College was a weird time for me. I mean, it’s a weird time for everyone, right? The leap from high school to college is a big one, and often even the best of us are left scrabbling about trying to keep a foothold. By my second year, I was exhausted with academics, and without any extracurricular outlets, felt like I was floundering with no end in sight.
But let’s back it up a bit. The reason I was floundering in the first place was in large part to a lifetime of coasting through school. “A”s came naturally, with some “B”s, and we’re just going to selectively forget barely passing AP Chemistry online because really, who teaches a lab science online at advanced placement level and think someone is going to do well? So off I went to North Carolina State University, accepted in a program I thought I’d like (textiles, for the curious), placed in the university’s honors program, and with a few friends going with me. Everything looked pretty set. That is, until I realized that college was going to be hard and there was nowhere for me to turn to in order to relax.
It just all sort of fell apart. I sort of fell apart. I didn’t like going to class, because I did not enjoy lectures on textile brand management, and I didn’t do well in class, because I’ll be damned if you ever get me to do something I don’t enjoy. Ask the AP Chemistry online instructor.
Midway through my second year of struggling, I realized that I could change my major. I knew I wanted to be out of textiles and in the humanities, and I planned out a spring schedule of general ed requirements that would open up some options. Empowered by this step forward, I started browsing around the university’s student group listings. And there it was: WKNC.
WKNC was where the cool kids went. Radio was for cool kids. I’d never really thought of myself as a cool kid, so didn’t look too far into joining the DJ ranks when I started out at school, but this time was different. This time I was casting my nets and making decisions and taking steps forward. I went to the station’s website and filled out a short interest form. I forgot about it fairly quickly, until days later I received a reply that I was in the spring training class, if I had the availability to attend the training sessions. And y’all, if I didn’t have the availability, I would have made it, because the fire under my ass was lit and I was raring to go.
The first morning I spent in the studio for the hands-on part of training was exhilarating and utterly terrifying. I had the good fortune to be under the tutelage of an older student who’d spent years in commercial radio before going back to school for his degree, and his philosophy was less easing me into radio world and more trial by fire. There was a microphone in my face from day one, and while my voice was surely shaking and I distinctly recall being more nervous than I was at my first pap smear, my voice went out over the 25,000-watt broadcast range and when the mic was switched off I felt it, and I knew it, and I knew that I would do this until I graduated.
I could talk on and on about the personal growth, and how being on the radio made me more outgoing and confident in my speech, and all those noble benefits that were very real and have stuck with me to this day. But let’s be honest. The coolest part was being able to say, “I’m a college radio DJ,” and all the perks that go along with it. Not a month after I was board certified and officially a member of staff, I met one of my childhood musical heroes, Robert Earl Keen.
I sort of flipped out. On the inside! I kept my cool during the interview. Then he remembered me next time he came through town. And we made sure that the next time, there would be an interview. I kept my cool in front of him then, but as soon as my family and I were walking out the venue doors I was probably making unintelligible high-pitched noises. I was one of the cool kids.
Once I heard my DJ name (Sweet Annie Rich, and let’s play “guess where that came from” in the comments!) in a crowded music club. One of my favorite local bands said on another show that they loved listening to mine. If it ever comes up in conversation now, what I did for three years, I still get new friends exclaiming that they loved the program. Bear in mind, this isn’t just me stroking my ego: this is a big deal for me, to be known for something other than being “the smartest,” or whatever. These are the signs of going from a small town to a small city, from where everyone knew who I was to where no one knew who I was, and making my own name. For a young twenty-something looking for purpose, this means the world.
My regular listeners also meant the world to me. I had regular callers, regular visitors to the Facebook page, and the day of my last show, I nearly cried as I bid them all goodbye. I was told that I touched hearts just from choosing certain songs, or that some of my show themes touched their hearts. The show I did as a two-hour live mixtape in honor of my mother’s birthday, along with my spoken tributes to her, made other mothers (and fathers!) happy. And for a kid who thought her college career was going down the drain, the simple act of making a stranger’s day by spinning a sweet tune can soothe a multitude of hurts and heartaches.
College radio really did save my life, when I think about it. In it I found my salve, reconnected with my love of music, and felt like part of an academic family again. It was love and comfort when I couldn’t go home for a weekend. I made my parents proud of me again. (They have said they’re always proud of me, but those of you who want to feel like you deserve such pride might know where I’m coming from on that one.) And even now, nearly a year removed from it, the memory still soothes my soul.