Eleanor Roosevelt recommends to “scare yourself at least once a day,” and tonight I heed her advice: I co-DJ my very first radio show, an hour-long tribute to Bruce Springsteen, on my school station. The station manager, a spry straight-talker and former student of mine, walks us through the digitized recorder, the “don’t touch that button” soundboard and the “fist rule” when dealing with the hovering mics.
“There’s one catch,” she said, handing each of us rewritable CDs earlier this week. “You can’t take songs off your computer. You have to burn a CD.”
While I am a fan of Bruce Springsteen, I’m not what you’d call a seasoned diehard of the CD collecting variety. Like most of us, I surrendered my hard copy songs to the throes of the digital era and iTunes long ago. Still, I’d been proud of my efforts to bring in an hour’s worth of Springsteen songs dedicated solely to one of his recurring characters, “Mary.” I’d downloaded the songs missing from my digital vault to ensure its completeness, and subsequently discovered I had a bigger technical issue on my hands than I’d expected. My computer’s disc drive died. So I found a thumb drive, transferred the files, and brought them to my work computer, where they copied without incident onto the CD. Except the CD refused to play, first in my car and hours later on the station’s player. My co-DJ’s CD met the same fate. Mp3’s after all, are not regular CDs. Duh.
So there we were, DJs without a sound. While I am more or less a Type B kind of person—creative, go with the flow–my Type A streak tends to kick in when I encounter new endeavors. Like running a radio show. Must. Plan. Everything. So my plan to play my lovingly crafted “Mary” CD with an accompanying critique of Bruce Springsteen’s Women in Nerve.com and my own personal notes on each song? Out the window. So was my partner’s solid hour of music. What now?
The station has in its digital archive a select few Springsteen songs—11, to be exact, if you count his rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which we did not. The Station Manager encouraged us—“fill up the air time with talk if you don’t have enough songs,” she said. “And imagine that you’re talking just to one person, not the entire town.” Over the years I’ve worked on my public speaking skills, but to speak live, unscripted, into a hovering mike with the “recording” light beaming at me sends my fight or flight soaring. Our dry run dress rehearsal—a first awkward exchange over the imagined airwaves—borders on disaster. My co-dj hits the wrong button twice. Our initial exchange is wooden, unprepared. “You mean this isn’t a practice run?” my co-DJ says. No one really listens to radio shows, anyhow, I think. Right? The Station manager tries not to roll her eyes. “Let’s try it again.”
During a song break, we chat about the theme of the show: all Bruce, All the Time. “My mother says Bruce Springsteen’s later songs are far worse than his earlier ones,” the Station Manager says. We look at her, unsure of what to say, exactly. That we plan to play, on our hour long tribute show of Bruce Springsteen, some of his less worse songs? (Speaking of, Rolling Stone just posted 100 of his less worse (read: best?) songs in the past 41 years from his 18 (!) albums.)
The recorder goes live and the Station ID plays, followed by “Spirit in the Night.” I hustle on my iPhone to dig up basic stats about the song. Co DJ introduces us, I introduce the songs, the one preceding and the one to follow—an aptly named “Radio Nowhere.” As the song rolls, we giggle and high-five. “Wow, you all were pretty nervous, huh?” We nod, still nervous. “I’ve been thinking about this for days,” I say. “Every last detail. But I think it’ll be all right.”
She looks from my co-DJ to me and back again. “Yes—this time around, you sounded much less like prep (9th graders) DJs doing this for the first time.” High praise, we decide, from such a tough critic. Or, at least praise enough to get us through an hour’s worth of a slapped together assortment of “take it or leave it” Springsteen from the vault. We share stories about each song, first concerts and visits to the actual Asbury Park. I give my take on Bruce’s underrated version (the original, I might add) of “Blinded by the Light;” my co-DJ talks about the origins and inspiration of “The Rising.” It is coming together.
“I’ve got to check in soon,” says the Station Manager. She is, after all, only 16. School’s tomorrow. “You can take it from here?” We look at each other, then her, and nod as she trots off.
We make it through the hour, scrambling, letting impulse (and some hurried backup research) guide our voices and cue the PSAs on bear sightings and childhood asthma between “Dancing in the Dark” and “Pink Cadillac.” Recordings of Barney Frank and Elmo broadcast our federally required Station Identification. So much for the carefully culled setlist. So much for the special “Mary” theme. I realize now I have lots to learn and (perhaps, like Bruce), I’m not yet ready for Mary. But next week, I will be. I hope.
At the top of the hour nears, we sigh with gratitude and play “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” We mercifully manage to avoid playing the Santa Claus song. After all, this winter’s been long enough–why hang on to ancient sentiments about some frosty old guy coming to town?
It’s time to try (and play) something new.
The “pEa Street” radio show will live stream here, Mondays from 6-7p.m.
A recording of the first show can be found here via Dropbox. The second half is far more chatty than the first.