On Saturday the 22nd of November, I got up early to catch the trolley to campus to interview Joe Shrin. I had seen Joe around staff meeting in the past and he was the one alumni of KCR that I had seen posting in the KCF Facebook page, but I had never spoken to him in person. It was beautiful outside despite being almost winter in San Diego as I made my way to the Communications building to the studio. Joe had contacted me some months ago when I started interviewing people that he would be happy to volunteer and I finally got around to him. Little did I know that this would be one of my most interesting interviews that I have done so far. It certainly was my longest, over fifteen minutes!
Joe let me in the studio at the tail end of his 9-10 bossa nova music hour. While we were talking, Rick Keyes, another KCR alumni came in to set up his show. Rick and Joe exchanged witty banter as well as swapped show ideas and notes. When it was Rick’s time to go on air, Joe finished packing his gear up in his silver suitcase and we headed over to the chairs in the hallways to talk. I’ll let the interview take over for now:
Cameron Satterlee: Hello, I am sitting down outside the KCR studio with Joe Shrin, who has been kind enough to be interviewed with me. Welcome Joe.
Joe Shrin: Well how are you doing Cameron? Good to see you today.
CS: I’m doing fine, it’s great to see you too.
So Joe, you are one of the KCR alumni, can you tell me please how long you have been with KCR?
JS: I’ve been with KCR for thirty eight years. I started in June of 1976. Which most people’s eyes get rather large when I say that (laughs).
CS: I feel mine expanding (laughs). I don’t know if I could do that that long.
So currently, what is your radio slot?
JS: My current radio slot is six until ten AM on Saturday morning, and I play, if you’d like to know, I play a mixture of oldies from six to nine. Which are from 1955 up until about 1975, and then I developed a show in around I believe 2009, I play one hour what I call Cocktails at Sunrise, which is a mixture of bossa nova and lounge music. Which I enjoy also. So it’s kind of a Jekyll and Hyde sort of time slot.
CS: That’s awesome. For your entire block do you have a name for your show? Or is it just the nine to ten?
JS: No, I just use my name. I call nine to ten the Cocktail Sunrise show but I just call the whole thing Joe Shrin. I don’t call the oldies show anything.
CS: Alright, so you play these oldies and the bossa nova, this Cocktail Sunrise mixture, how come you wanna play this music? Why do you like these two types of songs and want to play it on the radio?
JS: Back in the day there was only AM radio and there were only a select few stations to even listen to, and believe it or not I was at a bar one night and it was called Foggy’s Notion and they had a giant reel to reel machine and they were playing all of this great old stuff that I used to listen to, and I instantly said, number one I’ve got to go get a reel to reel, and number two I’ve got to get an extensive record collection. So I started collecting the 45’s that I used to listen to back in the day, and it just expanded and I was doing a standard KCR show and I asked the program director—Michael Burger—whether I could do a one hour oldies show, and he wanted to make sure I hard enough material. Then it gradually evolved into a four hour show of oldies.
CS: Yeah you’ve accrued the material overtime I guess.
JS: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
CS: Alright so this isn’t actually a question I wrote down, but I’m curious, are you the longest tenured member here at KCR?
CS: Alright, that’s awesome. I’m speaking to the elder statesman.
JS: (Laughs) well you could say that, yeah.
CS: So why do you keep doing it? Why do you keep re-upping with KCR every year?
JS: I just can’t tell you how much I love this hobby. I mean words can’t even describe it. I look forward to coming in here more every week. Sometimes it’s entertaining, probably to the listenership out there. Sometimes you’ll have a dud show. But you just brush yourself off and come on in next week and you’ve got something good again, you know? That’s what I try to tell people who work here. You know if you have a bad show, forget it. Move on, just come back in. But I just absolutely adore this place.
CS: That’s some great advice you’re giving to me. I’ve felt that on occasion, gotta dust myself off after a poor show. That’s fantastic Joe, that really is. I have to say.
So this is another question I’m sort of curious about. How has KCR changed since you’ve started? I mean I know we’re physically in a different location.
JS: Well the fact that we used to play vinyl all the time, and the younger folks, they don’t know what it’s like to cue up a record. You don’t know how much fun it was to actually cue up a record and then fire it off. Now even what I play which are CD’s, they’re much more convenient to play, but even that’s become antiquated. Then I thought I’ll really get up there with the iPod, and people don’t even use those anymore. It’s like I can’t seem to catch up. But I’ve made it a lot more convenient for myself with CD’s and at least I’m that far any way. But I’ve seen such an evolution in not only the technology, and I embrace it a lot because I think it’s really cool what’s available to everybody now. The management has evolved also and acclimated to the changes. It’s been great to see that. There’s always been energy; there may have been few select spots where the management fell down on the job but that’s rare that that’s happened. It’s only been a select few times.
CS: Well that’s good to know. I’ve only been here for about a year and some months at this point but even since I’ve joined it seems like we’ve had a sort of revitalizing attempt.
JS: Oh it’s been wonderful.
JS: With Skot Norton’s help, I mean he got us this facility, we would not have a KCR if it was not for Skot Norton. He acquired the facility, he ordered the equipment, he had some help along the way with some of the students, but it was mainly his passion for the station which kept us alive and that’s why the studio is dedicated to him. Boy you can’t give him enough appreciation.
CS: Wow I had no idea and I work with the guy.
JS: Oh him and I get along quite well, and we actually remodeled the current studio. I built the console the speakers and I helped Skot bring in the equipment and hook everything up. But it was mainly Skot that did everything.
CS: I had no idea, I mean I’ve seen his plaque there which I find amusing. But I didn’t know the whole story.
JS: He doesn’t toot his own horn. He just does it because he loves the place. It’s a passion.
CS: I’ll have to bring it up the next time I see him.
JS: He probably won’t talk about it though.
JS: He’s not one to talk about himself, let’s put it that way.
CS: Yeah I’ve noticed.
So I guess, sort of shifting back to your own show, come playing this music is important to you? Cause it seems, since you’ve been playing it so long, that it’s ingrained in yourself.
JS: Well it’s not only fun to do a show but it’s fun to try out different things even this long. Even after thirty eight years. To just get the right segue between the music, maybe do a talk-over just perfect, I’ve got a lot of schmaltzy bits that I throw in there and they’re purposely bad on occasion, just for the groan factor. It’s like “oh he didn’t say that, really?” or “he didn’t really throw in that bit there”. During my show if you hear something really bad it’s probably on purpose. But I intersperse one liners in between announcing the records, I’ve also developed my own jingles which you can hear in between the records about every ten minutes or so. I edited old jingle packages from other radio stations, “more music KCR” that’s three different things put together. I sliced it on a reel to reel.
CS: Oh wow.
JS: And then it evolved from there to a bunch of jingles; “the most interesting man in the world”, I put that in there. It’s been fun. I love to be challenged on stuff.
CS: That’s fantastic. Especially since you’re trying new things. That sort of segues to my next question. So you’ve been listening to this music and developing your show after all these years but are you still bringing in new content? Is there any band or artist that recently wanted to incorporate into your show that you’re obsessing over?
JS: Not in the oldies genre because—trust me when I tell you this—I’ve got every oldie that I’ve ever wanted. Thanks to iTunes, credit iTunes for that because any piece of the puzzle that I was missing, they’ve been able to find it. The Cocktails at Sunrise part, I’m constantly on iTunes looking for bossa nova remakes of songs, even current things that I might hear. I go “jeeze that sounds familiar” but it’s in a bossa nova beat or a Latin lounge beat or whatever. So I’m always on iTunes looking for something new to incorporate in the show.
CS: Yeah I mean when I came in you were playing The Sultans of Swing which I really like, that’s a great song and it was a different take on it.
Alright so this might be a self-serving question, because you’ve been doing it so long and it’s so important to you I want to know what you would tell a current or incoming member of KCR how doing this can change you?
JS: Well if I had a piece of advice and it’s kind of what you’re asking me. There are so many outlets for music now, I mean back when I was young, and I hate to word it that way, but back when I was young like I said there was only AM radio. Now you’ve got AM, FM, you’ve got iPods, you’ve got satellite radio, internet radio, and so if you’re going to do a show, you better have something unique. That they can’t find anywhere else, or maybe a scattered few are doing your type of show. Because if you’re not unique, if you’re playing what everybody else can pick up on the FM band or doing funny bits like what you can hear already, it’s so much trouble to listen to KCR, you know to tune it in, at least it used to be, now with the internet I guess it’s a lot easier. But you should have a unique approach so that people go “hey I remember that guy, he was on last week. I’ll see what he’s up to this week”.
CS: Alright, that’s great.
JS: I hope that answers your question.
CS: Yeah. I mean that might be a better answer than the question I asked I think.
JS: Well I hope I answered it anyway.
CS: No that was fantastic.
So this will be the last question, I always ask this as a last question as a fun way to finish things, and you will probably have a very interesting answer I think. What would be your ideal show? What’s an ideal show for Joe Shrin?
JS: Mistake free. I will tell you, and this does sound self-serving in a way, I’ll tell you I have almost like a radio family that calls me up and wants to talk with me. I’ll get the occasional nice compliment where they’ll go “god I loved the show this morning” or they’ll even email me “love your show”. I don’t get pumped up over it, I don’t get a big head. I just go “god I must be doing something okay”. It makes me feel good inside. I can’t tell you how when I make a mistake it just pierces me. If I get a bad talk-over, if the CD skips for some reason, I torture myself over that because I really do strive for perfection.
CS: So when you get a perfect show it must be that much better.
JS: Yeah. Because I grade my show every week, for instance this week would probably be an A minus or a B plus because there was a couple of screw ups.
CS: Hey at San Diego State, that’s what a lot of people are looking for.
CS: Well maybe not the perfectionist.
JS: Well it’s good to strive for perfection but not beat yourself up if you don’t achieve it. You know and that’s why a lot of the guys they give up, they go “god I’m just not good at it” or whatever the case may be. You’ve got to pump them up, again just brush yourself off and come in next week and try it again. I can’t imagine a baseball player, when they strike out, that they’re gonna go up to the plate the next time be depressed about it. I mean if I could use a sports analogy.
CS: Hey I’m in sports for KCR so I appreciate it.
JS: Yeah I mean if you have a bad show you struck out that time. But people have very short memories, they’ll tune back in if they like you. So that’s pretty much about it.
CS: Yeah and I guess there’s no better person to hear those words coming from than the guy who’s been coming up and dusting himself off for all these years.
JS: Well it’s a passion, it’s my hobby, and I love it more today than yesterday.
CS: That’s fantastic. Joe Shrin, thank you.
JS: Thank you Cameron.
After we concluded the interview Joe and I talked for another fifteen minutes. Mostly we talked about KCR; Joe has extensive knowledge of the history of the station. He told stories of meeting other radio DJ’s and how he keeps in touch with many of the alumni and what they are up to now. If you couldn’t tell I was very interested in talking to Joe. The man is one of KCR’s proudest sons and he was very generous with his time which I am very thankful for. Joe and I walked together and talked some more as I made my way to the trolley station and he to his car. We parted ways there but I left inspired about my own radio career. We talked briefly but Joe’s enthusiasm for KCR after all these years made quite an impression on me. I hope all the other DJ’s reading this take Joe’s advice. I could go on and on about the guy, but he appears to be a humble guy and probably wouldn’t want me to, it’s not his style.
Thanks for reading, everybody. I hope you all had happy Thanksgivings.