Tuning in to College Radio
Paul McEldowney casually settles into his chair and turns to his laptop. He opens up his music files and selects a few songs, adding them to his playlist. He then turns to the soundboard and adjusts a few settings. A song can be heard playing in the background. Once the sound of the song fades, he clicks some switches on the soundboard, turns to his mic and starts talking.
“Hey everybody, you’re tuning in to Shaving Your Eyebrows at KUCI. I’m Paul and you just heard the Swell Maps, pretty seminal post-punk from the 80s, and their song Midget Submarines, which I think is a pretty awesome song title … coming up next on the program is, as you’d expect, more music. This track is from Arca, who I’ve been getting really into. Hope you enjoy, thanks so much for tuning in!”
McEldowney graduated from UCI this summer and has been a DJ since his first year at UCI. His interest in KUCI started before he even started studying at UCI.
“I was into underground music since early high school and middle school and I listened to KUCI when I was in high school, so I kind of knew about it and wanted to do it right away. I met some people that already DJ’d here from shows so it was a very easy transition coming in. I’ve been here for about four years now,” McEldowney said.
To prepare for working at KUCI, he went through a quarter-long training class that teaches students how to use the equipment and the rules of the KUCI radio station.
McEldowney hosts Shaving Your Eyebrows on Thursday nights from 10 to 12 p.m. He usually starts his shows by talking about the show before his and then introducing his own show, adding some interesting stories if he has any on hand.
His music is experimental, although McEldowney plays a lot of underground pop and electronic music.
“Mostly, it’s whatever I feel like,” McEldowney said. “I play everything off my computer or my records, and I do a lot of music reading and find music that I like.”
To prepare for his show, McEldowney decides the music he wants to play throughout the week. He gathers the music and then prepares on the day of his show or the day before.
“What I’ve been doing lately is doing everything on the fly — so not preparing at all. And that’s super fun because that’s more of a DJ, like in a live setting. And I’ve been playing longer sets, just 30 to 40 minutes block and then talking,” McEldowney said.
When talking on the air, McEldowney also prefers to not prepare material beforehand. He thinks of what to say on the spot, usually talking about the music he just played, the album, some facts about the artist or something of interest that comes to his mind.
“I think it’s bad if you go into radio having everything planned out. It helps to have some spontaneity — that’s how you not only have fun, but an enjoyable radio show. When everything’s structured and set, it sucks all the fun out. You already know everything that’s going to happen,” McEldowney said.
Of course, with spontaneity also comes awkward pauses and moments of wondering what to say, but as McEldowney says, “it would not be fun if you didn’t mess up.” There have been moments when he played two or three songs at the same time or went off the air, but he feels that it “adds to the aesthetics of the show. You get a sort of intimacy that you don’t get from processed commercial radio.”
McEldowney tries to stay unstressed when hosting his show. He doesn’t let it get to his head and when he talks between songs, he prefers to get straight to the point because he knows that what his audience really wants is music. Still, he enjoys presenting his show as a social show.
When he’s not talking on air, he’s usually on his computer reading about the band he’s currently playing or completing tasks like answering the phone, picking the next tracks or filling out information about PSAs that he played.
“When I finish radio here, it would be awesome to stay in radio. I am pretty into NPR and it’d be awesome to get into music writing, like record stores. Life beyond radio, I’m planning on grad school too,” McEldowney said of his plans for the future.
As for anyone who’s interested in KUCI or radio, his advice is to “just do it. There’s no reason why not, I think it’s the most rewarding thing you can do and I like college radio a lot because it allows you to do whatever you want. There’s nothing else like it where you can just say whatever you want on the air. It’s kind of empowering.”