Campus Community / People of SU

Hey Mr. DJ

Written by Annie Beckmann

January 13, 2014

volume controls for SU's student radio station KSUB

University Librarian John Popko moonlights as KSUB disc jockey.

Radio stations typically have their curiosities and quirks. That's what draws devoted listeners.

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. Well before each broadcast, he alerts numerous friends and colleagues so they can contribute song suggestions before he puts together his game plan for each show.  His themes have included "sunny days," "taverns and roadhouses," "sad and lonely," "luck and fortune" and more.

One night last year, Nigel hosted an extended two-hour show he called the "SU Deans' Council Songfest." A sampling of the songs: "The Obvious Child" by Paul Simon (Michael Quinn, dean, Science and Engineering), "Reckoner" by Radiohead (Bob Dullea, vice provost), "Blue Sky" by the Allman Brothers (Jodi Kelly, dean, Matteo Ricci College) and "At Last" by Etta James (Isiaah Crawford, provost), among others.

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 figured "why not?" and responded to the station's call for new 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-OK, sometimes four-hours more recently. He drafts a complete script for each show.

"I make time because it's fun," Nigel says, "plus I need the creative outlet."

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? He's a wannabe musician who never quite followed that path.

"Nigel" shrugs and sums it up this way.

"The bastard cousin of being a musician is being a DJ," he says. 

Now online: Winter magazine!

This story on DJ Popko is just one of many great articles in the new Seattle University Magazine. The cover story is on the Seattle University Youth Initiative and the positive impact it’s making on the lives of students in the Bailey Gatzert neighborhood, working in partnerships with community groups and leaders, SU and Gatzert students, the city of Seattle, faith organizations and more. Read about the progress of the Youth Initiative and what the future holds as well as other stories in the online version of the winter magazine.