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Interview with Zack Wentz, A High School Student and Radio DJ

By Sam Rock in Arts & Culture

Fairview senior Zack Wentz currently holds a position as a live DJ for the Boulder-based community radio station KGNU 88.5. Check out the killer answers he provided to some questions about his personal musical tastes, how he got into DJ-ing, and his career as a solo bassist below. 

Royal Banner: How many nights in an average week do you DJ, and what is your time slot?

Zack Wentz: It really depends on what is available. Right now since I’m the only student at our station, KGNU, they mostly rely on me on a need-based basis. I’m in the process of trying to get a regular slot on the show “Jazz and Beyond” (on KGNU 88.5 FM 10pm-midnight Thursday nights and 9-midnight Tuesday nights), but for now I kind of just take whatever is available. Usually a regular slot for a DJ doing the jazz show would be once or twice a month, which with the slots the Music Director at KGNU assigns me, tend to work out to be about that.

RB: What inspired you to get into DJ-ing?

ZW: I was actually asked by the Music Director at KGNU to become one. Since about July of last year, I would help John Schaefer, the music director at KGNU, with filing CDs in the music library at the Boulder studio. When I’d be filing these CDs, I’d often chat with John about either new jazz artists I’ve heard, or talk about my participation in Fairview’s jazz band, so he recognized at one point that I was really into jazz. KGNU has always lacked DJs oriented in jazz, so many slots on “Jazz and Beyond” would be filled with DJs without much jazz expertise. Knowing this, John personally told me that if I went through the Radio Training class and got certified, I could go directly to doing the Jazz show. One of my dad’s friends from Cleveland is a DJ on a community radio station there as well, WRUW 93.1 FM Cleveland. I’ve sat in on shows of his while on family vacations there and have always been intrigued about what goes into making a radio show.

RB: What steps did you have to take to become a DJ?

ZW: There is a (not so) rigorous process to becoming a DJ on KGNU. Basically you start out by taking a radio training class, a four hour class explaining how to use the mixing board, load CDs and use the CD player, and talk into the studio mic, the key element of what’s called a ‘voice break.’ If becoming a music DJ, the training instructor then tells you to make a demo track, which is basically composed of 3 cross-fades (transitions between two songs) and one voice break, where you must say the station’s legal I.D. “KGNU Boulder/Denver 88.5 FM, 1390 AM,” and talk briefly about the music that was just played. In most cases after this, John Schaefer will schedule you for a late-night time shift from either midnight-3am (Sleepless Nights) or 3am-5:30am (Restless Mornings). I lucked out however—since the Jazz show was in need of DJs, my first show was a slot on “Jazz and Beyond.”

RB: Describe what a typical set list looks like during one of your shifts – does it reflect your personal tastes? Do you play mostly recent music or older music?

ZW: It very much does reflect my personal tastes. I think of play listing for a radio show much like writing a tune. The order of which you play songs creates a whole new unique ‘musical collage’ that hasn’t been heard before. Your show as a whole needs variety and needs to be thought out in a creative manner, much like a tune needs to represent your creativity and have enough diversity to keep the listener interested. So I play music that has inspired me musically, new and old material. Although I will sometimes put on tracks that are from artists I’ve heard about before but haven’t actually ‘heard’ before; doing this helps me make new discoveries as well.

RB: Who are some of your favorite bands?

ZW: Some of my favorite artists are: Aaron Parks, Bjork, Brian Blade, Bela Fleck, Matt Skellenger, Primus, Talking Heads, Porcupine Tree, Steve Reich, D’Angelo, Radiohead, Christian McBride, Colin Stetson, and Kneebody, just to name a few.

RB: What is your personal favorite song of all time

ZW: “Careless Whisperer” by George Michael… Haha, no, not quite. Being a DJ, this has got to be just about the toughest question of all time, because one aspect of being a DJ is constantly having to keep your mind open to hear new stuff that would sound good programmed together. I’ve put in a fair share of time trying to figure out the chords on Radiohead’s “Everything in It’s Right Place,” but no single song in my mind “outperforms” another. It really just depends on your listening mood and in terms of radio, where in the playlist it falls.

RB: Do  you plan to continue working as a DJ once you have graduated from Fairview?

ZW: Definitely. College radio stations are very similar to community radio stations like KGNU. You have play listing freedom, get to run your own show… I learn so much from being a radio DJ. Being a DJ gives me better communication skills, helps me discover new music, helps you deal with stress and public speaking in a low-key, but real-time environment… The benefits of it are endless, except for staying up ‘till 3am and waking up 2 hours later for class, haha.

RB: What advice do you have for any other aspiring DJ’s out there?

ZW: Get going with it as soon as you are interested. I thought the process of becoming a DJ would be very difficult, and once I became one that I’d be “too amateur” to make an impact. In reality, the training required for community radio is very easy, and community radio stations are very welcoming to students. But the longer you put it off, the higher the stakes become. Whether you’re into music, news, or something else, the skills you can learn from being a DJ, are crucial skills that’ll help you in life.

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