Radiothon Don: A conversation with Kyle Smith

In hour 22 of his 24-hour broadcast, WTSR-FM 91.3's Kyle Smith DJs at the Brower Student Center. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Virzi)

Kyle Smith finished the broadcast as he began it – with a Mountain Goats song.

But on Friday, Oct. 28, Smith wasn’t wrapping up the weekly two-hour arts and entertainment radio show he co-hosts with senior English secondary education major Taylor Boyle. Nor was he broadcasting from the cozy confines of WTSR-FM 91.3’s basement studio in Kendall Hall.

The junior communication studies major was perched on a stage in the Brower Student Center, surrounded by cough syrup, stray dollar bills and friends, completing his 24th straight hour of DJing for WTSR’s fall pledge drive.

Smith had cracked the mic on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. By Friday at 6 p.m., he had lost his voice, conducted more than five hours of interviews with artists, writers and musicians, played hours upon hours of music (including a dubstep interlude during Meal Equiv) and raised more than $500 for the station.

“It was scary and it was exhausting and my throat hurts and I’m sick and my voice may never be the same, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat,” a still-hoarse Smith said during a Sunday, Oct. 30 phone interview.

Below are excerpts from The Signal’s conversation with Smith, during which he talked about cross-country cycling, his ego and what writer Jimmy Chen said about him on Formspring.

Tell me how the Kyle Smith and the 24 Hours Of… broadcast came about.

I think it was sometime last year and I’m almost positive it started as a joke. It was definitely me being kind of an asshole and super egotistical and saying, “Aw, wouldn’t it be so cool if we did a radiothon of just me? And it was just me, talking? Twenty-four hours? How great would that be?” I don’t remember if I got serious about it or if someone actually kind of liked the idea … (but) that’s when we started pulling everything together. …

I’ve always wanted to do it. I remember as a kid listening to public radio and watching PBS. They’d always have these telethons or radiothons, and people would stay up for ridiculous amounts of time, and people would call in and they had all these phone banks and everything, and I always thought it was really glamorous.

Tell me who you interviewed during the 24 hours.

OK. I hope I remember everyone! I’m going to go chronologically. First we had Edith Zimmerman, (editor of online magazine The Hairpin) … and then we had Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu. Then we had Owen Ashworth, who used to be in Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, but now he’s in Advance Base. We had Julian Lynch. He’s a clarinet player. He does this really interesting, almost psychedelic pop music on the clarinet … Aly Spaltro, who’s in a band called Lady Lamb The Beekeeper … and we had Jimmy Chen.

Who is he?

He’s one of my favorite writers. He writes solely on the Internet. He writes on, like, ThoughtCatalog and HTML Giant. He uses – you remember Formspring? He uses Formspring, and people send him questions, then he answers their questions, but the way he answers their questions is really lyrical and literary and it’s actually really amazing. And someone asked him, “How was your experience with Kyle Smith?” and he answered it. But I haven’t read it yet, because you called right when I clicked on the link.

Read it! Tell me what it says.

OK, all right. So we’ll experience it for the first time together.

So the question is, “How was your experience with Kyle Smith?”

Jimmy Chen says, “i was surprised and touched at how much he knew about my online activity; it felt natural and fun, and i think i only ‘went off’ on/at him a few times. they were very good questions. i called from a hotel room with a friend who had ordered room service (grilled cheese sandwich, fries, ‘fresh’ berries, H20, milk) so it seemed romantic i guess like maybe the way slash or keith richards w/ stevie nicks gets tanked and pisses off the balcony kind of stuff but i need to decide if i was slash or keith richards.”

And that’s it. I really like that.

I’m trying to answer your question as quickly as possible. …

Yes, go on.

After Jimmy Chen, Zac Pennington called in at 2 a.m. He’s from the band The Parenthetical Girls. Then the next morning at 8:30 a girl … from the band Buke and Gass (called in). … My last interview was in the student center and that was Emile Klein.

Who’s he?

He trained in Europe as a portrait painter. Then he came to America and he’s cycling around the country … and going to weird little towns and weird little subcultures and painting people from it and trying to get a sense of what the real America is. It was really cool. … He has a website that he posts this stuff on.

Are there any particularly interesting or surprising things that you learned about the people you interviewed that you’d want to share?

One thing I thought was really interesting was with my Jamie Stewart interview. Xiu Xiu’s music is really dark. It’s really dirty sexually, and it’s a little bit inaccessible, so I don’t think it was a huge leap to think that maybe Jamie Stewart would kind of be like that. But he wasn’t at all. He was warm, he was funny, he was interesting. …

With Owen Ashworth, he had tweeted at the station’s Twitter account and said “I’m going to be on WTSR tonight, tune in if you want to. I’ll reveal one secret.” And I thought that was really funny, and obviously he meant it as a joke, but I ended the interview by saying, “Oh, so what’s your one secret?”

And what he said was that for him, making music is his biggest fear. So every day, every song he produces, he’s constantly and viscerally facing his fear of putting his work out there and being judged and everything. And I thought that was actually a really amazing answer, and he came up with it off-the-cuff. So I thought that was really special.

What was it like to DJ for 24 hours straight?

The whole 24-hour thing took on a life of its own. I couldn’t expect what would happen. I didn’t even know who was calling in when at some points because people kept forgetting, so throughout the night it was just so spontaneous and weird. …

And I think that was amazing and made for a really enjoyable show, because I didn’t know what was going on. The listeners didn’t know what was going on. It felt so much more real. … Some radio shows can feel so planned and kind of boring because of that. But this was so unexpected for me.

Kyle Smith’s weekly A&E show with Taylor Boyle runs from noon to 1 p.m. Fridays on WTSR-FM 91.3.