If you listen to any of my radio shows you will hear me say “Taking names and kicking wax!” at least once during the broadcast. That is old rock DJ speak for “I’m taking requests and dedications!”
Sometimes when a listener calls the station to make a request they start off with “I don’t want to bother you…” Believe me when I say, you are not bothering me, I love this! Any old school radio DJ enjoys requests, it’s what we do. When I have to select all the songs I play in a show, there is no surprise; I already know what’s coming. Sure, it gives me a chance to connect songs and artists with each other, but I’m not sure that I am satisfying my audience’s desire for the songs that they want to hear.
Of all the shows I did in radio back in the day, the one that is richest in memories for me was the evening shift at WCOS back in the ‘60s. The “Doug Broome’s Nightbeat Show” was done in a remote studio right in the middle of the parking lot of Doug Broome’s Drive In, right next to the tele-trays and cars full of teenagers having the times of their lives. Each night I opened the door of the white cinder block building with the large glass windows, turned on the window unit air conditioner in the back wall and began the process of warming up all the tubes in the control room equipment. While waiting for the time to start broadcasting, I read the small slips of paper containing the early requests and dedications that were slipped under the door before I arrived. Right then and there, my playlist was building. Usually my first half hour was filled as I listened to Mike Rast complete the news from the main studio downtown and played the closing news stinger.
It was showtime, time to spin the first record and “hit the post” with the first dedication of the evening. As I looked out over the parking lot, I could see the reaction of the person or group who had left the dedication. Life was good! Making someone happy through music was where it was at back then. The night was started. Soon, there would be a knock on the door of the studio and there would be a “Cool Cat” or a “Hot Kitty” standing there with another slip of paper. If they were out of paper, no problem, I had enough to share, and enough pens to last the evening, even when someone “forgot” to give it back, so they could have a souvenir of the evening. I also kept a supply of the WCOS Top 40 list (originally the “Top Sixty in Dixie”) and some promotional photos handy for those who wanted an autograph.
The point is that radio can be sometimes a solitary experience for a DJ. One is enclosed in a small control room surrounded by equipment and glass windows. The way to break down those windows was to take requests and dedications. Radio was the social media of the day! I was blessed to meet so many great folks back in the day who despite my being gone from local radio for a couple of decades still listen today. I also remember introducing kids who happened to be at the studio door at the same time to each other. Some of them are still married after all these years.
Sadly, radio like that – remote and in person doesn’t exist today. But the experience can still be found. Yesterday I was fortunate to be asked to DJ/Emcee the Carolina Classic British Car Show at the old Columbia Speedway. The music of choice matched the audience, oldies! I knew these folks could remember the drive-in days and would not be hesitant to make requests. So, one of my first announcements was that I had some 20,000 oldies tracks at my disposal and that I was taking requests. Boom! It was 1967 again and I was spinning great tunes by great artists like; The Drifters, The Four Tops, The Beatles, Sam the Sham, The Miracles, The Clovers and the list goes on and on. But what was cool was that folks were sharing stories with me and the others around about their going to concerts, meeting the artists, buying the records and playing them on the juke boxes down at the soda shop.
It was almost like being a young pup of a DJ standing at the doorway of that parking lot studio talking to the listeners and sending their favorite songs out into the night air. Seeing some familiar faces from audiences of the past and even one or two of my fellow DJs came by. It all made up for the drudgery of setting up under a tent in the early morning rain; speakers and stands, stereo amplifier head, wireless microphone and computer along with cables. Seven hours later and a couple of tent collapses in the wind and it was time to pack it all up. At least with the computer, I didn’t have to lug boxes and boxes of 45s around. It always amazed me at how much a few records weighed.
So, next time you hear a DJ announce that he or she is taking requests, don’t hesitate to contact him or her. These days, thanks to streaming, the audience can be worldwide. I get requests by phone, text, chat room and Facebook. If the station has a chat room the local audience can interact not only with the DJ but also with other audience members in other countries. Requests are not bothering the DJ, they are making his or her day. Oh MY!