Nathan Smith leads a double life – student by day, radio disk jockey by night.
Smith, freshman in American studies, hosts the "Gold Standard Hip Hop Show" every Sunday night on Knoxville's WUTK 90.3 station.
As a kid, Smith grew up listening to what his parents played for him: an assortment of cassette tapes, country music stations, Broadway soundtracks and classical music on public radio. But as he got older, he began to form his own personal musical tastes.
"When I was in eighth grade, I saw a History Channel documentary on Bruce Lee, in which RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan was interviewed," Smith said. "I'd hated rap before, but after hearing his music, I fell in love with it."
Smith grew up in College Station, Texas, and moved to Knoxville before his junior year of high school. After listening to rap music on-and-off for a few years, Smith became interested in artists like Kanye West, Odd Future, Das Racist, Gorillaz and the Beastie Boys during his sophomore year.
"Finally, my junior year of high school, I became obsessed with Childish Gambino and an alternative rapper from Wisconsin named Milo who fully made me realize how beautiful and meaningful rap could be, cementing my love affair with it," Smith said.
As a high school student, he heard about WUTK 90.3 and was instantly drawn to the idea of DJing. He said that if he attended college at UT, he knew he'd be interested in working for the station.
Smith started at WUTK 90.3 a few months before his freshman year, in May 2013. He originally had a regular shift before being asked to become the hip-hop director.
One of Smith's favorite things about working at 90.3 is introducing new music to his audience. He spends a few hours each week researching new songs and artists to add to his playlist.
"I try to make each show an emotional journey, so I start off with music that's more fun, and then slowly transition to music that's more emotive or introspective," Smith said. "I'd like to think that maybe my show makes some sort of difference for people's emotional well-being, although I'm not sure if it does or not."
Smith aims to show people the connectedness between all different genres of music. While he plays mainly hip-hop, he also incorporates different sounds to show how one type of music builds off of a seemingly completely different type.
"I also want to educate people about all the different elements that make hip-hop what it is," Smith said, "so I play a wide variety of music – not just rap and hip-hop, but electronic, experimental, R&B and jazz."
Working at WUTK 90.3 has opened many doors for Smith, and he admitted he is grateful for the connections and friendships he has made with musicians, promoters, record labels and general radio people.
"I know that these relationships will definitely benefit me post-graduation in the job market, but it's also really great to be able to bond with people over a shared love of music," Smith said. "It's cool knowing how many people there are out in the world who dig the same things as you.
"I've talked with people all over the world who love the same weird little things I do. It's generally just a cool feeling."
Smith also said he hopes WUTK 90.3 will continue its influence in the community and that more UT students will tune in to the station.
"I think it sometimes seems like we have a bigger following in Knoxville rather than on campus," Smith said. "You'd be surprised the number of people who don't know about 90.3. I think there are so many people who if they knew about it, they would love it. "
Smith said music can make people realize there is a place for them, and it can mean a world of difference.
"Regardless of who you are or what you like, 90.3 has something for you and something to offer," he said. "It's also a great way to promote the culture of our own city, while also shaping culture on a larger scale."
Smith hopes to continue DJing for the station as long as they'll have him and wants to spread positivity and good music to anyone interested.
"I only have two goals as a DJ," Smith said. "I want to change lives by sharing the music that has changed my own life, and I also want to get people to love artists that deserve to be heard.
"I know that music can shape people's lives for the better, and that's really what I try to do with my DJing."
For more information about Smith's show, the "Gold Standard Hip Hop Show", or to listen live to WUTK 90.3, visit wutkradio.com/.