Getting to Know… Brendan Hogan, WUMB-FM DJ
If you live in the Boston area and like folk, blues and singer-songwriters – both current and classic – there’s a good chance you already listen to the radio station WUMB (91.9 FM; www.wumb.org). If you do listen, hopefully you’ve heard DJ Brendan Hogan, who hosts the evening 7-10 p.m. shift. The depth and breadth of his playlists – from Robert Johnson-era blues to current local music to up-and-coming artists such as Ryley Walker and the Haden Triplets – makes his program a must-listen. But it is Hogan’s vast knowledge of the music he plays and his willingness to share it with his audience that makes his show special. The fact that he is also a working musician adds depth to his incite, explaining an intracacy of a musical passage in a song or what he believes a musician was trying to convey. Hogan, 34, grew up and went to school in the Boston area before getting DJ gigs at WERS and WGBH. But WUMB is where he feels most at home. “It’s always been my favorite station for music,” he says. In an email interview, we asked Hogan about his radio program, his philosophy on providing detailed information to his listeners, and about how his performing career influences his DJing:
Q. You spin a great variety of new releases and classics… How much freedom does the station give you choose the playlists?
A. Thanks. We have quite a bit of freedom. Finding the right balance of material is important when hosting a radio show. I work closely with Jay Moberg, the music director at WUMB, to identify music that fits the form of what we’re trying to present as a whole. For example, there is a lot of good music being made in our own backyard, in the Boston area and New England, and that’s something that has found a home more and more over the last couple years on the air at WUMB. I don’t know if there’s a station playing more local music every day than us. It’s a similar case with stuff like old gospel, and the blues. Jay and I will sit down at least once a week and go over music, as he does with every host at the station. We decide what should be added to the playlist, whether it’s literally brand new releases, or whether there are some holes in the library that could be filled, and we go from there. It’s important to keep things fresh, both for the listeners and for myself as a host, and I feel like we’ve struck a good balance. Jay is very good at that.
Q. You do a great job of making sure the listener knows the title and album of the songs either you are going to play or have just played. Is that a conscious decision? It always bugs me when DJs don’t do that.
A. Yes. I think of music history linearly, so it’s important to me to know where a recording or an artist fits in the spectrum of recorded music. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and I like to know how things came together.
Q. To me, your show stands out because you offer the listener not only song and album title, but also some special nuggets of info of why a song is worth hearing. Are you an avid album note reader or do you just have a store of knowledge and great recall?
A. I’m like a sponge when it comes to liner notes! I can’t get enough. I think I have a photographic memory, because if I’ve read something once or twice and I’ve connected with what I’ve read, I can recall that information pretty easily later on. That’s why I don’t like the trend toward downloaded music. A lot of what is interesting about recorded music lies in its context and relation to culture and history, and you just can’t get that information from a digital audio file.
Q. How much preparation do you do for each night’s show? What does that consist of?
A. Every day I spend two to three hours prepping for the night’s show. One of the reasons I like WUMB is because there is so much music to discover and draw from, whether it’s brand new or just new to me. I listen to each song ahead of time, and research where the album or song was recorded; who produced it, who played on it, why is it important, etc., and I make notes as I go. I have to be well-informed and I respect the music. I’m passionate about what I play, and I hope that translates over the air.
Q. How tied in to the local music scene are you? Does it help/hurt to have those ties?
A. I’d say I’m fairly tied-in. One thing that is good about the music scene in Boston is that there is little industry here, so I think that allows for camaraderie to exist among musicians that may not if there were competition over commerce. Everyone I have met and played with has been friendly, open, and supportive. I’ve personally learned so much by either playing or hanging out with other musicians, and I’m grateful for that. I hope that I am able, and that WUMB is able, to help out other artists, especially in this town and region.
Q. How does your own music influence your DJing?
A. I think I come off as a musician talking about music on the air.
Q. And how, if any, does your DJing influence your own music?
A. The best way to learn about music is by listening intently. I do a lot of that.
Q. Off the air, where does your musical taste lie?
A. I like anything good. And by good, I guess I mean honest and genuine. My deepest love is old blues. I don’t think I’ve heard anything better than Robert Johnson.
Q. One album or artist you are really excited about right now…
A. I think Laura Marling is brilliant and I can’t wait to see and what she does over the next bunch of years.
Q. Your 5 desert island albums…
A. “Desire,” Bob Dylan; “Complete Recordings,” Robert Johnson; “Revolver,” the Beatles; “Folksinger,” Dave Van Ronk; “A Creature I Don’t Know,” Laura Marling