Every week, almost 40 volunteer DJs file in and out of the broadcast studio of WOMR, Cape Cod’s only community radio station, where they create their shows. This summer, I was one of them.
My time slot, starting this past June, was Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the show was called Origins. My idea was to pick one artist each week and play only their music, or the music that influenced them.
The studio is a relic of an analog music past, heavenly in its abundance of artifacts. The broadcasting room is equipped with turntables, and the walls of the station are lined with shelves of vinyl and CDs. Operations Manager Matthew Dunn, also known as DJ Matty Dread, calls it “Shangri-La.”
I’ve wanted to be a DJ since I was five. A family friend knew WOMR DJ Kat Williams, who has a show called Across the Universe and is a great Beatles fan. She found out I was really into music, and when I was 11 she invited me to be a guest on her show. I was hooked.
I guested a couple of more times after that, and this year Kat said there was an open spot and that I should apply for it. I wrote a proposal and sent it to Matty, and he liked it. Kat showed me what to do, and since I’d already been a guest I was already comfortable using the equipment.
The freedom that WOMR provides is rare for radio DJs. We can play anything we want as long as there’s no explicit language. There’s no required talking-to-music ratio, because WOMR does not sell ads.
Last Saturday was my final show of the season. That morning, I planned to wake up early to scramble together a playlist. I had an artist in mind, and I thought I might combine him with another similar artist to create an electronic-dance-themed show.
In true teenager fashion (I occupied one of WOMR’s protected “student” slots), I slept through the alarm. I saw the time, hopped out of bed, and was out the door in five minutes with banana pancakes in hand. I got to the station 10 minutes before my show started, sat down at one of the desks (they’re empty on weekends), and began creating a playlist of the artist I had in mind.
Every WOMR show is different. DJ Robert Johnson, host of the show Nighthawk, calls his DJ philosophy “free-form.”
“I started out playing country and country-rock,” says Johnson, “but now I’m more of a smorgasbord. I’m like, ‘This is what I’m listening to this week. I hope you like it.’ ” He adds that he starts out each show by playing two or three Ukrainian songs, “so you know where my politics are.”
Now, at the station, 11-year-old Harper sits kitty-corner from the desk I’m at. He’s just signed off from his show — said goodbye and done a last-minute promotion for the Double Dragon Chinese restaurant — and his last few songs are playing before it’s my turn. There’s a computer on the desk, and Harper is staring at the home screen, a picture of four Star Wars Storm Troopers convening in a dark forest clearing. He furiously types into the search bar. His dad, who is sitting at the desk opposite him, prompts him to go back to the broadcasting room.
I’d listened to Harper’s show, which is called Ramblings of a Ten-Year-Old (though he’s changing the name to Ramblings of Myself because of his advancing age). He plays hits from a broad time frame; most of them were popular before he was born. I asked him to describe his show, and he said, “Carefree — and, yeah, just fun.” I resolved to adopt his attitude for my own show.
Despite Harper’s “carefree” philosophy, he told me he begins working on songs and talking points for his show nearly a week in advance. He aims to have the show fully prepared several days before it airs live.
It might be a while before I develop that kind of discipline. On Saturday I quickly scratched the artist I’d originally selected for that day’s show, picking the Cowboy Junkies instead. In the three minutes before going live, I made a 70-song playlist. So much for a carefully considered, meticulously researched historical deep dive.
I walk into the broadcasting room. Someone has eaten all the Life Savers from the bowl on the shelf except the green ones. I pop one in my mouth. It tastes like artificial apple. I plug my computer into the cord labeled “pigtail,” which allows me to play any audio from my computer on the air, and I select my first song.
Deborah Karacozian has a regular show on WOMR. Better known by her radio name, Deborah K, she began subbing for other DJs in the early aughts. She eventually earned a regular Saturday night slot and called her show The Kitchen Sink.
Karacozian decided to bring back a tradition from the popular WOMR show Lush Life: the Mystery Vocalist. The segment begins at 7 p.m. She plays three or four songs by one vocalist, interspersing clues about their identity. Listeners are invited to call or email their guesses. In January 2021, Karacozian featured Mel Carter as the mystery vocalist, and she got a call from him after the segment. “I was stunned,” she says.
During a weekend show, the DJ is typically alone in the studio for the duration of the slot, save for the beginning and end. “I love that feeling: you go in, you’re the only person there, and it’s your radio station for three hours,” says Karacozian. “It’s better than doing drugs.”
When you turn it up, the music floods over you and comes flowing out the tips of your toes, and you just have to dance. Alone in the studio atop a gallery in the quiet East End of Provincetown, you dance so the neighbors can see you through their windows.
Sometimes, I lie down on the wooden shelf by the windowsill, feeling like a surgical patient supine on the operating table. The light from the windows soaks the back of my eyelids, and the music rolls over me like fog.
Eden Knight, 17, lives in Truro and Clinton, N.Y. and is a student at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.