Newswise — HAMMOND – To former disc jockey and rock music historian Dr. Joseph Burns, the only thing that matters in the world of radio is your next show.
And although the Southeastern Louisiana University communication professor no longer sits at a mic full time, he gets his weekly fix spinning records and hosting “Rock School,” a program on rock ‘n’ roll history that airs twice weekly on the university’s public radio station, KSLU-90.9 FM.
What started as a fund-raising gimmick several years ago – Burns donated $50 for an hour to talk rock music on the station – has evolved into a highly anticipated weekly broadcast in which Burns and his sidekick and former student Chad Pierce focus on little-known facts around a topic, group or artist and showcase associated classical rock music. The program this year has been recognized with an International Communicator Award of Excellence.
The Communicator Awards is the largest and most competitive awards program honoring creative excellence by communication professionals. The awards are judged and overseen by the International Academy of Visual Arts, an organization of more than 200 professionals from various disciplines dedicated to the progress and evolving nature of traditional and interactive media.
“When Chad invited me to participate in a fund drive, I had not been on the radio for a long, long time,” said Burns, who started as a freshman DJ at WWNW, the student-staffed radio station at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa. “I attacked it. I played the music I wanted to play and talked about the songs. It all came back to me. When it’s in your blood, you have to do it. It’s the heroin of media.”
Burns and Pierce – known as “Chad P” on air – pitched the idea of a regular show to station General Manager Todd Delaney, who agreed to give the program a run on Sunday afternoons.
"That time slot is death for a radio show,” Burns said. “But we decided we were going to put on a helluva show to the point where he (Delaney) would want to put it on at a better time.”
Burns, who programs and edits the show himself, admits he is not a good solo host on the radio and wanted Pierce as his partner.
“As a professional, I was a morning man and always worked with someone,” said Burns, who also serves as graduate coordinator for the university’s Organizational Communication master’s program. “I need another human being for feedback. Chad is the ‘every man.’ He asks the questions the audience is thinking.
“Chad also understands that on the show I’m the dominant voice; you just can’t have two dominant people,” Burns added.
“My job on the show is to make Joe look good,” said Pierce, who works as underwriter for KSLU. “There’s no getting around it, he is the knowledge base of the show, but he needs someone who can respond and bounce questions off him. I’m able to do that and put my own generational spin on things. That makes Rock School much more educational.”
In preparing for the show, Burns works up a play list of at least 14 songs, knowing he’ll probably play nine or 10. While avoiding a script, he arms himself with numerous facts and figures about the artist and group being profiled or the topic up for discussion.
“Joe is a preparer, a musical encyclopedia,” explained Pierce. “I purposefully don’t prepare for the show. We find our delivery works best when I sit down not knowing what we’re talking about because then you get an honest to goodness reaction from me. It makes the delivery very natural.”
In picking the music, Burns looks for balance.
“I try to select something a little different than the group’s most popular song,” he said. “I usually don’t go with the hit. On the other hand, I could fill the show with avant garde music that wouldn’t be worth listening to. So you have to throw in the familiar piece every so often. Hits are like re-runs on TV; people like them because they’re comfortable.”
Rock School has aired nearly 285 shows with no duplication of topics. Many are tied to events such as the anniversary of Woodstock or holidays like Halloween. Burns has notes and ideas for many more in his briefcase and on sticky notes throughout his office, and occasionally he gets topic suggestions from fans, especially through the Rock School page on Facebook. From time to time, Rock School will feature guests ranging from a university historian who specializes in British history to a plasma physicist to a librarian, all bringing insights into music from their specific areas of expertise.
In addition to the KSLU broadcast, the hour-long program is streamed live over KSLU.org every Thursday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. (CST) and airs on four affiliate stations, including the LSU radio station, KLSU in Baton Rouge, and a station in Salamanca, Spain. An archive of all episodes can be found on the KSLU web site.
Photo available at www.selu.edu