Allen is a second-semester disc jockey for WXYC, UNC’s student-run radio station. He works every Sunday from midnight to 3 a.m. Alone in the equipment-filled room with 70,000 records lining the walls, Allen has had to entertain listeners in the early hours of the morning since his first semester, a ritual all new DJs have to go through.
“When you’re a freshman you have to do graveyard shifts when you feel like nobody’s awake,” Allen said. “It ruins your sleep schedule.”
New DJs have to work for three-hour shifts between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m., while second-semester DJs often work midnight to 3 a.m. From their first session on air, they’re left on their own to play a set.
“It was crazy but awesome,” Allen said. “Sometimes it’s harder at 3 to 6 in the morning when you want to avoid yawning on the radio, but you’re really tired.”
Junior DJ Lorraine Besse, a French exchange student, had the 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. shift every Tuesday in the fall. It took her a month to adapt to the sleep rhythm.
“I try to sleep a little bit before and after, but it feels like you’ve been awake two days in a row,” she said. “I had a class at 8 a.m. so I would finish at 6 a.m., go back to sleep and then go to class.”
A P2P bus route map is pinned on the notice board in the station, reflecting the concern for DJs like Besse who have to walk home at night.
“It’s scary at first, walking around in the quiet campus, but the station is safe and we have a code to open the door,” Besse said. “It’s actually really peaceful.”
However, their solitude is often broken by callers who request songs, or in Besse’s case, question her nationality.
“I got a bunch of calls about my accent,” Besse said. “When I play French music, I pronounce it really correctly, so I guess they picked up on it.”
Junior Grant Bisher, WXYC programming director, said there are a few weird callers who call in the middle of the night.
“We have this guy whom we call ‘robot guy.’ He’s a prank caller who would tell us that we were robots, and we had to uninstall ourselves from the radio,” Bisher said. “He was like a local legend.”
Bisher has worked for WXYC since his freshman year. He said new DJs were given these shifts to learn under minimal pressure.
“It’s like a trial period to make sure they are dedicated to the radio and willing to wake up at 3 a.m. to do a three-hour show,” he said.
The solitude is one of sophomore DJ Phia Sennett’s favorite experiences. Working from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. every Thursday, Sennett said she enjoys wondering about her listeners.
“It’s not the most popular time of the day, so the most interesting thing for me is to think about the people who are up and why they’re up,” she said.
The station hires 14 to 17 new DJs every semester, including summer sessions.
Early shifts might be physically tiring, but Besse, who will be doing her last show in Chapel Hill in May, takes advantage of the solitude.
“If there was one amazing moment, it would be the dance session that you have at 3 a.m. when no one can see you,” she said. “You just play your music and dance around.”