Hey Mr. DJ

University Librarian moonlights at SU radio station KSUB

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Doug Ogle
January 14, 2014

On its website, Seattle University’s student radio station KSUB-89.1 FM makes the bold claim to “sonically kick your teeth in” with “pirates riding waves of sound” who are “rebels in a music revolution.”

Enter Seattle University Librarian John Popko, known on the KSUB airwaves as Nigel, Your Favorite Child of the Sixties, host of The Finn Hill Sessions Thursdays, from 7 to 8 p.m. This volunteer DJ might be a rebel who carries a briefcase, yet his keen memory for music is not unlike an online database you might find in a university library.

The Nigel moniker came to Popko courtesy of a friend during his high school and college days and it stuck. When he told his family he was bent on becoming a KSUB DJ, all agreed: “You can be Nigel again!”

Nigel introduces his show each week by explaining its title, which also happens to be where he lives: “The Finn Hill Sessions is named for the mythical recording studio perched high atop Finn Hill in Kirkland, Wash., where generations of songwriters, composers, musicians and performers have paused in the midst of their worldwide travels to lay down a few tracks for posterity.”

Every show opens with a slice of “Hey Mr. DJ” by Van Morrison and ends with Nigel’s signoff: “Paraphrasing my mom and Red Skelton, ‘Good night and God bless,’” followed by enough of “Happy Trails” for old timers to recognize the harmonies of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

The set list from each of Nigel’s shows spans about 50 years and includes music from multiple genres. Themes have included “sunny days,” “taverns and roadhouses,” “sad and lonely,” “luck and fortune” and more.

So how did the university’s head librarian start DJing on the side? He has been a bit of a closet DJ most of his life—a passionate music collector and listener who likes to delve into its history. One day in fall 2012, he responded to the station’s call for volunteer DJs.

When he first started out, his earliest one-hour shows took him five to seven hours of prep time. He whittled that down to three hours—OK, sometimes four— more recently. He drafts a complete script for each show.

He’s challenged but not thwarted by minor technical gaffes. For example, he might start talking without turning on his microphone or start a song he just played.

“Those weeks when I have only three people listening, it really doesn’t matter,” he says with a laugh.

Who would have guessed that one of SU’s top administrators would hunker down in the basement of Campion Hall and play an eclectic assortment of tunes each week? “Nigel” shrugs and sums it up this way.

“The bastard cousin of being a musician is being a DJ.”

For volunteer opportunities and stream KSUB here.
popko University Librarian John Popko, aka Nigel, looks at home in the DJ booth at SU's radio station KSUB.