Women in Vinyl Logo

Leah Smith | Vinyl DJ and Radio Host

Meet Leah, a live vinyl DJ with a focus on music from the 1950’s and 1960’s, as well as a host of two Baton Rouge radio shows that also focus on the 1950’s and 1960’s. Though, she states “…my interests in music vary so much that I expand beyond that era – I go back to old 1920’s blues and country, and I just as easily bring in more current music. My two goals are to find some similarities in wildly different genres and bring them together, Howlin’ Wolf can easily lead to Johnny Cash, which can easily lead to Led Zeppelin, for example; and to find the oddities that might be familiar but unknown. The B side of a 45 is ALMOST always great!“

In her free time, she loves to sew, specifically working with vintage patterns. “I have several projects lined up for this summer, including a WWII era ‘V for Victory’ dress pattern, several mod sixties dress patterns, and some fifties house dress patterns.“

How did you get into your industry / What motivated you?

My father was an insurance agent by day, deejay by night. He worked parties and weddings and hosted a few local radio shows. I would go with him on gigs and to radio stations, and as soon as I was tall enough to reach the turntables, he had me working with him.

My high school had a strong performing arts program and I took classes as part of the Radio Training Program, so by the time I was fifteen, I was on-air on our two fully-operational radio stations (I believe we’re still the only high school in the United States with both an FM and an AM station – WBRH and KBRH). I was offered a part-time student job working weekends as a board operator during our most popular programs, and that job led me to other radio station jobs after high school.

Additionally, my dad volunteered with the high school stations and hosted a weekend show there. He became ill in 2004 and could no longer host his show, so I “inherited” it from him. My show at WBRH/KBRH led me to volunteer as a show host at a local community station, and I’ve been with them for four years. My work there led me to job offers to deejay live events in the community, and I’ve had regular live shows for a couple of years now.

What is a day in the life like?

My full time job is as a high school English teacher, so my music work begins after my “real life” work ends. My weekday evenings are spent preparing for my weekend radio/deejay work, so I usually spend time putting together music for the radio shows and deejay gigs. I’ll sort through my collection, pull records I haven’t played in a while, organize set lists, and so on. After I leave school on Friday afternoon, I upload a pre-recorded radio show for one station before I throw on something cute and vintage and load up my car with records and turntables for my Friday night gig. I spend Saturday afternoons at the other radio station, where I board op and record my show for that station. Every other Sunday, I load up my car again to deejay during brunch at a popular local bar/restaurant.

What has been your favorite / the coolest thing you’ve worked on?

My favorite gig ever was a Mardi Gras ball here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I have an extensive knowledge and collection of Louisiana music, and around here, there’s no bigger celebration than Mardi Gras. The theme one year was the 1960’s, so I got to play all of my favorites from Louisiana and the 60’s! Additionally, the ball was for the Mid City Gras, a local organization that works to celebrate the arts and talents and creative skills of the Mid City region of Baton Rouge. And all the deejays for the ball were from WHYR, the community radio station I’m with, so I was with friends. Everything was perfect except for one issue – I had surgery less than two months before and was still wearing a gigantic, heavy leg brace while my bone healed. I still meet people who recognize me as that crazy girl deejay at the ball with the broken leg!

What has been / is the most difficult part of your job?

In my early years, my biggest challenge was proving myself. The industry around here was dominated by men twenty to thirty years older than me, and it was difficult to prove I was more than a novelty or a cute face. Thankfully, that seems to be changing as more women are getting into radio and deejaying.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into pursuing what you’re doing?

Support each other. The business can be difficult, but it’s even more difficult if you’re working against others in the field. We learn from each other, we give and get tips and new ideas, and we help each other get gigs in the field.

Scheduling issue keeps you from taking a gig? Recommend someone you know – they might recommend you next time they can’t take a gig!

Vinyl gives music the space to be more than just a good song you listen to. With vinyl, the listener is also handling the artwork of the cover and looking at the artwork that the musician has attached to their songs. You’re touching the grooves that produce a sound, so there’s a tactile aspect of physically handling the music. You have to physically place the album on the turntable and touch the needle to the record, and skipping a song isn’t as easy as it is on a cd or on a playlist, so you end up listening to the entire album as it was intended – a whole experience, not just a quick moment of joy.

What types of things are happening in your industry / with vinyl that you’re excited or worried about? i.e. innovation, or trends you’re seeing.

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