My first one was Jewel’s ‘Pieces of You”… second grade.

I took the steps down the stairs into the basement of Todd Union one at a time, remembering that first CD I bought and wondering just how much I was about to embarrass myself. For the virtually unskilled musician and relatively amateur music listener, the WRUR studio is an intimidating place.

A thick door separates the studio from the familiar mailroom of Todd, serving as a barrier to keep in the creative vibe, but once you step over the threshold, it’s apparent you’ve entered into an ‘artsy” lair. The WRUR space is divided into a maze of tiny rooms, and they seem to make ample use of every square foot. That includes filing cabinet doors, where stickers from bands are plastered over the entire surface area and shelves, where towers of CDs are stacked … everywhere.

That’s where I was on Tuesday night, ready to talk music, DJing and just about everything else with the hosts of The Mike and Zack Jazzy Time Hour.

And it turns out that the Jazzy Time Hour has nothing to do with jazz. Its hosts prefer more of the indie rock scene, and the set that night would include the likes of the Dodos, the Flaming Lips and Spoon, with a little Aretha Franklin added in for soul.

‘Hey there it’s different radio,” senior Mike Thompson began a little after 8 p.m., referring to WRUR’s tag line. Thompson is the ‘Mike” in the title equation, a Chicago native who seems to fit that Midwestern mold to a tee. He’s genial, talkative but polite, and his humor almost catches you off guard.

Senior Zach Taschman is Thompson’s friend, housemate and co-host. He is a local Rochesterian with that delayed, off-beat comic timing of a Justin Long character. When I arrived on Tuesday night, he was sitting on his MacBook Pro, calmly shuffling through his library of music and preparing the playlist for the night.

The pair is picky about that. The playlist has to be perfect each week.

‘You don’t want to become the White Stripes guy that just plays one song every show,” Thompson explained.

Fair enough. So instead, there are rules: You don’t put a band in if they were played the week before and you don’t play a song if you’ve played it in the last year or so.

‘We’re kind of messed up like that,” Thompson said.

‘Yeah we don’t want to disappoint our millions of listeners out there,” Taschman added with a grin.

They estimate that their real audience is comprised of ‘people driving around who happen to tune in,” the random old crazy man who will call into the station, a handful of encouraging friends and, mostly, their parents. At one point in the show, Thompson’s dad chimed in over instant messenger (the station has a screen name so people can request songs) that they should play ‘Lifeboat.” None of us knew who that was.

As the hour long show continued on, I couldn’t quite understand how Mike and Zack stayed so at ease. Taschman periodically called out, ‘Oh, we have to go on in 10 seconds,” and they would stop our conversation, Thompson would fade out the music, the pair would talk as if they had something scripted and then go right back into the music.

There were no nerves, and the term mistake seems to be just plain useless in radio vernacular at WRUR: listeners forget, the show goes on and the music takes center stage anyway.

‘They don’t want it to be talk radio,” Taschman said. ‘It’s a music station unless they have on NPR.”

And that’s perfect for why Mike and Zack got started DJing in the first place. It’s all about the music.

But while the co-hosts were focused on the art, I was nervously checking my watch, then both the DJs, to make sure that I knew that they knew the time left. Then my eyes would slide across the desk to the other clock on a touch-screen computer (that’s the one that matters), then finally to the digital clock that was 10, maybe 11 minutes fast, located on ‘the board.”

Ah yes, ‘the board”: a set of musical controls that handle microphone volume, song volume and at least four other things. It served as the focal point to the warmly lit recording studio. It’s large, about the size of a sheet pizza, and relatively flat like one, too. Thompson mans it most nights for the show, while Taschman sits on the other side of the U-shaped desk, queuing up the music.

‘Hey, could you skip the song,” Thompson interrupted casually while we were off on a tangent about the indie cultural movement.

‘Fade it down,” Taschman responded.

We went on talking.

Being on the air seems to be different than other performance experiences. For the shier, more self-conscious person, it’s liberating. You are faceless, almost un-attributable. For the gregarious talker, it’s enthralling there are always people there to listen. For Mike and Zack, it’s an opportunity.

‘It’s a way to play what you like,” Taschman said. ‘It’s just nice. It’s fun because I’m into music. That’s the only reason.”

Taschman and Thompson have been doing it here at WRUR for almost four years. Their first show, ‘Triple Threat,” was a three-person foray into their musical tastes. And you could argue that, minus the extra co-host, not much has changed. It’s still the same genre, the same quirky on-air personalities. But maybe it’s the ways that it is the same that actually suggest change.

For DJs at WRUR, it’s all about the sharing of music about tipping listeners off to different songs, different bands, different radio. And on Tuesday night, the playlist that went out across the WRUR airwaves was hand-picked, fresh and different.

‘Was it good? Was it not good?” Thompson asked his listeners toward the close of the show.

‘You be the judge radio land,” Taschman answered. ‘You be the judge.”

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.



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