, hilarious cadenza to a Mozart concerto I thought I knew. I linked to that via Sandow’s blog. Fascinating. Time elapsed browsing that and other things: 67 minutes. Interesting–but I’m afraid I’ll get addicted!
I’m an 83 year old listener in Connecticut via the web, and I’m grateful for your station and this blog. I’ve often thought (perhaps in error) that here in the US there is no one classical music station which could be called THE station to listen to. Recently the British record industry prevented a noted London station from streaming to North America, and then I discovered that we do have a national leader: WDAV. Davidson College must be a great place to offer a service like yours. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for your wonderful comments. I am thrilled you found us and that you took the time to participate in this new “blog experiment”. We hope to use the blog to add to the WDAV experience in meaningful ways. Let us know if you have suggestions.
Thanks for checking in on and following the blog threads! May I let others know you are a pianist who will soon make an appearance on The Main Street Sessions? Ruskin and a contralto named Diane Thornton performed songs by Charles Ives that will be on the air before long. Stay tuned!
IN PRAISE OF DEAD AIR
You talk about the precise sense of timing you have developed in this job, but it would be a mistake, I think, for the reader to assume that while you’re on the air, silence is verboten. Perhaps this is true on commercial stations, where every millisecond has a monetary value. But you and your colleagues at WDAV have the luxury of using silence when silence is called for. After an especially moving piece, it may be absolutely appropriate to allow three, four, perhaps as many as five seconds of silence after the final chord has died away for the full impact to be felt (part of the art is knowing exactly how long).
Silence is an important part of musical composition, and since making radio is a form of composition (at least I think of it that way), silence has its place there, as well. But I’m preaching to the choir. I know that even silence is factored into the sense of timing that makes the art of the radio host seem so effortless to those of us who only listen.
Of course there are also many times when silence is the wrong way to make the transition from a piece of music to whatever comes next. Sometimes what you’ve just played is so remarkable that the most appropriate response is an immediate and spontaneous “Holy Cow!” You did say “Holy Cow,” did you not?
I did! I said “Holy Cow” first thing in the back announce. I meant it, too! (If you missed it, I was responding to Arcadi Volodos’ performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 from his “Live at Carnegie Hall” CD on the Sony Classical label. Nothing else like it under the pianistic sun.)
My mother is the same way about timing. We could be driving from Buffalo, NY to St. Louis and she’ll manage to get our travel time to within a minute or two, even though we’ve never been there before. I seem to have inherited the talent somewhat.
I’ve noticed that you’ve been playing Yo-Yo Ma’s album “Obrigado Brazil” fairly frequently. I first heard it on your station and have since hijacked our copy here at the USC Music Library. Thanks for introducing me to it!