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How College Radio Saved My Life

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.

Caitlinface and her musical hero
Pictured: Caitlinface trying to not pee herself in excitement.

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.

By Caitlinface

Caitlinface is a Caitlin, with a face. She reads things, sometimes writes things, and obsessively forces friends to watch her favorite things. She self-identifies as a Gemini Slytherin Targaryen, but don't worry, she's not really all that bad.

10 replies on “How College Radio Saved My Life”

As a mass media degree holder, I LOVE THIS STORY! Everyone in the journalism program with a mass media emphasis had to take the radio workshop class, and we were even allowed to take it twice and get credits both times. Any more than that, no extra credits, but lots of extra fun. I never thought many people actually listened to our radio station besides the high school kids who thought we were cool and other people in the class, but my sister and I had a Sunday afternoon “news of the weird” type of show, and when I was standing in line at Target one day, I overheard two middle-aged ladies talking about a segment we had done earlier that week. It was so awesome, I was glowing for days!

Probably the best thing that ever happened was when I had a stupid little punk band on, and it devolved into them making a bunch of sexist remarks to me and my sister, some of it bordering in sexual harassment, and I gave them a total feminism smack down ON THE AIR. I had to cut to music when they started cursing, and while the song was playing, I kicked them out of the studio. Shit really hit the fan when one of them “jokingly” tried to start the whole place on fire. I was so frustrated, I came back on air to explain why they had been kicked off, and I was talking out loud about what I could fill the extra time with, encouraging callers to give me some feedback on what they’d like to hear. And people actually called in! (Note: this was a big deal, because having a caller was a very rare occasion). The rest of my segment turned into people telling stories about when they gave the feminist smack down to some other ignorant douche(s), some people calling in with questions about feminism, and only one troll. It was my best show ever.

Second best show: when I made a joke about how my favorite listener would be the one who brings me a chocolate milk and fruit snacks from the gas station across the street, and about five minutes later, someone called the station and, in a really creepy low voice, said, “Whatever you do, don’t open the studio door,” then laughed maniacally and hung up. I was like, “WHAT THE FUUUUUUU” and was kind of scared, but I went and opened the door, and there was a chocolate milk and a bag of fruit snacks! Perfectly great, not tampered with at all, nothing creepy. Thank you, random listener! (Although I still think it was one of my friends, because that call had to be from someone banking on my weird sense of humor. No one will admit to it, though!)

Love those stories! I never kicked anyone out, but I had some interesting callers. My favorite was the guy who said “I want you to know, I’ve been drinking since last night, and I’m in a treehouse, and I have a radio, and I am listening to your show, and it is the best thing for my hangover ever.” That was the typical profile of one of my listeners. Hungover people in treehouses.

Hooray for fellow college DJs! I was a DJ at my high school radio station and then at my college radio station as well (and – ahem – last year, my alma mater’s college radio station was named the best in the nation by the IBS ::flips hair haughtily::), although the only real reason I DJ’ed in college was to get out of going to church (long story). I agree though, it teaches you a lot about how to control your voice and how to sound confident even when you’re not feeling best. Also, it’s actually a good way to learn to stay calm during emergencies: I bet everyone who has ever DJ’ed at a radio station has at least one story about the sound suddenly dying in the middle of a song, a microphone suddenly stops working, or the computer just randomly shuts down during broadcast, leaving only dead air and a panicking student behind the mic. Ah, college crises!

Your college experience pretty much sounds exactly like mine. I was stuck in a major I hated, then switched to a major I liked at first, but then grew to hate because of the degree requirements. My spring of sophomore year, I took an English class– my original major which I ditched because of a poetry class that was a degree requirement– and fell in love again. Up until that point, I wasn’t doing well emotionally for different reasons, but the academic stuff just made it worse.

I discovered college radio my junior year. I had gotten into indie music the summer before, and a friend told me to consider DJing. I was a little skeptical because the people in the station were very cliquey and elitist, and when I did join, some of them were. But for the most part I had fun. For all of my senior year I had a show on Friday nights. No one listened, and I didn’t want callers or requests so I didn’t give out the station’s number, but I got to talk about Twin Peaks and play what I wanted. I miss the experience, and every time I listen to NPR or WFMU, I miss those days where I was on the air, and I wish I could have the chance as an adult. Sorry if this comment is long, but I clearly took me back.

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