Monday, February 15, 2016

How I Became A Disc Jockey

I was 18 and a freshman at the University of Maryland.
Walter McElderry

I had come home and had gone with my friends to see our high school drama teacher, Mr. McElderry.

Mr. McElderry was very cool.

He commanded respect but he also talked to us like we were adults. That was a treat and that went a long way.

There we were, in front of a fireplace, as he went around the room to ask us what we were doing in college. One person said he was knee deep in biology.  One said he was acting in plays, sharpening his acting skills. When it came to me he asked, "So, Mark, what are you doing?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

He asked me what sparked me, what interested me. I told him I didn't know but playing records on the radio sounded like fun. "Do they have a radio station on campus?" I didn't know the answer to that either and said so. "Why don't you find out and maybe you can get on the air."

You know how you say things to your dog and she cocks her head?

That was me.
Hadn't even thought of that.

Turns out Maryland had a station, WMUC.

The station was run by students and the Program Director was a senior, Jay Kernis.

I'll get back to that in a minute but first a bit of kismet.

Years later, I was a weatherman on CBS and who was the newest addition to our show? Jay Kernis. Smart as they come and talented as they come.  The whole thing fell under the heading of who'da thunk it.

And you have to say thunk.

To be working with him again was a treat. Jay is a great guy in addition to being funny and nice. He worked at NPR, twice, the second time as Senior VP for Programming. He's worked at CNN, and after a stint at 60 Minutes and a time at Rock Center on NBC you can find Jay these days doing great work as a producer on (drum roll please) CBS Sunday Morning.

Back to WMUC.

I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof when I went in. Why? I had never been in a radio station before and I did mention I was 18.  Jay was intimidating to me, larger than life, plus he would break out into show tunes at the mere mention of dropping a hat. I'd never met anyone quite like him. He was razor sharp with a towering intellect. He was also a good judge of talent.
Jay Kernis

Had to say that last part.

The interview went by in a haze but I remember he asked me all kinds of things including what kind of music I liked and why I wanted to spin records.

Before I knew it I got the job.

Keep in mind you couldn't hear the station in the car outside my dorm but I didn't care. I was on the radio.

First song I played? "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin. It's better known as the theme to the movie The Sting.

Second song? "Big Brother" by Mister Stevie Wonder.

Memories you have forever.


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