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When the stay-at-home order went into effect in March (just as we had been planning to kick off our spring pledge drive), we didn't shut things down. As a media outlet, CHIRP is an essential service, and we knew that it would be a true test of our founding philosophy that radio, done well, can make you feel slightly less alone in the world -- that as our listeners were increasingly staying at home and keeping distant from friends and family, it was more important than ever before that we were there, providing a bit of normalcy, lifting up the voices of local artists, and keeping you connected to your community, letting you know how you could help.
It's definitely been a strange experience. While the CHIRP space wasn't bustling with activity every single second in normal times, you'd definitely be able to chat with the DJ coming in to replace you, and sometimes there would be numerous people in and out over the course of a shift. Now our policies are a strict one person in the studio at a time, with extremely minimal contact as one host steps in and the other exits. Our disinfecting process is rigorous and repetitive.
So what's it been like to DJ during a global pandemic? Here are some first person accounts from a few of our DJs:
Craig Reptile (DJ, Sundays 6-9pm, Assistant Music Director)
What many people don't know about DJ Craig Reptile is that I'm a hypochondriac, so when I initially heard reports about COVID-19 I would develop symptoms on the spot. Couple that with the fact that my wife works in a doctor's office, and it's no stretch to admit that when the lockdown was ordered in Illinois, I was legitimately scared to leave the house. Thanks to many volunteer DJs who substituted for me, I took a few months off from my radio show on Sunday nights. But what this "leave of absence" underscored was how much my radio show was a highlight of my week, and how much I missed being on the air and sharing great new and old music with CHIRP listeners. Driving to the studio for my first show back, I admit I was scared, but the "extreme disinfection" protocols in place in the offices and air studio put my mind at ease, and right away I received some emails from regular listeners that they were glad to have me back hosting Your Sunday Sonic Sundowner. Since then I've loved being back spinning music for CHIRP listeners.
Nikki Stout (DJ, Tuesdays 10-midnight, Blog Co-Editor)
At its most powerful, and in spite of all else, music gives us the opportunity to take control of our joy, our grief, our fears, and expel them in catharsis.
The privilege of hosting for a community each week where we tap into this power is certainly not lost on me. Because my show closes out our live broadcast each Tuesday, I feel particularly lucky to be in a position to help folks wind down their day. For those two hours, it’s incredibly humbling to know that the show that I curate is an invitation into many of my listeners’ homes.
Having a structured and novel event each week has given me the gift of community in a time when so many of us are starved for human contact. And that’s what radio is, really. It’s community and connection through thoughtfulness and creativity. It keeps me up-to-date with what local artists are doing, it encourages me to think globally in terms of influence and human experience, and it provides all of us listening with a common denominator regardless of location. We'll always have music.
Mike Nikolich (DJ Thursdays, 10 pm to midnight)
I belong to a demographic group that is vulnerable to COVID-19. When a doorman in my condominium died from the Coronavirus, I made the gut-wrenching decision to step down from my regular Friday afternoon shift. I continued to support CHIRP as a listener and music reviewer but missed being on the air. After I tested negative for COVID-19 and donated blood to the American Red Cross, I decided I was ready to return to the CHIRP airwaves, and committed to a regular Thursday evening shift in July. More than a dozen listeners welcomed me back during my first show. This made me realize that CHIRP is much more than a radio station – we are a passionate community of music lovers. I do not know when things will return to normal, but I believe CHIRP is having a huge impact on its listeners during this pandemic. I make a $25 recurring gift to CHIRP every month because I want the station to stay strong. CHIRP has been there for me – I want to be there for CHIRP!
Nicole Oppenheim (DJ, Wednesdays 12-3pm, Fridays 9am-noon)
CHIRP made the commitment to continue broadcasting live throughout the pandemic as a way to bring a sense of stability and normalcy to our listeners. Being on the air over the past six months has done the same for DJs. Every time I step behind the mic and play quality CHIRP music, I feel good. It sounds cliché, but the music lifts my spirits and the regularity of my shows are something I can still plan on when the pandemic has made all other plans short term at best. I'm proud to be part of a community organization that provides a solid connection for our listeners. I'm proud to be part of CHIRP!
Kevin Swallow (DJ, Mondays 6-8pm, Marketing Director):
Music has always been a place for me to feel connected to art and poetry and a creative inner world. These days it's even more important because of the unusual, anxious, uncertain time we live in. Pre-pandemic, when I was DJ-ing every Monday 6-8pm, the music department was also there adding new music to our library. The station felt alive with community radio volunteers hanging out, talking music, and connecting over music. With our current social distancing rules, they're not there in person on Mondays, but they're still doing their work behind the scenes and I'm still DJ-ing. It's that moment during the week when I can connect with music and discover new music and share that with other music lovers. Chicago has so much great culture and CHIRP has been an important part of that community for 10 years. It's meant a lot to me to be able to DJ each week and participate in that community when there's not a whole lot else that we can experience culturally right now.
Our DJs are here for you every day, no matter what else is going on in the world. We hope we all make you feel a little less alone and a little more connected.
There's just one more day in our fall fundraising drive. If you're able, please support live, local radio with real DJs who program their own shows. Make your donation here.
Thanks so much for inviting us into your lives!
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