Every program on WFMU is a unique mixture of loam and silt, manure and peat, each lovingly tended to to bring the finest harvest of ephemera, flotsam and mixed metaphor that can be guaranteed. In this installment Debbie D explains what makes her garden grow.
Beastin' the Airwaves! evolved over a period of fifteen years from a deep, personal love of music and art, and a community of artists and friends that I discovered in my hometown. Some DJs are more comfortable or subscribe to the belief that there should be a wall between the DJ on one side of the airwaves and the listener on the other. My goal has always been to expand the beautiful community I am a part of in Brooklyn into a worldwide community with no borders or boundaries. I am an open book. There is nothing mysterious about my DJ persona. It's just me, how I happen to be on that day; sharing beauty and imperfection naturally as it flows. What I get in return is the same from listeners and artists.
As a small child, even preverbal, I was deeply moved by music. A beautiful classical piece or a Celine Dion ballad would cause me to burst into tears. The Shirelles, Salt 'N Pepa, and Bikini Kill gave me grrrl power at the age of two. Then I discovered Greasy Kid Stuff with Hova and Belinda on WFMU. I knew I had found my home. I became a regular part of the Greasy community, and my dream to meet my favorite DJs and have them interview me was fulfilled in 2002. My house and my life were filled with music from before I was born. So it was a natural progression that I would start going to all ages shows as a young teen.
My freshman year of High School, when I was fourteen years old, I was invited by some cooler, older kids (juniors) to an all ages show in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Just the idea of it made me feel grown up and a little dangerous and excited. I was a jeans and t-shirts girl. But I got my hair did, put on a sexy shirt complete with flashy jewelry and makeup. Before I left the house, my parents called me to the dining room and said they had something important they needed to share with me before I left. They told me that I may encounter situations that night that were unfamiliar and possibly scary to me, so they wanted me to be prepared. They proceeded to teach me (using a pencil as a prop) how to pass a joint in a calm, relaxed way, without having to actually smoke it or look frightened by it. They also taught me how to casually and inconspicuously pour a little bit of my drink into another cup or a random indoor ficus. That night ended up being as exciting and scary and thrilling as I anticipated, plus some. I experienced my first kiss, had sweaty punks climbing all over me as I moshed for the first time, and was involved in my first movie-style bar fight; ending in furniture flying through a window, and a ride home from the actor Steve Buscemi. Beat that! That first night out introduced me to a community of artists and lovers of music & art who have become my home away from home, my inspiration, my family.
Read more about Keili's radio show below the fold...
I desperately wanted the world to feel the love and excitement for life that I was feeling in discovering this community. I wrote Brian Turner an email with an idea for a show. He offered me a listener hour. I prepared for over a month for that one hour of programming. I went around to all the bands that I loved that played All Ages shows in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and asked them to send me music. Most of them had no recordings, so they recorded something for me in their bedroom on Garage Band or took the audio off of video someone took of a live show they played. I also interviewed a fourteen year old show promoter, who curated all ages shows in the speakeasy of her parents' Fort Greene mansion. I typed up my playlist and a script of all the comments that I wanted to make about the music and the artists. My script was color coded and detailed (pictured left). It was my bible. The name "Beastin' the Airwaves!" was adopted from something the dean of my High School would yell at kids in the hallways. He would shout, "Why you beastin' the hallways?!" Since I was just loitering at WFMU for one hour, I decided to call my listener hour "Beastin' the Airwaves!" and made a recording of my dean yelling at me "Keili, why you beastin'?!" The listener hour was so much fun and went so quickly that I caught the bug immediately. The next day I wrote Ken Freedman, the program director, and asked him when I could start a show. He said I had to audition, I responded with a confused "I thought that was my audition..." Recently, he admitted that because of my sheer tenacity, he listened to my listener hour and actually liked it. So I made an audition tape, did a couple of fill-ins, and then finally landed a show.
For the first year, I still wrote up my color-coded script and tried to follow it thoroughly. But life isn't scripted, and neither is DJ work. Technical difficulties, equipment malfunctions, live performance no-shows, and exhaustion brought about an evolution in the way that I approach my shows, which is much more natural, imperfect, flexible, and genuine. I spent the first year crying during most of my shows when I wasn't on the air, because I had no idea what I was doing, I was terrified, and there were shows that, because of technical difficulties and inexperience, I had to resort to playing whole Radiohead albums. I even sometimes caught my own falls by back-announcing, "what you WOULD HAVE heard if the CD was working was...". But the community expanded, was welcoming and loving, and I often felt like it was the listeners who carried me, and not me who gave something to the listeners. Yet, at the end of that first year, through the community created in my imperfect but genuine approach to radio, music, and art, listeners showed their gratitude in the form of amazing Marathon Pledges and praise.
Now, everything I experience in life becomes a seed idea of a new weekly show feature. Even negative experiences have been turned into fun features on my show. The Beastin' Boyfriend Application (BBA) segment of my show is a result of being stalked by a listener and also a joke about a song I played on the air. The Boyfriend Application not only gives potential stalkers an outlet for their "admiration", but it also is another opportunity to have fun interactions with listeners, and to break down the wall even further.
Nowadays, I never know how a show will evolve, and I've come to love and accept that, instead of trying to control it. Some weeks I come in with my whole show planned to the last detail. Other weeks I come in and listen to everything I can possibly listen to in the new bin in the WFMU record library, find the connections that are my own, and start cueing up records.
Another huge component of the enjoyment of Beastin' the Airwaves! for me is live guests. Having live guests in is a huge undertaking at WFMU. A DJ must secure a spot on the studio schedule that works for the band, a volunteer engineer and the DJ (that's the first miracle). We have to find an engineer who is willing and able to take the time to mix and master a live session, and we have to host the session as we would having guests in to our home. We feed them out of our own pockets. We find a way to get along and negotiate. It is an invaluable learning experience to do this part of the job. It really teaches you how to stay calm through all sorts of craziness and whacky hijinx. We are dealing with artists. Some are extremely detail oriented and consciencious. Some are into the the rock n roll party life, show up late, hungover or still drunk, say the most inappropriate things you could think of to a teenage girl, and then blast out the best fucking rock n roll music you ever heard. I work really hard to secure as many quality live guests as possible. And by "quality", I don't just mean good music, I mean their personal connection to music and art as a religion and not for the sole purpose of profit. No matter what happens during a show, the most important thing is that we, as a community, are experiencing love, joy, laughter, sadness, desire, and rage together, and making the world a little bit smaller.
So, as far as that wall between the DJ and the listener is concerned, and the concept of DJ as omniscient giver of taste to the people. I say hah! You've come to the wrong show for that. What I do know is what I like, what sounds good to me, what moves me, and what I hope moves listeners in some way. I have a bad memory for names, dates and interstitial facts. I just want to go on a journey with you, road trip style. Sometimes I'm driving. Sometimes you are. But it's always a fun experience. It doesn't matter if you're four or twenty-seven or eighty years old; no matter what culture, sex, or how much money you've got, every human being has something to teach. We learn from each other.
So, duuudes and grrrls, come be a part of the beastin' community! Check out my archives and say hey to me and the other listeners live during my show on the playlist chat. Here's a behind-the-scenes video. Find and friend me on facebook (hint: my name is Deejay Keili Wfmu). And don't forget to "like" Beastin' the Airwaves!'s facebook page, where I'll be posting sneak preview videos of upcoming live sessions with bands and keep you updated on general beastiness. And also also also, follow me on twitter: @DJKeiliWFMU.
I love you, Gaylord!