2017 marks the 30th Anniversary of WYCE! In celebration of the hundreds of volunteer programmers who make it all possible, we are establishing the WYCE Programmer Hall of Fame. Join us at Jammies XVIII as we honor the first four inductees.
Back in the day at Central Michigan I did a lot of college radio, so when I moved to Grand Rapids in ’91, I was already used to hanging out on the left side of the dial with all the non-commercial and public stations. I wish I could remember the exact moment I found WYCE and what was playing, but I do remember it was something out of our blues library. My then-girlfriend and eventual wife’s stepfather was a Hawaiian who was big into blues, so I was cluing into not only to the blues of Buddy Guy and Freddie King, but also slack-key guitar and ukulele stuff from Keola Beamer and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Kind of a mixed bag.
After listening to the station for a while, I heard them say that anyone could become a programmer, you just had to take a class. That was enough for me! I missed the free-form format from my radio days, and this sounded like just the thing to scratch that itch. I stopped by and signed up for a class in the Fall of ’93, try as they might, they haven’t been able to get rid of me since!
Interesting question about the philosophy! You know what still surprises me when I think about it? We’ve got, what, 15,000 albums or so sitting there? With an average of 12 or so songs per album, there’s maybe a couple hundred thousand songs to choose from? And I have to pick forty. Forty! That’s about how many songs you end up playing in a three-hour shift. That’s like 0.02% of what’s sitting there. That’s one thing that’s so cool about a station like WYCE: there’s literally no two shows alike. For every show I play, there’s like 99.98% of things I didn’t get to share!
Everyone approaches how they’re gonna choose their forty songs a different way. It’s interesting. On one end of the spectrum, some people pre-plan their whole show during the week, building their entire playlist before they even walk in the door on show-day. Other people will come in 5 minutes before showtime, pull the first two songs they’re going to play and wing it from there. And the cool thing is that both can have a fantastic show.
I’m definitely not comfortable with the wing-it approach. While I’m playing tunes, I like to be able to enjoy my choices without heading out to try and find the next song before my the end of the current song. Too stressful! I guess I lean a little more towards the other end. I have a Google spreadsheet out on the cloud, and when I hear a song that really tickles me during the week, I’ll add it in there so I can remember for a future show.
Overall, I try to keep things lively as far as music choices. I’m not saying every song has to be fast, or loud. You have to have variation or it’s going to feel same-y, you know? But I prefer a more energetic feel to my show than three hours of Sad Bastard Music.
Memorable moments include, broadcasting from the old pole barn location on 28th and Byron Center. Boiling in the summer, freezing in the winter, metal roof so there was noise when it rained… terrible in some ways, but that’s where I started out at WYCE, so it hold a special place in my heart.
One time there, while I was on the air, a guy walked in off the street, and started asking where he would have to go to school to be on the air like me. Fellow programmer Chris Oakwood and someone else was also there, hanging out near the reception desk area. We all tried to explain that we were a volunteer outfit, and that no one needed any professional training, but he was having none of it. He kept asking, “No, you don’t understand! Where do I need to go to school?? To learn to be on here?! Where??!” I was becoming clear to us that this gentleman may have some mental health concerns.
He kept getting more and more agitated, and the more we tried to chill him out, the madder he got. As this was going on, the phone at the front desk rang, and Oakwood answered it. Not getting the appropriate amount of attention, Radio School Guy raged out, shouted “YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO ME! WHERE DO I NEED TO GO TO SCHOOL?!!!” and then grabbed the phone out of Oakwood’s hand, and RIPPED the phone set out of the wall and threw it down.
We managed to get him out of the building before he wrecked the joint. About 10 minutes later, the police were leading him out of the drug store next door, where he had been raising a ruckus of some sort there as well.
I used to do an all-cover song show every Spring that people seemed to like. I’d have legitimately good covers mixed in with the occasional William Shatner “Mister Tambourine Man” schlock. It was a lot of fun. I sometimes get asked to bring it back, and I might… We’ll see.