Digital DJ

The author at the Pulitzer/KDHX event Sound Waves Brazil, on September 16, 2010. Photo courtesy of

Yes, that’s me in the photo. As usual, I am sure to disappoint my listeners with my appearance. Many times I have been told that the host of Radio Rio is probably a tan, long-haired brunette with an amazing figure. It is also assumed that I do my show in a bikini. The Girl from Ipanema I am not, dear listeners, but thanks for listening anyhow!

I include my photo only because I have recently done two DJ gigs where, for the first time, I have conducted the event solely using my computer. As you can see from the photo, the only tell tale signs that I may even be a DJ are the headphones and the mixing board but I could just as well be out somewhere looking for free WiFi.

There is no doubt that the digital age (and the automated age–grocery self check-outs, pay at the pump, and of course some “corporate radio,” etc . . .) is making the actual presence of a human less necessary. For my two recent DJ gigs, I could’ve simply dropped off my IPod or computer and had the venue play my list of selected songs. I felt totally unnecessary! (Granted, for one of the gigs I did have to change the “tone” as the evening progressed so it was good that I was present but it may have gone completely unnoticed.)

I am certainly not a Luddite. On the contrary, as a DJ and as someone who loves music, the digital age has been a great thing. Soon after the Internet became very powerful in the mid to late 1990s I remember reading an article about the Brazilian pop artist Ed Motta. He was asked what his feelings were about this new technology. He responded by saying that the first time he went online he wept because of all the music he now had access to, not just to download but to buy from the hundreds of record dealers that now sold online (I can confirm from my record store days that he would even call certain stores in the US from Brazil just to buy a rare record or two). The photo that accompanied the article showed a room of his house which was lined with hundreds and hundreds of vinyl records–he did not appear to be a man whose musical collection was lacking. Yet, the thrill of what the Internet could provide and expose him to was overwhelming, as it has been for many of us.

Yes, the digital age yields many fruits and has the potential to be great for the environment. Digital transmissions can lead to less mail which in turn means less fuel usage. The digital book and journalism age can probably save an untold number of trees. But yet, and here is where I get a little sentimental, there will be things that are lost from the onslaught of the digital–the physical presence not just of humans but of tangible things.

Most of us born before the onslaught of the Internet probably have some memory of when we first discovered an album, a 45 or a CD that changed the course of our relationship with music. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to look through my parent’s albums for the very cool record covers. The Beatles stick out for sure: Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt Pepper’s and Abbey Road were all covers that caught my eye. I wanted to listen to these records because I liked to covers. Visual images were one of my gateways to listening. Later, as a teenager, I would go to my local record store and look through the punk rock 45s and make purchases based on the cover art of those little sleeves. Today, I don’t even know what the “art” looks like for most of the music I download.

As I look around my house I realize that I could have so much more wall space if I put all of my CDs on my computer and then put them in storage or sold them. But then how would my kids find that CD that might capture their attention and begin their musical journeys? They already gravitate to the most colorful and provocative covers and if they sat down to listen to most of the CDs they are visually attracted to I think they would be pleasantly surprised by what they hear (at least this is what parents hope for). And because they are kids, they are not allowed to touch my computer so I am lamenting that I have begun the process of locking away all the music that I hope they will come to love.

I am not saying that the thrill of discovery will be lost because of the Internet. On the contrary. It can of course lead you to gateway after gateway and take you down musical paths you didn’t know existed. But these are also very shared and public ways of finding things. I think I will miss that solitary act of finding and discovering something on my own, picking it up, examining it and knowing it inside and out.

I called this piece the Digital DJ not just because of my recent laptop DJ gigs but because within a very short time, instead of just bringing CDs and records to play on the radio, I now also bring my laptop and IPod (I know that some of my fellow KDHX DJs don’t even bring CDs anymore). It is not necessary to bring all of these gadgets but it is incredibly helpful. I can now fill almost any request while I’m on the air because I have access to so much and this is a great thing.

When I shuffle the songs on my IPod I rediscover so much music (yet I rarely listen to full albums anymore)–it’s like listening to KDHX! I confess, I love my IPod and I love that if I want a song I can have it in a matter of minutes from the Internet. But as with all new technology something else is lost. The old ways of listening to and discovering music seem primitive to the young folks (some have never even seen a vinyl record). We don’t need to get all misty-eyed about “how things used to be” but we do need to recognize that this new digital age is also a very private age. The public–actual human beings and tantalizing physical objects–will become more distant and seemingly irrelevant which I think is something to lament.

My corny ending: I raise a glass to KDHX to say how grateful I am that I can be both a digital DJ and still be a live human being who gets to interact with other live human beings on the air every week.


  • Roy Kasten

    After all these years, I’ve still not taken the plunge for an iPod. But I’ve grown so dependent on iTunes for preparing a show that I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to continue without it.

    On air, I like mixing up the mediums, moving back and forth between a burned mixed CD, a vinyl LP, KDHX’s own musical library, and an official CD in the new release section. I think this variety of physical medium for music is actually cool, keeps me interested as a DJ, and I think about the music differently in different forms.

    So, viva la multitude!