Where The Wild Things Were, Part 1

Where The Wild Things Were: My Year as an American College DJ

So, recently I discovered about 10 cassettes of my college radio show from 1992-1993, when I attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan for Teachers’ College. This was a hugely tumultuous and important year in my life, and so I’ve decided to make something out of it. I’ve digitised the tapes and am going to recreate the playlists and add some biographical stuff. Maybe this will only be fun for me, but I’m hoping some of my friends and other people might want to get a peek into the early ’90s, both musically and to get a glimpse into my life as a human being.

Part 1 was finished today and uploaded to Mixcloud. I’ll embed the show here, but here’s the intro stuff from the beginning (it runs about six minutes in the audio)


Where The Wild Things Were: My Year as an American College DJ


The years 1992 and 1993 were pivotal ones in my life. In the spring of 1992, I was 27 years old and about to graduate from York University with a Bachelor’s degree in English literature. I was living with my friend Brent in the apartment I had occupied since I was 6 years old, but things weren’t going so well financially. My mum had died in 1987 and since then, my Dad hadn’t really given me any financial or emotional support. After working up the courage to write and share a begging letter with him, I was disheartened when he said he couldn’t help except to offer space in his one bedroom apartment for me to move in.

So after discarding many of my childhood mementoes and saying goodbye to Brent, who’d also been forced to move back in with his parents, I took up residence in a single bed squeezed behind the sofa in my Dad’s living room. The whole apartment smelled like smoke and fried food. It was here that I finished my essays and commuted to university for those last few months.

Over the summer, I applied to both M.A. programmes in English and to Teacher’s College programmes, some as far away as the Maritimes and the U.S. I remember taking the bus to visit the campus at Brock University in St. Catherines, and even visiting Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I loved the campus at Calvin, and the school appealed to me. It was a liberal arts college run by the Christian Reformed Church, a denomination with a heavily Dutch-American (and Dutch-Canadian) population.

Since I’d been to Bible College, it had a certain comfort, althouth it seemed a lot less strict. Students there were known to smoke and drink, although the curriculum was rooted in Christian principles. The academic standards were very high, and the professors were highly qualified and yet accessible. The student population was around 4,000. I came home from my visit really hoping to be able to go.

And then I got an acceptance letter. The only one from a teachers’ college, in fact. Calvin was super expensive (something like US$12,000), but of course the fees included on-campus housing and a meal plan. They were also offering me a significant package of student aid that covered around half of the cost. I just needed to come up with the rest.

One of the main appeals of Calvin was that I could spend a year away from Dad’s apartment, and away from a Toronto that seemed to have run out of good things for me. I didn’t really have a home anymore, and I needed to make some progress toward making a living on my own. I was also eager to get away from an unrequited crush that had been weighing me down for more than five years. I accepted the offer and prayed that somehow the money would come.

I moved into a campus apartment with four other guys, two junior and two seniors. I was 6 or 7 years older than all of them, but they welcomed me with open arms. We moved all the bunk beds into one room, and put a TV and small couch into the other room. We did lots of stuff together, and without those guys, my year would have been much harder.

During orientation week, there was a party, organized in part by Ben and Ryan, two of my housemates, who were residence advisors. They were looking for someone to DJ, so I volunteered. I figured it would be a good way to avoid having to talk to people while still participating. I loved it, and people complimented me on the music I chose. So I decided to ask about getting a weekly slot at WCAL, the campus radio station. It had been going since 1965, even though it was only closed-circuit, which meant you could only hear it on the Calvin campus.

I was a little surprised how easy it was to get on the air. I was given a two hour weekly slot and without too much in the way of orientation, I was let loose on the airwaves. The WCAL office was mostly full of CDs by this point, but there was still some vinyl and even some “cartridges,” which looked a bit like 8-track tapes and which mostly held short station ID bits. Whenever I did my show, there was no one else in the office, although I’d drop by occasionally to borrow CDs when there were people around. Despite that, I never really got to know any of the other DJs.

I started the show at the end of September, initially from 6-8 on Wednesday nights, and it took me a few weeks to come up with the idea of calling it “Where The Wild Things Are.” I’d always loved Maurice Sendak’s book, and the artwork seemed like it would look great on a poster. So I checked the book out of the library, and lo and behold, it came with a 45rpm record that had someone reading the story aloud. I decided to use the first couple of minutes as my intro, right up until the part where the reader says, “And now, cried Max, let the wild rumpus start!” Each week I’d check the book out for a day and then return it the next day. I hadn’t figured out how to record my intro onto a cartridge, which would have saved a lot of hassle.

By December, when this first tape was recorded, I was pretty comfortable on air even as school and my personal life were overwhelming me. I had just returned from a long weekend at home in Toronto, where I’d spent time with my crush. The one I was trying to get over by going away for a year. To make things worse, I’d fallen for a neighbour in my campus apartment complex with the same name. All four of my housemates had girlfriends, and were putting pressure on me to ask out this neighbour. I had passed some state competency exams required for my teaching certificate, but hadn’t yet received my placement for student teaching, so that was making me anxious. I also had no plans for Christmas, since my Dad always spent it with some friends and didn’t invite me along.

So that’s where I was at in December 1992. This first tape uncharacteristically has two shows on it, the first 45 minutes of each of December 2nd and December 9th. I hope you enjoy listening.