At 6 a.m., ALICE's morning disc jockey, DC McGee, stands in front of a huge hanging microphone, bends his legs slightly and positions them one in front of the other as if he is about to begin a race. He belts out his morning intro, pushes a few buttons that add sound effects that are muted to anyone inside the small studio, and then fingers a computer screen. I hear familiar music invade the room. DC turns toward me and finishes a sentence he had begun before he broadcast the introduction of his morning show. All of these actions occur within about a minute; he flows right through the motions even though I am an obvious deterrent to his normal routine. I had laughed a little to myself when I first saw his serious, race-like stance at the mike, but now realize that a race may have been exactly what DC was preparing for. The beginnings of broadcast at ALICE, seem like just that - a race.
KLAL of Wrightsville, Arkansas airs one of the most popular and newest editions to the Little Rock radio scene, ALICE 107.7. With a program designed for adults 18-35, Alice parades itself as the only truly Pop Alternative station in Little Rock. When ALICE first aired, they boomed into the central Arkansas area by playing non-stop Alternative music for an entire week. The music wasn't the usual teeny-bopper stuff played on many of the softer rock stations, nor did it include the heavy metal thrashings of the harder rock stations. This move in itself gained ALICE an enormous crew of listeners. Since that time, a little over a year ago, ALICE continues to expand its listening audience by not adapting to the norm set by other radio stations. They don't submit to playing whatever the hottest hits happen to be; they simply play Alternative rock. They do not play the Backstreet Boys, Motley Crue, Shania Twain, or Mariah Carey. Instead, they stick to artists like Everclear, Joan Osborne, Jewel, and Sixpence None the Richer. The DJ's announce that ALICE is "music for the rest of us." Although this selectivity may exclude some listeners at particular times when a certain non-Alternative song is "all the rage," selectivity also gains ALICE many long-term fans.
DC understands his station's choices and talks about them openly with some pride. "We've forced several stations to change their program, but we've never changed ours to what they're doing." This anomaly appears fantastic to me because their program is run by only four people. DC calls it "the four man show" which includes him, their Program Director, Rob Walker, the midday jock Nikki Cruise, and the night disc jockey Neil Kelley. DC describes the program as low-budgeted, but sophisticated in that it is able to pull off such a tremendous effort with only four people.
In order to do all the things that need to be done at a radio station, the disc jockeys double up on their jobs. Rob Walker, who is also called Sometimes Rob (he sometimes shows up on the morning show with DC), has recently taken over the afternoon show, along with acting as the Program Director. Nikki Cruise constructs the midday show while handling production and all commercials - one of the toughest parts of radio, says DC. Neal Kelley schedules all the music while running the night show. From midnight to six a.m., the music is set on automatic, allowing the computer to run the show. So maybe ALICE is really a five-man show; the computer seems to be doing a lot of work.
In a small 12th-floor cubicle layered with a few posters and important memos for radio staff, DC runs a morning show that in most radio stations would include at least two or three people. At ALICE, however, things are a bit simpler. DC uses hours, sometimes days he says to plan a show that will consist of only him. Lately, Channel 4 news reporter, Paula Hennesy, has joined the show, popping in at intervals to relay the news and take part in casual conversations with DC and his listeners. On this morning, I sit behind them while Paula, DC, and various callers participate in a segment DC titles "True Confessions." As usual, DC begins this program with his own confession: he gave his wife another woman's flowers. On the air, Paula reprimands him while callers give various forms of advice about how to deal with the situation. Off the air Paula questions him, "DC, did you make that up or are you for real?"
DC leans back in his chair, chuckles and reports, "No, Man, I really did it. I'm feelin' guilty about it too." They then joke about a caller who mentioned buying flowers at a "Super Wal-Mart."
Although DC and Paula joke about various callers (as would be expected), DC is appreciative of his callers, knowing that they are the livelihood of his show. Early in the morning, he feeds into their wants, trying to get them to call in, attempting to "get them going." He plans shows that he thinks might interest people in the show. Unlike some talk shows, he does not try to offend his listeners or say things "just to get a rise."
Throughout his phone calls and brief monologues a variety of controls abound the room. One monitor shows constant weather updates, while another lists inside little boxes the song being played as well as the next five songs that will air. This computer controls all the music that is heard on the air, sound bites, and commercials. The computer makes the jock's life simpler. "There is no way for a jock to play the wrong cut," DC says. They rarely use the old fashion tracks because all of the more current music has been loaded into the computer.
In front of the D.J. is a sound adjuster, so that the D.J. can control various sounds as they are aired. Right in front of the D.J. on duty is a small glass divider that separates the D.J. from various guests who might be on the show. The guest must stand up directly across from the D.J. as they talk into a hanging mike slightly smaller than the D.J.'s own. For Paula and DC this set-up seems to be ideal; they get to look directly at one another as in a regular conversation. This design may be part of the reason that their conversations and interactions are just that - regular conversations between regular people.
DC says that he enjoys that part of the show - the honesty and normal conversations are what make the show enjoyable and attractive. His callers are real and he airs them live. When asked about how he manages the possibility of obscene or irate callers he says, "I don't worry about it. I'm just that good. I'm ready for them. If someone did get through and start going off, I'd just immediately disconnect them. I keep my finger on the disconnect button for people I'm not quite comfortable with. If someone did get through and manage to say a few things, I'd just immediately disconnect them and then star 69 them and say, 'Hey man, what's your problem?'"
Like DC, ALICE sports experienced D.J.s that can handle these kinds of interactions with callers and guests. Nikki, the midday jock, has been with the program since the very beginning. She worked at the station even before the station was Alice. And Rob, the program director, moved from St. Louis where he worked as the Creative Director for a radio station also called ALICE. The show is open to interns, but DC says that they usually don't work out. He says that they come for a few months, work real hard, and then get mad because they can't join the team full time. He said that there are just not any full positions open right now, but that most of the interns do get paid at one time or another. Although there have been bumps in the program for interns, ALICE is currently looking for new interns. Walker hopes that nothing will discourage interns from applying.
DC makes it sound like a job within radio is a difficult one to obtain, but his own personal history goes against this norm. A Cabot native, DC went to Arkansas State to play football. He continued on to the University of Guam and then came back to the Arkansas not knowing what he should do with his life. Out of mere chance, he ran into radio personality Craig O'Neal at an audition for a Brian Bosworth movie. He asked O'Neal how he would go about getting into radio. O'Neal told him to just go down to the station and fill out an application. Although O'Neal had just met DC, he said that DC could put him down as a reference. Eight months later, this interaction proved beneficial when DC got a callback from KKYK for a position performing in one of the night spots. Since then his career as flourished rapidly, leading to his current hot spot as a morning show D.J.
In a small office within an even smaller studio, the radio station, ALICE, grows and develops. A part of Citadel Communications along with other radio stations like Power 92, B98.5, and K-Love, ALICE creates its place among the radio giants of Central Arkansas. It does this through real interaction among people, dedicated listeners, and even more dedicated D.J.'s. ALICE's listeners would never guess that their perky morning D.J. is sweating in a room that is hot from a night without air-conditioning. They would never guess that the D.J.'s to which they listen scramble around the office, performing numerous tasks to keep the station going. They too, might not guess, that as soon as DC gets off the air, Paula tells him about a new car she is planning to buy or teases him about some "not-so-refined" caller. But then again, none of that stuff really matters. What matters to listeners is that ALICE sounds good, stays real, playing what they like, while it continues to lead "the race" in the radio market.