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DJs of the World



 DJs in Class

Tim Tharp - DJzone staff writer

I graduated from Montana State University in the spring of 1993 with a bachelors degree in mathematics education and a minor in history and moved to rural Montana to raise my family. As Montana's teaching salaries are ranked 48th in the nation, I needed some way to supplement my income; so in the fall of 1996, I answered an ad to be an on-air-personality at the local country music radio station. During the next year, the radio station received several phone calls from schools in northeast Montana asking if we had any station DJs who did Proms. Coincidentally, I was also junior class advisor that year and my kids ended up hiring a 16 year old kid to drive nearly 600 miles across the state at a cost of nearly $700 to DJ. After the radio station received a couple more phone calls the following year, I was convinced that there was a need in the area for an affordable alternative to bringing people in from the other side of the state. (And Montana is a BIG state!)

With the blessing of my wife, during Christmas break in 1997, I invested $1000 into some basic equipment, realizing that if this venture fell on it's face, I would have a lot bigger home stereo system than we ever figured on buying! I bought a 100 watt amp, 14 channel mixer/equalizer, dual cassette deck, 25 disc CD changer, a personal sized CD player, and two 12 inch speakers. Believe it or not, this is all I had for my first prom in Bainville, Montana. Since before this, I still had not purchased a CD player, all of my personal music was on cassette, so unless I did a class reunion dance from the 1980's I was severely lacking. I asked for requests a month before the dance, spent about another $200 on music, and borrowed lots of CDS from my students. Needless to say, I struggled the entire night trying to read the crowd, figure out my equipment, and deal with requests that I didn't have. Through the night I said several things that I would never say again. They include: "Sure, look through my music to find something you like." and "If you can bring me the CD, I'll play it."

By the end of the night, I was wondering where in my living room I was going to put my speakers, since I never figured I would try that again. But to my surprise, several of the kids went out of their way to thank me and the chaperones said that it was one of the best proms they had recently put on. Knowing what I know now, I feel sorry for what those kids had put up with before!

Today, I have the same basic system but have added another personal CD player and a bigger amp, and four additional 15" speakers. I also have a pretty extensive light show with miscellaneous devices, including a fog machine, mounted on 4 ADJ LTS-9 poles. And in the last 30 months, I have gone from not owning a CD to having over 7000 songs.

As I am a high school teacher I have an "in" with many of the local schools when it comes to booking school dances. My other jobs also allow me to be around the kids more often and get me more exposure. In addition to teaching, I am a sports broadcaster, local teachers' union president, volleyball referee, and baseball coach. This gets me around quite a bit to many of the schools in the region and allows me to get to know other teachers and administrators in addition to the students. I'm not sure how many extra gigs I can account to my familiarity with the people in my area, but I can definitely say that it makes things run much smoother at the site.

The fact that I am a teacher affects my show because I know exactly what I would consider allowable if I were the chaperone. I do not play anything that has objectionable or suggestive lyrics, and I know that the chaperones at the dance appreciate the fact that they don't have to worry about it. Because I spend so much time around students, I am able to stay much more current with the music. In fact, during the time in class that I allow students to do their homework, I preview music in my CD-ROM and monitor their reaction to various artists and music. Other times I'll ask them exactly how they feel about a particular song and if they would want it played at their dance or not.

Working in the schools has also affected my marketing strategies as well. Since I teach in a small district, I have a chance to see all of the information that other DJs send to my school, and I can find out how other staff members respond to what they see. I also have a good idea what I would be looking for as a class advisor. It has also been very beneficial for me to get to know the kids within their other activities because in more than one situation, I have gone to referee a basketball game and met the person who hired me over the phone. (I assure them that I am a better DJ than referee!) And the advisors know that when they hire me, they don't need to worry about me showing up in torn clothes, arriving late, swearing over the microphone, playing objectionable music, or many of the other inappropriate things some colleagues in our business do.

All in all, these two jobs have been very complementary, although there are some pitfalls that I am trying to avoid. I would rather not become the exclusive DJ for my local school. In a small town, it wouldn't look right if I were trying to get the lock on the market. But if I continue to get hired because I am the best DJ they can find for a reasonable price, that's great!




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