Graham Smith, a senior in communication studies, goes by Dr. John Zazu on air, but you can call him Dr. John.
Production assistant and on-air radio disc jockey for WUTK's "The Rock" radio station, Smith is in no way a doctor like his name implies, but he does have a passion for performing surgery on music charts and dissecting the best albums for songs to air for listeners on campus and the Knoxville community.
"Just being Dr. John Zazu, it's like an alternate persona for me," Smith said of his favorite part of working at WUTK. "It's probably just the goofy side of me. A lot of people say the voice doesn't sound like it would come out of me, but I feel like it's just me talking normal. I try to be energetic and get people into it."
When Smith first started out at "The Rock," he started as a disc jockey as many other students at the radio do so as to fulfill an out-of-class requirement for the JREM 175 class. Shiela Hawkins, office manager at WUTK, read Smith's admission essay and let him in as a DJ.
"When he first came on he was very technical, and I think that's why he became so good," Hawkins said. "He wanted to learn exactly how to do it and what to do so once he learned that he started to become his own person and he became his own personality."
DJs are required to play songs from the rotations that they are given, and they only change what they play depending on requests they are sent, which is usually only one per hour. Smith said that DJs don't get much creative freedom, which is why he enjoys being a production assistant.
"It's pretty simple, you're just running out songs and reading announcements and whatnot, the production staff is where it's more fun," he said. "You get to use programs where you manipulate sounds. I'd be reading something and recording my voice and then I get to put it over music, it's cool because it's creative."
Having hand-picked Smith at the beginning of his WUTK career, Hawkins said his personality makes him different and stand out from other DJs.
"We are a student-run radio station so a lot of the time we have volunteer DJs or we have ones that have never been on the air before and are here for class credit. The difference is that Dr. John Zazu has a lot of personality on air and he distinguishes himself," she said. "A lot of the students that come in here are nervous and just try to follow the script and read everything perfect, but Graham doesn't do that. He has more of a personality on-air and I think that's what separates him from the rest of them. If you listen to him you know it's him, but when you listen to the rest of them they all get mixed in with the crowd."
WUTK, voted Metropulse's Best of Knoxville radio station for seven consecutive years, has quite a reputation around the community. However, Smith said he doesn't feel pressure when on the air.
"Since we have the music department picking the music that goes on top rotation, it doesn't really fall on most of the DJs, but a lot of them feel the pressure being on here," he said. "There's something about getting into the microphone when you're not used to it and you kind of think about how many people are listening to you, it puts pressure on you, but I'm used to it."
Publicity for Dr. John's program and WUTK as a radio station is difficult to promote on campus, but one of the biggest things for listeners to do is continue listening, said Hawkins.
"Publicity on campus is rather hard, I'm a little bit older than most, so there's a sort of apathy on campus towards all kinds of communications, the only pride they have for the college is in a sports team, but there are other things that this college offers and the radio station is one. Students should be interested in this, because this is their music and this is what their generation is going to leave behind so they should jump in on the forefront instead of waiting for Top 40 to pick it up."
Smith said that lots of listeners catch on to new bands from listening to WUTK.
"A lot of stuff that we introduce through the music department, a lot of those artists end up breaking through," he said. "Once we started playing them, people catch on to them, so those are the ones we play the most and those are the ones most people call in and ask for."
The most requested songs at WUTK are a part of the indie, alternative and rock genres.
"If I'm on the air and I want to switch some songs out, I will never take out what is new and in top rotation. I'll only take out ones that are older songs or maybe just less requested that aren't too important," Smith said.
Because listeners only hear his voice and don't know what he looks like, Smith said it's like having the best of both worlds, until he reveals his radio identity.
"People are starting to pick up on me," he said. "This one guy I have been friends with for a couple months and I just never told him about working at the radio station and he asked me about what I did and I told him about WUTK, and he said 'that's all I listen to is 90.3' and he asked me what my DJ name was and I said Dr. John Zazu, and he went crazy and he said 'I can't believe that it's you.'"
Hawkins said that since beginning, Smith has improved being on-air.
"He's become a lot better and a lot more confident; he's just really good at it," Hawkins said. "He has a natural knack."
"Obsessed" with every part of the WUTK, Smith spends most of his free time at the radio station's offices in the bottom floor of the Andy Holt Tower.
"The people here are all awesome, we're like a family almost. Really everything about it I love," Smith said. "Whenever I have free time I come here and all last summer I was here every day, and I'll probably be here tonight until two. I really like doing the spots and I really like being on the air. It's more like what's less good to me."
Having had no experience with radio before, Smith said he didn't know how it would become something he loved.
"Anybody who thinks that they might be even a little bit interested in the radio to definitely come by the office," he said. "It was definitely something that I never even thought I would be doing up until a year ago. It kind of popped into my life and now it made me super happy and gave me purpose. You never know what might end up being like that you for, and I feel like this is something that's so good that if you put effort into it you'll be repaid."
After graduation, Smith plans on continuing in radio and pursuing his alternative, indie rock band, Spades Cooley. Singing and playing lead guitar while band mate Thomas Finn plays drums, Spades Cooley has recorded two extended plays and one full-length album in 2011 titled "God is Moving on Me." Their next live performance will be March 16 at The Well.
"We started in 2008 and we play concerts around Knoxville all the time," Smith said. "(Playing music) is what I love doing, more than anything I'd say."
Both Hawkins and Smith said being a part of WUTK can give students tons of opportunities they might not be able to get anywhere else.
"I think that for journalism majors, we're becoming a multi-media major. You can't just specialize in writing or radio or audio, you have to know how to do it all so you can be a complete package," Hawkins said. "With the economy the way it is with everything being a big struggle and always struggling with people, coming down here and learning how to edit audio, how to speak clearly, and we help you with all that. It helps you be a more well-rounded journalist."
Smith said that he wouldn't change a thing over his past two years of working at WUTK.
"I've loved every little bit of this experience, I've worked here as much as I can and I'd do the same thing over again."