CKCU's DJ Digs Q & A with
CKCU's DJ Digs

Independent radio host Digory McGinn – aka DJ Digs – hosts the weekly Mixtape Marathon on CKCU.  He also works with Ottawa's youngest budding radio stars, helping to run and organize CKCU's radio camps for kids. 

DJ Digs chats with Ottawafocus about the importance of listener-funded programming, his lifelong love of music, and the ongoing evolution of radio broadcasting.

DJ Digs, you've loved radio since you were a child, listening eagerly and even creating your own "show." What first attracted you to radio and what about it did you find so compelling?

I always loved the idea of having people far from where I was listening to me. From a very young age I had a set of walkie-talkies, and the one thing I would always do was try and see how “far” I could get them to go.  I would also sit in my room with my radio and tune it to far-away stations that hardly came in, and mark on a map where they came from.

CKCU's DJ Digs

What role has music, specifically radio, played in your life, and what does music mean to you?

I grew up listening to a lot of choral music and van Morrison. My parents were big fans of van Morrison – and my mom has always loved choral music. I love pop music, and what else is bigger on the airwaves? I have always kept track of the radio stations here in Ottawa, and what they played. Whenever a good song I liked came on I would hit the record button on my tape player. 

When I go back and look at these tapes I have, the songs I recorded are songs I still love to this day.  I have a tape where I recorded all I could of the “party of the century” show on New Years Eve 1999.

Why is independent, listener-funded radio like CKCU important? What does it offer that mainstream radio doesn't?

I think it’s more important than ever now. I notice that most stations start out with a specific different “format,” but after only a couple of months they turn into the same-old, same-old – and add more and more commercials. One of the things I hate about commercial radio is the commercials! 

I think a station like CKCU has more of a personality. People begin listening to specific shows and become “regular listeners,” and I think it gives people the feeling that the show talks to them. On CKCU you get real opinions, and call-ins where there can be a conversation with the host. Every host is different and has a unique style that suits their listenership.

CKCU's DJ Digs
What do you like best about working for an independent station?

The freedom. The freedom to play what I want, say what I want – and have arguments with callers about anything. One of the great things about being on independent radio is that it's not all about ratings, so you have an ability, to an extent, to do as you please.

It’s also exciting when listeners call in and suggest songs they think I might like, judging by what I play. Radio may be a one-way medium, but it’s introduced me to new music, and people – and I absolutely love the freedom I have with where I can take my show.

CKCU's DJ Digs Do you hope to pursue a career in professional radio one day?

I did think of it coming out of high school. I sat in on a couple of the radio broadcasting classes at Algonquin in grade 12, but I didn’t think much of the course.  I realized that going for specifically commercial radio DJ-ing is not the best thing to do. It’s very unstable, and one gets bumped from station to station regularly. I would much rather have a small show I can do what I like with, and a more stable job elsewhere.

Tell us about your show, the Mixtape Marathon. What inspired you to get it going?

It started back when I was in a first-year class at Carleton, and my geography TA asked our lab if anyone would be interested in being part of the geography department’s radio show. BANG! I was in there.

I was part of Spaces, Places and Faces for nearly a year and a half – until one day when I spoke with the host who had the timeslot where the Mixtape Marathon is now. He told me that he was having a hard time with it and it wasn’t going well. I filled in a couple of times for him, and the slot slowly became mine. After coming in and doing my own thing for 3 weeks, I thought it was time to tell the program director I was coming in. He filled the space with my name, and here I am.

When I was part of Spaces, Places and Faces I produced the news nearly every week, and made new jingles for the show. I sort of began shaping that show into what mine is now.

How do you pick your playlist each week? What role do listeners play in your programming?

As the show got longer and longer, and eventually hit the 5-hour mark, the way I programmed it changed. It’s hard to fully program 5 hours of music when you have school and a part-time job. I’ve molded the show into having certain similarities week-to-week. I mostly play pop and upbeat music.  I also always try to read a news story at the top and bottom of every hour – to “mix” things up a bit – no pun intended! 

At quarter past, and quarter to the hour, I aim to play an “Onion Radio News” segment to add some comedy to the show. It gives me a laugh and keeps me going. I treat the show as an “all-request” show – but I play requests that fit into my format.  I’ve really broadened what I listen to because of my listeners. I always put listeners on-air when they call in, and get them involved in the show.

CKCU's DJ Digs Tell us about your work on the kids' Radio Camps at CKCU. What did you find inspiring about this work? What did the young participants learn from the experience?

CKCU’s Radio Camp 101 is absolutely amazing for anyone who, like myself, is in love with radio. Knowing myself as a kid – I know what radio-enthusiastic kids want. They want to be on the air, and they want to be heard. I’ve tailored much of the camp’s daily activities around that. I tend to work the camp in a way I would have wanted it when I was 9. 

They love having their parents hear them on a “real radio station.” I find it amazing and great there are still kids out there  who want to be on the radio. I think this is what has totally hooked me with the camp.

The camp is a week long and is aimed at the two-hour live show on the Friday of each week. Everything I have the kids do is aiming for the show on Friday. A week of production for a two hour show can be daunting – but I’ve managed to do it by simply letting the kids do what they love.

Day one we’ll play around with our voices, making them higher and lower, being robots and chipmunks. It gets them used to the software, and how to use it.  We then do interviews with Carleton students about whatever the kids come up with. Be that “do you  prefer Coke or Pepsi” or “What’s your favourite colour?” the kids always enjoy it – and so do the people they interview.

In a world where many people download their music and essentially program their own daily soundtrack, how can radio stay relevant?

I do think radio itself has become less relevant...for instance, almost everyone who listens to my show listens online via CKCU’s live stream. But how has radio changed? Take the Mixtape Marathon – I record it every week and put all my shows online so people can download and listen to a podcast of it when they please.

You get the “play, pause and fastforward and rewind” features in radio now. I think radio has become a more “on demand” type medium. For myself, the only time I listen to the radio is commuting in my car. I think this is slowly becoming the case for many people. On top of that most people have iPods or mp3 players they can plug into their cars – so radio has needed to shift to a more podcast-esque style to get those people who only listen to their iPod.

Did video kill the radio star?

It killed radio in the traditional sense. I think video moved radio to a “grab and go” medium.  Video made radio more like TV – tune in for specific programming, and save what you wan to watch for later. I always chuckle when I think that “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first music video to air on MTV.

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