On 2002.07.04, around noon, I visited KUCI, a radio station (88.9 FM) located at the University of California, Irvine campus, to be a DJ for an hour (12-1 PM).
KUCI: DJ for the program "The Kids are Alright"
KUCI: Set-up for a special 5-hour July 4 experimental music event.
KUCI: Wall with painting and notes.
KUCI: Set-up for a special 5-hour July 4 experimental music event.
KUCI: Lounge-like environment in main room of station.
2. An opportunity to be a guest DJ at KUCI
I have listened to KUCI, with varying devotion, ever since I arrived in California to attend graduate school at UCI back in 1993. I really liked their diverse programs. I remember passing by the KUCI station on UCI outer ring road in the mid 1990s, and sometimes DJ would bring equipment outside the station to do "live" mixing of music on the front lawn of their building. That was so cool. The station moved to a new location on campus and got a new transmitter. KUCI is also "broadcasting" live on the Internet (streaming audio) at http://www.kuci.org/
On 2002.05.13, I happened to listen to KUCI during their pledge drive. A pair of DJ were talking about various premiums for different pledge levels. For example, for something like $30 you could get a bunch of music CDs or concert tickets! But then one of the DJ mentioned in passing that for a $200 pledge you could be a "DJ for an hour". What?! Holy Toledo! I grabbed the phone and called the station. Sure enough, it was true. Within five minutes of committing to a pledge of $200 on the phone, I had a check in the local mailbox. Wow, I was going to be a DJ!!!
For a couple of weeks I was busy with work, but in early June I decided that I wanted to be a DJ sometime soon, on a day with some significance, like July 4. I started to put a playlist together, listening to CD in my collection to try and build up a list of songs that would be cool to play. It was always my plan to burn an audio CD with all songs I intended to feature in my show -- so playing all of the songs would not require any technical effort (like switching CD) when I was "on the air".
I gave two of my friends (Sam and Greg) an initial version of my music CD. Sam's opinion was that the middle of the CD was a bit slow. I listened to the CD again and again, and I knew I could do better. I also decided that I wanted to record audio for the actual DJ announcements, mostly because I wanted to have complex sound effects with the dialog -- which might be difficult or impossible to get right in "real time" when broadcasting "live".
3. The creation of the "DJ Hacker AI" character
I created a persona, "DJ Hacker AI", to be my radio personality.
The premise was this: "DJ Hacker AI" was not a human being, but instead was an artifical intelligence (AI) in cyberspace, and this AI has an interest in being a DJ.
Furthermore, "DJ Hacker AI" is a hacker, and hacks in to the KUCI broadcast to practice its DJ skills. The threat facing "DJ Hacker AI" was that KUCI "cyberspace defense grid" would detect the hack during the broadcast, and KUCI "Black Ice" would blast "DJ Hacker AI" in to a tera-byte of virtual debris.
I created a new audio CD with my new "show" concept. I gave a copy to my friend Sam. He liked the playlist changes, and he liked the dialog, but he thought the dialog was a little bit confusing. I didn't think it was confusing, but it doesn't matter what I think! Also, if Sam thought it was a little confusing, it would definitely confuse the average listener.
So I made some new decisions: (1) I'd make the dialog very explicit about everything, so that listeners would have no trouble comprehending the story; (2) I was going to make the voice more artificial to make it clear that "DJ Hacker AI" is not a human being; (3) I was going to try harder to make certain aspects of the "DJ Hacker AI" character fit a personality profile. "DJ Hacker AI" has two personalities, "left brain" and "right brain", which you hear from the left and right stereo speakers, respectively. By default,we hear a single voice from both speakers.
July 4 was then only a few days away, but I decided that I wanted to make the artificial voice by taking individual recordings of words spoken in my voice ("A", "An", "And", ...) and writing a computer program to merge these words in to the final dialog; like a voicemail system, or an answering machine, or talking clock or a talking wristwatch puts words together to form its sentences.
My "DJ Hacker AI" dialog (in a text file) had roughly 525 words total, but there were only 245 unique words.
Speaking in to a microphone and recording all of the dialog, followed by careful hand-extraction of audio clips corresponding to individual words would have been tedious.
I created a computer program that was basically a sound recorder that would: (1) prompt me with a printed word; (2) record my spoken voice; (3) locate the beginning and end of the spoken word (ignoring background noise); (4) write out the audio to a file with the same name as the word (e.g., "acknowledged.wav").
My computer program to record words of dialog.
This program is pretty cool. I can open any text file, and the program will find all unique words and sort them alphabetically. Then I can use the "previous" and "next" buttons to choose one of the sorted unique words. If the word already has an audio file (e.g., "hello.wav"), then it is loaded and displayed. I can play the sound, or record a new version. When I record a new sound, the program automatically locates the beginning and end of the sound. But I can adjust the starting (red) and ending (green) locations with buttons -- just in case the automatic start and end location is fooled by random background noises during recording, or if I want to trim off part of the spoken word.
My computer program to assemble words in to dialog.
The program shown above takes a text file (such as the dialog script) and reads in all unique word audio files that will be needed to convert the text to speech. Punctuation marks (period, comma, question mark, exclamation mark, semicolon, colon, etc) are converted to specific durations of audio silence to create the proper pauses between words and sentences.
I was thrilled when I heard the final output of this process. It sounded just like me talking, but with a somewhat artificial cadence.
Here is an example of generated speech using my programs:
"I am an Artificial Intelligence" audio file
Actually, I was worried. The voice sounded too natural, as if I were actually speaking the full sentences! It didn't sound artificial enough for my "DJ Hacker AI" character, who was supposed to be a computer-based entity. People wouldn't immediately think that the voice wasn't human.
Using a sound editing program (Cool Edit Pro), I increased the speed of the generated dialog audio by a factor of 1.5x, because the original speech audio seemed too slow. Then I added a reverb effect to make it sound even more mechanical. It was tough because I wanted to increase the reverb effect (actually, it was a special case of the "flange" filter) because the effect sounded so cool, but then the dialog became too difficult to understand!
Here's an example of speech processed by special effects:
"I am an Artificial Intelligence", 1.5X faster, and with an extreme flanger effect applied
Eventually I had all of the dialog audio prepared, and I made some final changes to the song playlist, and I burned the final audio CD.
Here is the speech recorder application and the speech concatenation application:
Word audio recorder program and word audio merging program
4. My hour of fame at KUCI
I listened to KUCI on the morning of July 4. I was told that my show was going to replace the final hour of a show that normally started at 10 AM and ended at 1 PM, so I wanted to listen to a bit of the show just to make sure that my music didn't clash with the theme of the show. For example, it would have been weird to preempt the final hour of a "Country and Western" music show with cutting-edge electronic dance music! I might have cancelled my appearance if the difference in genres was too extreme. However, the DJ was playing jazz and some electronic music. I even heard the DJ, Jen Strasser, say something like, "I'll be with you, at least in spirit, until 1 PM -- but today we have a special guest DJ who will be here from 12 to 1." Yikes! This was for real!
I arrived at the KUCI station at 11:15 AM, about 45 minutes before my show. I was nervous all morning. It gradually became clear to me that putting the entire show on an audio CD was really smart! Cowardly, too! But I have no shame! I'll trade anxiety for cowardice any day!
I sat on a chair outside the station, trying to calm down. I could hear people moving around inside the station. I didn't want to knock on the door too early. I was worried that I would run out of things to talk about with the people at the station if I went inside too soon before the show. Actually, this concern was proven to be totally wrong! I could have talked for many hours with the interesting people at KUCI!
Then it was 11:40 AM, and I finally decided to knock on the door. I had to knock again before someone answered the door.
As you can see from the photographs above, the main room inside the station looks very friendly and cozy. The walls are totally covered with shelves of vinyl records. The KUCI audio CD collection is in another room.
I sat down on a chair and the station engineer (Mike?) started a conversation with me. I could see someone in another room at a microphone, and I guessed that it was (DJ) Jen Strasser, on the air.
Mike described how he was setting up the main room of the station for a special, 5-hour "live" experimental music session that would take place later that day, starting at 5 PM.
Here are some of the elements involved in the planned session: (1) A police scanner; (2) Audio from Leonard Nemoy's "In Search of..." television program on video tape; (3) Recordings of Rod Serling(creator of "The Twilight Zone" television series); (4) Recordings of Winston Churchill speeches; (5) a "distortion box", to modify the audio; (6) an electric guitar; (7) a film projector; (8) a "black light" (i.e., a UV lamp) and little red lights scattered around the darkened room, only to create the proper atmosphere.
It was so hilarious and original. I loved the whole idea. I was really glad that people were doing this kind of thing in Irvine (a city with a reputation of being culturally empty and boring).
5. Jen Strasser, a DJ at KUCI
Soon Jen came out of the studio to greet me. I told her that my entire radio program was on the CD, including a station identification announcement, and that the volume of all tracks was adjusted in advance to be uniform. I said that it should be possible to simply press the "play" button, and, after 58 minutes and 34 seconds, the next show on KUCI could begin. Easy!
Jen returned to the main control panel, asked for my "on air" name. I was embarrassed to tell her the name: "DJ Hacker AI".
Like so many "creative" ideas I have, I get embarrassed when it is time to share it with other people. Everything I ever worked on, no matter how cool I thought it was when I worked on it, suddenly becomes the most idiotic, unoriginal thing in the universe immediately after I summon the courage to present the idea to someone else. In that moment it seems obvious that I must have been an idiot for ever thinking that the ideas were any good. But that's when I decide that it is acceptable to be an idiot! Why fight it?! If I do not accept embarrassment and humiliation, then my urge to express myself, even if misguided, would be forever unsatisfied, and I would probably feel totally lame.
Jen announced on the air: "You are in for a special treat." It is my privilege to introduce DJ Hacker AI..." I cringed at the flattering introduction. Then she started the CD. After looking at an analog meter for half a minute, and adjusting a volume control slider, the technical aspect of getting my show broadcasted was finished!
Jen was really nice. She showed me the main control board, the computer with the audio samples that they could trigger as needed (such as public service announcements and station identification messages, etc), and the phone for accepting listener requests.
Jen gave me a tour of the station. It's a small building, but it is very interesting inside. Some aspects were funny and practical, like a small radio in the bathroom so that a DJ would know if there was "dead air" (radio silence) or other problems (like a skipping record or a scratched CD) while he or she was in the bathroom. Hilarious, yet clever and useful.
All of the CDs are cataloged in a computer, and all CDs have identification stickers. The CDs are sorted and stored on shelves, with sections like "RPM", "Techno", "Ambient", "Experimental", "Rock", "Jazz", "Metal", etc.
KUCI acquires CDs as "gifts" from record companies, and independent musicians, and bands that are interested in promoting their music.
An important part of the mission of KUCI is to play music that a person cannot hear on any other radio station. So, when a musical group becomes really popular, their music CDs get put on to the "Never Play" shelves at KUCI. Jen showed me many records from the band "Chicago" as an example, because they were directly in front of us on the "Never Play" shelves.
I thought about my own playlist. Or perhaps I should say that I thought about "DJ Hacker AI's" playlist! Was it sufficiently unpopular and non-commercial for KUCI? Probably! Whew!
When I told Jen that I was once a graduate student of physics at UCI, she told me that she was currently a graduate student of mathematics at UCI, and that she was going to get a Ph.D. soon. Wow! We talked about her thesis. Her thesis is related to converging on ideas in learning, even when a learning agent is bombarded by different inputs that might cause conventional learning algorithms to become indecisive (e.g., oscillating between ideas or beliefs). Also, her work makes certain algorithms practical for the first time! An awesome thesis subject and actual practical value?! I was impressed!
Eventually my CD finished playing. The next DJ (for a show called "The Kids are Alright") was already at the control console. She played loops of music, and played sound effects from the classic video arcade game "Pac Man", to fill in a minute before her show was to begin. (You can see her at the microphone in one of the photographs above.)
6. KUCI station manager, Julie "Wanda" Espy
Julie Espy made it possible for me to be a guest DJ on KUCI during what would ordinarily be part of a regular DJ's show. Apparently guest DJ's are given a special time slot on a Sunday, contrary to the claims made during the pledge drive that you could be a "DJ for an hour" on any day and hour, just by contacting the appropriate DJ.
I felt bad that I was taking time away from someone's show. I essentially "bribed" my way on the air. I apologized to Jen about this, but she was very gracious and said it was okay.
Anyhow, I am grateful to Julie for helping me prepare the content of my "show" (waiving some rules and telling me about how station identification worked). I guess she implicitly approved the playlist I sent to her via e-mail.
The following is the playlist of the songs I played during my radio show:
 ALBUM: "Loud" (67728-54706-2)
LABEL: Kinetic Records
ARTIST: Timo Mass
TRACK: #4 : "Shifter" (feat. MC Chickaboo)
SEGMENT: 0:06.9 --> 3:15.6
SEGMENT LENGTH: 3:08
 ALBUM: "In Silico" (67728-54690-2)
LABEL: Kinetic Records
TRACK: #3 : "The Mansion World"
SEGMENT: 1:14.6 --> 5:05.3
SEGMENT LENGTH: 3:51
 ALBUM: "The Altogether" (FFRR 40678 2)
LABEL: London-Sire Records
TRACK: CD1 #6 : "Last Thing"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 2:28
SEGMENT LENGTH: 2:28
 ALBUM: Superstar DJ Keoki : Disco Death Race 2000 [various artists] (MM 80045-2)
LABEL: Moonshine Music (www.moonshine.com)
ARTIST: The Cotton Club
TRACK: #15 : "hear the drummer"
SEGMENT: 2:30.5 --> 5:33.0
SEGMENT LENGTH: 3:03
 ALBUM: Bombay 2: Electric Vindaloo [various artists] (ROOM5)
LABEL: Motel Records (www.motelrecords.com)
ARTIST: Ursula 1000
TRACK: #1 : "Ram Balram"
SEGMENT: 0:42.7 --> 4:46
SEGMENT LENGTH: 4:03
 ALBUM: Exist Dance : Transmitting from Heaven [various artists] (ED-CD-01)
LABEL: Exist Dance
ARTIST: High Lonesome Sound System
TRACK: #10 : "Waiting For The Lights (thai mix)"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 7:35
SEGMENT LENGTH: 7:35
 ALBUM: Faith in the Future (ASW 10449)
ARTIST: Uber Zone
TRACK: #6 : "Rhythm Device"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 6:21
SEGMENT LENGTH: 6:21
 ALBUM: djmixed.com/micro [various artists] (MM 80137-2)
LABEL: Moonshine Music (www.moonshine.com)
ARTIST: Nick Sentience
TRACK: #5 : "Digital Dialog"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 6:20
SEGMENT LENGTH: 6:20
 ALBUM: Through the Eyes presented by Roni Size [various artists] (FCYCDLP02)
LABEL: Full Cycle Records (www.fullcycle.co.uk)
TRACK: #7 : "Kloakin Device"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 4:18
SEGMENT LENGTH: 4:18
 ALBUM: "music has the right to children" (matador ole 299-2)
LABEL: Matador Records (www.matador.recs.com)
ARTIST: Boards of Canada
TRACK: #12 : "aquarius"
SEGMENT: 1:19 --> 4:25 (roughly)
SEGMENT LENGTH: 3:36
 ALBUM: "Spankmaster" (TVT2270-2)
ARTIST: Kool Keith
TRACK: #5 : "Drugs"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 3:24
SEGMENT LENGTH: 3:24
 ALBUM: "Power out of Control"
ARTIST: Dissecting Table
TRACK: #3 : "Naturalism"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 1:10
SEGMENT LENGTH: 1:12
 ALBUM: "Endtroducing....."
LABEL: Mo Wax / FFRR
ARTIST: DJ Shadow
TRACK: #3 : "The Number Song"
SEGMENT: 0:00 --> 3:45
SEGMENT LENGTH: 3:45
The only two people I know who listened to the show were: (1) The KUCI station manager, who listened from some remote location; (2) My friend Sam. Both of them liked the show.
My brother Chris was on vacation, so he couldn't listen to the show on the Internet. Some of my other relatives and friends were traveling, also. For example, my friend Greg Moulton was in Ireland!
In general, my "genius idea" to have the show on a major holiday had a totally ironic result! Almost everybody I wanted to impress had gone to a location that was either out of the range of the KUCI FM radio transmission, or had limited access to the Internet!
However, the experience of having music that I like broadcast to a wide audience was fun. I was so happy that I had the chance to do something like this.
Jen mentioned the upcoming "DJ training" session on July 17. I could be a regular DJ. Hmmmmmm...