Photograph by Kurt Sonderegger
Rob “DJ Roob” Blackwell records John and Jozette Vineyard playing in the courtyard of his house.
Since March, the only students and personnel permitted on the campus of Palomar College have been those connected to the nursing program. The enforcement is so strict that it took Rob “DJ Roob” Blackwell a month to retrieve his Not So Serious Radio program banner out of their KKSM campus radio station’s offices.
But even though there is no life to be found in the KKSM headquarters, the station is still alive. A library of music is auto-playing over their airwaves, and a couple of actual human DJ’s are recording remotely from their homes. After a short break, even DJ Roob got back in the game.
“I took a few weeks off and floundered for a bit,” he explained. “Then I talked to the station manager and he said that if I record a show at home he could upload it and it would play at my time. So, I started doing it in late April. I kept it to an hour. It’s not as fun as being live on radio by any stretch. It’s stilted. When you’re on the radio if you make a mistake you go on, but here if I’m recording, I’ll go back and re-record it. It just doesn’t sound as fresh sometimes but, nevertheless, it’s still working and I’m getting it out there.”
A staple of Not So Serious Radio are the live, in-studio performances by various local bands. To retain this signature element of the program, Roob figured out a way to incorporate the performances into the pandemic-era installments. He would not be able to host full, electric, live bands, but the courtyard of his North County home would serve just fine for recording scaled down acoustic sets. The guinea pigs were John and Jozette Vineyard, a husband and wife duo who make up half of The Oxen. The show was a success, and ten more artists appeared before the performances were put on ice.
“I wanted to make sure that we were sending a good message and that we were being safe, because I didn’t want to be the DJ that had the super-spreader events at his house,” Roob said. “It worked really well, and we did a whole bunch in a row. Then things started getting a little dicey over the summer from a virus standpoint in the County — so we tapered them. We’ve only done two since then. My last one was a couple weeks ago, and I’m not going to do any more for the foreseeable future, because I want to see what happens with this surge.”
And speaking of surges, this pandemic hasn’t been easy on Roob. He suffers from anxiety which is a result of major depression disorder. “My depression manifests as anxiety and it has been off the charts since March,” he explained. A greater wealth of information about the virus has calmed his nerves considerably, as has working on his radio show and the act of simply listening to music. In an effort to help others dealing with mental illness, Roob dedicated an entire NSSR show to the subject in early June.
“I put the call out there, and I got eight San Diego artists to participate,” he explained. “I included all their audio bumpers at the introduction to the song and then played the song. I got such really nice feedback. A lot of private messages that were just like ‘Thanks for doing this. I felt so alone and now I don’t, because I know this band and I didn’t know this guy had social anxiety.’ Even if one person had responded to me, I would have been like ‘that’s pretty good,’ but I had a bunch of people write in. It was rewarding.”
In a further act of good will, in October Roob threw together a Not So Serious Radio t-shirt fundraiser that raised $2300 for the National Independent Venue Association Emergency Relief Fund — which was established to get money to local clubs such as The Casbah, the Brick By Brick, and (before it recently shuttered) Bar Pink.
“[Bar Pink] was the place where I saw my last live show before the shutdown,” Roob explained. “It’s heartbreaking. Especially a place where you’ve been, and you had a good time and you’ve gone back a bunch of times. You just think it’s gonna be there forever.”
He continued, “I think that we are going to lose some local venues, and we’re not alone here in San Diego. But something will come back and help fill the spaces, because there will be opportunities for people who say, ‘You know what, I’ve never owned a venue. I really want to do this. Now is the time.’”