Behind the Scenes of BlazeRadio

By Caperton Gillett

Blazer Radio studio
UAB students are reaching a nationwide audience and gaining valuable experience as programmers and managers of the university's Internet radio station.

There’s a deejay booth sitting right behind a floor-to-ceiling panel of glass on a main artery in the Hill University Center, and yet most students don’t notice it until they tune in to BlazeRadio, UAB’s student-run online radio station. Each week, for several hours per day, students take to the airwaves—or, rather, the Internet—to send music, news, sports coverage, and conversation out to an audience that spans the country. Anything, that is, that “people can feed off of, that they can enjoy listening to,” says Ryan McLaughlin, junior broadcast major, deejay, and general manager of the station.

McLaughlin’s personal programming includes an eclectic mix of hip-hop music, banter, the occasional in-studio guest, and, on Wednesday evenings, a top-15 countdown show with two of his friends joining him behind the mic and call-in topics ranging from STDs to relationships to, in one case, old-school cartoon theme songs. The show is built on “the random thoughts you always have that you’ve never bothered to say,” McLaughlin says.

Pushing Buttons

Laura Aaron
Laura Aaron

Deejay Laura Aaron—who goes by the name LEKA on the air—is a senior professional writing major. She tends to focus on music during her two hours of airtime a week, generally playing alternative rock and indie music or, as she says in her BlazeRadio profile, the kinds of music “you would hear while sipping on coffee at Starbucks.”

Aaron jumped feet first into Internet-radio stardom in 2008 on a whim. “I walked by one day during fall semester, just looking to get involved here, and I noticed the booth,” she says. Getting involved in BlazeRadio was surprisingly simple, she says. “You just go in there, and they show you which buttons to push and which to leave alone.” On her first outing, she was paired with Alyssa Mitchell, one of two other female deejays at the station. “It’s kind of nerve-wracking at first,” Aaron says. “Everybody’s walking by outside, and people in the hallways can hear you.”

Waves to Wires

David Mackey
David Mackey

Nerves weren’t a problem for BlazeRadio alumnus David Mackey—known as DJ Doc Bean to his listeners—who graduated in December with a master’s degree in public health. Mackey had extensive radio experience dating back to high school, where he helped build his school’s first station. The move from low-frequency AM broadcasts to the Internet was exciting for him. “You have a wider listener base, and a lot of my friends and family were able to listen,” he says. “Plus it’s our student fees at work.”

Mackey also appreciated the interactive nature of the online format, with deejays monitoring e-mail, instant messages, and Facebook posts during their shows. “A lot of our listeners, instead of calling in, will just chat or text in,” he says.

Just a Click Away

Ryan McLaughlin
Ryan McLaughlin

That interaction is something McLaughlin strives for and encourages in his deejays. “I ask them, ‘What do you do with your show that keeps a person from closing that task bar and bringing up their own music player?’” he says. “You have to keep it interesting. You can sit here and play music, but how do you play it differently? How do you give it your own feel?”

But while original ideas are crucial, on-air experience and technical skills are entirely optional. “It’s not hard,” Mackey says. “You can learn what you need to do in less than an hour. Everyone has music playing somewhere. Everyone would be a good deejay.”

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