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the speakeasy All Things Jazz

Erin | Umbrella Party

25 April 2009 Host Spotlight

by: Mari Frank

In Southern California we don’t have much use of umbrellas, but Erin Johnson thinks umbrellas are “awesome”. Well, we think she is one “awesome” DJ. Her music show Umbrella Party ran from June 2006 until just last month at the end of March 2009. But we don’t think she’ll be able to stay away from KUCI for long since she is family. Erin serves as Staff Coordinator on the KUCI management team and also writing for the New University student newspaper for the University of California, Irvine.

MARI: : Tell us how and when you came to KUCI?

ERIN: Back when I was a freshman floundering in the cultural wasteland of Irvine, I saw a flyer taped to the flagpole by the admin building on campus and stopped to look. I didn’t usually bother to read flyers, but this one said “HEY YOU” in big letters and, well, it was yelling at me, so I had to read it. A fellow named Sam Farzin had posted the flyer in hopes of finding other amateur musicians to make Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired music with, so I emailed him and we began talking. He had a show on KUCI and encouraged me to take the training class, which had just started. It sounded terrifying to a shy person like me, but also awesome, so I went for it and here I am.

MARI: : What’s the name of your show and how did you decide on that name? _

ERIN: My show was called Umbrella Party. It was made in a frenzy of last-minute just-passed-training worry as the deadline for applications approached, and it just stuck. I was paging through an Edward Gorey book and saw one of my favorite Gorey stories, “The Sopping Thursday,” in which a man loses his umbrella and his dog searches for it dutifully, and decided to use that somehow.

MARI: : How long have you had your show?

ERIN: I had my first show the summer of 2006, so almost three years now, minus a couple quarters. I started out at 3-6 am, was at 12-3am for a long time (Safe Harbor is fun) and eventually ended up at 8-10 pm.

MARI: : Do you have a website for the show- what is it? What will we find there?

ERIN: The website is at http://www.freewebs.com/horizon_eyes/. There you will find many hours of intensive HTML slavery and not much to show for it. I get bored and revamp it every so often! I’m leaving it up in hopes that someday I can use it again – though I don’t have a show during spring quarter, I have a feeling that I won’t be able to stay away from KUCI forever.

MARI: : Tell us about the music you play on your show

ERIN: At the beginning, my show was a willy-nilly mix of everything I felt like playing, whether that was hip-hop or country. You can kind of get away with that during the wee hours of the morning, but later as I moved on to better time slots I refined my show format and focused on new rock, playing a lot of new additions to the library. There were a lot of staples: Beirut, Joanna Newsom, Cloud Cult, Animal Collective, Andrew Bird, and my number one man, Elliott Smith.

MARI: : Describe the format of your show, and do you ever bring in live bands or guests?

ERIN: Sadly enough, I had the worst luck with my attempts to bring in bands and guests! I managed one interview in my three years at KUCI, and arranged to have a band play on my friend’s show while I was off the air, but never had a band on my own show. Some DJs just aren’t into the live deal, which is fine – it’s a lot of work and worry. But it’s also awesome when it happens, which unfortunately just didn’t occur for me.

MARI: : Who is your ideal listener?

ERIN: As a DJ at KUCI, I think that the ideal listener is the person who is trying really hard to deal with the monotony of Irvine and Orange County in general, and tunes in and finds something inspiring. I always tried to play music that I found beautiful or fun, music that made me dance in the studio by myself or sit quietly and listen.

MARI: : You’ve taken on the management role of KUCI Staff Coordinator. I know that’s a lot of work, what does that entail?

ERIN: For the uninitiated, a little bit about staff hours: to have a show on KUCI, staff members must complete 15 hours of work around the station in order to qualify. Compared to other stations that can require 25 or more hours, it’s not much. Staff hours could consist of working a KUCI booth at a fair, listening to an album to screen for obscenity, or taking over for a DJ who can’t make it to their show. As staff coordinator, I receive reports of work performed by staff members, organize the information, send it to our managers for confirmation, consolidate the information and post updated tallies. I also work out kinks when they occur.

MARI: : What do you like best about that job?

ERIN: I love seeing the kind of things that staff members are doing around the station. It really makes me happy to know that people care enough about KUCI to spend time delivering program guides to local businesses or representing our station at various events. I also like knowing something about everyone; we have a huge, constantly evolving staff and it’s tough to keep up with new faces, but as staff coordinator, you get a chance to learn all the new names and chat with staff members whom you probably wouldn’t have met at all otherwise.

MARI: : What have you learned about yourself, the job and others while working as staff coordinator?

ERIN: It’s not an easy job, and working with a large staff takes a lot of attention to detail and tact, even down to the right wording in an email. Any time you work with a hugely diverse group of people there will be triumphs and there will be problems, but the satisfaction comes with making things run smoothly for the group as a whole while still maintaining that personal connection, and addressing problems personally. You don’t want any one person to slip through the cracks and feel ignored, and you want everyone to feel as if they’re being treated equally.

MARI: : What’s most challenging about being Staff Coordinator?_
Laying down the law! I’m effectively the cop at KUCI, and have to call people out when there’s a problem and deny submitted work when it doesn’t check out. Like a cop, some people aren’t happy with me for raining on their parade, but it’s all in the name of justice.

MARI: : What effect would you like your music to have on the KUCI community?

ERIN: In my time as a DJ here, I hope that I’ve touched that ideal listener; I hope I’ve provided some sort of diversion, or inspiration, by playing tracks that I found inspiring myself.

MARI: : What do you want your legacy to be as a KUCI manager?

ERIN: I hope that everyone will remember me as proponent of equality. With a staff that’s so diverse in age, student status, walks of life and varied interests, you want to make sure that everyone is treated equally, no matter whether someone is fresh out of the training class or has been on the air for a few years. That takes some tough love, but I hope I’ve achieved it.

MARI: : You have been so wonderful and patient with me in submitting hours- I honor all your efforts and the many hours you devote to KUCI. If you could have a wish as a manager at KUCI, what would that be?

ERIN: As far as hours go, I wish that everyone would get far more acquainted with the rules, for their own sake. It doesn’t make me happy to deny someone hours they’ve submitted! I also hope that staff members realize that their work is valuable for the station; even the smallest things help us out a great deal. I don’t want anyone to feel as if their time has been spent performing useless busywork.

MARI: : What would you like to see happen in the future at KUCI?

ERIN: Of course I’d love to see KUCI become a booming success, up to its ears in listeners and support – financial and otherwise! I also hope that KUCI is able to continue providing this outlet for people and especially students who are just looking for something different, whether it be weird music or an interview with a little-known film director, and that KUCI will be able to continue its eternal rebellion against crappy stations that play 5 songs over and over.

MARI: : What are your dreams for your future career?

ERIN: I would love to continue working in radio or in music, supporting independent music behind the scenes, or in the arts in general. I currently work for both KUCI and the New University, UC Irvine’s student newspaper, and love both gigs. Radio, print, even grad school and research- how can I choose! I guess I’ll have to sometime. There are just too many interesting things a person can do in life._

MARI: : How has KUCI affected your life?

ERIN: KUCI has been a huge part of my life for the last three years. I’m not sure how I would have managed UCI without it, especially as a commuter who couldn’t depend on an on-campus housing situation to provide me with a community. It’s given me confidence, expanded my world musically and otherwise, and given me amazing friends that I adore. It’s my second home.

MARI: : What else do you want the UCI community and our listeners to know?

ERIN: I want to thank our listeners for tuning into our little musical corner of the county. KUCI is a true gem, and I deeply appreciate the support that listeners provide for our efforts. KUCI is a volunteer-run station, and no DJ receives a cent for manning the mic. It’s all out of love!

— April 25, 2009


Mari Frank is a local attorney and the host of Privacy Piracy, which airs every Wednesday from 5-6 PM on KUCI. She also presents the weekly public service announcements called “Orange County News and Safety Tips” sharing important safety reminders from our local Orange County sheriff.