University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Airplay

Written by Holden Slattery and J.D. Thrasher

On the desk are a flat-screen computer, four microphones, and a console board. “Okay, we’ve got a show to do!” exclaims DJ Andy Persky, as he and two other high schoolers gather around a desk in the control room of Pitt’s WPTS radio station.

“How do I turn the volume up in here?” Persky asks, looking toward the director’s table, where Pitt junior Jeffrey Pentuk is overseeing the broadcast.

“Use the studio button on the board. Red,” Pentuk replies, guiding the teenagers through another technical detail of broadcasting. The budding DJs are attending the Pitt radio station’s annual summer camp for high school students.

Persky presses a few buttons to turn on the studio microphones, and—just like that—the teens are on the air for all of Pittsburgh to hear. “You’re listening to 92.1 WPTS,” Persky says. Then his partners introduce themselves by their DJ names—Preacher’s Kid and Alexis—and they play a song.

“Hey, turn the volume down,” Pentuk advises the DJ team, pointing to the VU meter, a dial that measures the volume of songs on the airways. It’s in the red area, which means the song might sound distorted to listeners.

Pentuk, a double major in accounting and economics, started working for the student-operated WPTS earlier this year and discovered he had a knack for radio. He became the station’s music director in April and jumped into the role by searching for new sources of music, talking to promoters from record labels, and reviewing CDs for possible airplay. He also hosted a two-hour show every week. And now, during the five-week camp, he is introducing teens like Persky to the world of studio DJs.

On the camp show, it’s time for a mike break—the time between songs when DJs talk. Persky begins by naming the title and artist of the song he just played: “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” by Wilco.

“He sounds like a stalker,” Preacher’s Kid chimes in, leaning toward her microphone. “He sounds like he throws rocks at people’s windows at

3 o’clock in the morning.”

Then, she turns toward Persky. “You probably throw rocks at people’s windows,” she teases.

“I don’t throw rocks at anyone!” Persky declares as he makes a quick transition for the listening audience: “I’m going to play some Rolling Stones for you now, because I’m getting barraged with stones of verbal abuse.” At the director’s table, Pentuk laughs, amused by the exchange.

On the last day of camp, Persky passes the WPTS board test, which is required of anyone who wants to host a show on the station. Already, he is talking about the possibility of hosting a radio show when he goes to college next year and maybe even pursuing a career in radio. Before the day ends, Pentuk gives him a gift—a CD recording of Persky’s own mike breaks, which the teen can use to start his radio portfolio for future gigs.

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