On the first Thursday in April we convened our yearly disc jockey class at the WRDV studios in Hatboro. Thanks to a lot of media advance coverage (even two area TV stations did features) we started out with a large class of 21 people — all ages from a high schooler to a man in his mid-80s, some women but mostly men. The pitch was that if you always wanted to be a disc jockey, listened to the radio and said “I can do that,” this was your chance. The class met every Thursday from 7 p.m. to whenever it ended (no later than 10 p.m.). GM Todd Allen conducted the classes, I was one of the instructors.
Two weeks after the class began we were down to 13. Eight would-be deejays saw how it worked, that there was a lot more detail and regulations than they expected and decided that it wasn’t for them. Four weeks after that the class textbook sessions were done and as we went to actual in-studio training — live, on-the-air, with our actual staff members — we were down to nine.
I should point out that the RDV Radio network (four stations, including 107.3 in Philadelphia) and webcasts (ww.wrdv.org) are part of the Bucks Mont Educational Radio Corporation. It is public radio and none of the 50-plus staffers (including top management) make a dime. The station gets no federal, state or local funding. It is all listener-, staff- and sponsor-supported.
At the beginning of this month the final “cut” was made and five of the students were kept for advanced training and/or a permanent assignment. The rest, all nice people, were told that their efforts were appreciated but that we just didn’t see them being ready any time soon. Each of them was told they were welcome to take the class again next year (at no charge).
One of the nine said to me, “You know, after a while, I realized that this probably wasn’t for me.” And he was right. I told him that I agreed. That as a kid I badly wanted to play the guitar so my Mom bought me a Gene Autry model and paid for a year's worth of lessons at Glenside’s Academy of Theatre Arts. After a year and my recital effort at “Lady of Spain” — which I fractured and when I play it on my radio show I feel guilty — I realized that playing a guitar wasn’t for me and I never picked it up again.
What sunk them? It was both a combination of things, but also similar failings across the board. The Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) has rules about keeping logs and readings of the transmitter. The FCC logs are kept in military time. After 12 noon the next hour is 13:00 then 14:00 and so on. Well, that seemed to baffle people. When you have to do meter readings at 16:00 they didn’t understand when time that was. And it seemed to happen often. There is a log sheet for every day and for every hour. It specifies when sponsor spots are to be played, when public service announcements are to be aired (they are all pre-recorded like the sponsor slots) and when weather and community bulletin boards are to be read.
The times are spelled out and if you follow the sheet you can’t go wrong. But they did. Station ID’s mandated at the top and bottom of each hour got skipped, ditto sponsor slots. We have two stock market reports phoned in at the same time each day — and it is a simple task that seemed to trip them up. The EAS tests (you hear them on every radio station) are mandated, they are done once a week. Done, that is, if the deejay knows how to do them. Regular emergency broadcast tests come in as well and they need to be logged.
The live, in studio and on air, training went on for over a month. Our volunteer deejays worked hard with the students — often giving up large chunks of their shows so that the trainees could have a hands-on feel for how it all worked. Some of them got it — one now has his own show, another has joined our roster of sub deejays. The other three are still works-in-progress but are getting there. But some simply did not and, frankly, listening to them was painful — and we got more than a few listeners who called in and asked, “When will this be over?" Bottom line is, the listener is very important. Without them you are sitting in a padded studio, talking in to a mic, and you are all by yourself.
I am one of the few on-air personalities at RDV who actually worked as a professional in the business (at four stations), but our current roster of on-air personalities is, to a person, a good one and we can boast a loyal audience but here and around the world. Our web streamer tracks the “hits” we get on our webcasts and last month it was reported that, globally, more than 300,000 people tuned to WRDV.org. Our annual November “Open House” always draws crowds that pack our building on York Road.
So when you listen to the radio and just take for granted that we’ll be there and we’ll be playing what you wish to hear, just remember that a lot of people work hard to make it happen and there’s a lot more to it than just showing up and playing music.
I’m sorry that some of our candidates didn’t make the cut — but I know they now each have a better appreciation of the radio business and they need to know that we are grateful for their efforts.