Hey, Mr. DJ

Matt Herbst, senior in software engineering, spins at the KURE radio station on Tuesday August 26, 2008 on the ground floor of Friley. Photo: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Matt Herbst, senior in software engineering, spins at the KURE radio station on Tuesday August 26, 2008 on the ground floor of Friley. Photo: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Sarah Haas

Matt Herbst, senior in software engineering, never fantasized about having his own radio show as a child.

“I had never really considered being on the radio, and then one of my old roommates started working for the [KURE] as a sound engineer and always asked me for help picking out music, and the opportunity to host a show just presented itself,” Herbst said.

Now entering his fourth semester as a disc jockey on Iowa State’s student run radio station, KURE 88.5, Herbst plays an eclectic collection of jazz during his weekly two-hour show. All of the records he plays are on vinyl and are chosen from the radio station’s collection of hundreds of titles.

Upon arriving in the small recording studio nestled in the basement of Friley Hall among dorm and conference rooms, Herbst said he picks out “some favorites for the beginning of the show,” such as Oliver Nelson and His Orchestra, Stanley Clarke and Tommy Dorsey.

And unlike other DJs, Herbst said he does not predetermine which records he is going to play before arriving in the studio.

“I don’t choose everything beforehand because the vinyl section is not as well-organized as the other formats, and so I constantly discover new music while I’m there in the studio because I don’t really know what’s all there,” Herbst said.

After setting up he grabs the microphone, a pair of headphones, flips on the on-air switch and introduces himself as Matt Herbst and explains the purpose of his radio show, The Vinyl Grabbag. Even though other DJs use made-up nicknames, Herbst opted to use his real name.

“I wasn’t creative enough to pick a cool DJ name,” he said.

Between hourly weather reports and occasional public service announcements, the public relations director collects and places beside the control panel, Herbst takes requests from listeners.

“There are lots of weird requests for bands I’ve never heard of because we’re an alternative radio station, but I have only been able to honor two requests because I play only vinyl records — so either I can’t find it or our collection is missing it,” Herbst said.

Yet he and the other DJs encourage ISU students and the Ames community to call the radio station and make requests.

Even if Herbst is unable to locate a particular title, he wants to “maintain a conversation with the audience,” so he alerts the callers if he is unable to find the vinyl record in question and assures them he will play it next week if it is located.

On occasion, Herbst said, something goes wrong on the air.

“I don’t feel like the audience is all that wide and I think it’s a college radio, so when I do slip up I go on and say ‘Hello, welcome back to KURE, your college radio station,’” Herbst said. “I make sure to stress the college part so people remember it’s all volunteer.”

Herbst’s first radio show did not go as smoothly as he had hoped. There were short spurts of dead air and quick jumps to a jazz CD he had placed in the player as back-up music.

“I didn’t realize how long it would take me to find the vinyl and get it checked out and make sure it wasn’t scratched or something,” he said.

When DJs like Herbst are no longer scheduled for the day, a computer named “The Autobot” takes over. Complete with a human-like robotic voice, the computer is programmed by the music director and other staff members who continually add songs to a large list of music to ensure songs are not replayed.

“The best thing about the computer is that it says things like ‘Why don’t we play more Kompressor occasionally,” Herbst said. “It’s great. Plus it is programmed to say all of the station announcements and things so someone doesn’t have to man the station at all times.”