What Will Become of the Overnight DJ?

Back in the day, overnights were the training ground of many an announcer. After a tour of duty of small-town radio, I broke into my first major market when I started doing the all-night shift at Q94-FM in Winnipeg. When I made the jump to CFNY in Toronto, it was as the all-night guy. Yes, living like a vampire took its toll on my mind and body, but these years were essential to my development as a radio person.

I’d always been fascinated by the people who worked overnight. They seemed…different somehow, probably because listening to the radio when everyone else is sleeping seems like such a personal and intimate experience. I remember a character at a station in Winnipeg named Paul Pallas who was always a comforting presence at 3:30 am. When pulling an all-night shelf-stocking mission at the grocery store, we’d always take a break at 3am for a feature called “Bedcheck” on CFRW-AM. Other times I’d turn to AM to see what signals I could pick up from Chicago, Denver and even down to the Caribbean. One of my favourite news guys was Jim Lowery, who was heard on The Larry King Show on the Mutual Broadcasting Network. No one has ever put more information in fewer words that this guy. He was a genius.

When I became one of those people, I became equally fascinated by the people who listened and especially those who called the request line. Trust me when I tell you that they were really different.

But the overnight DJ (and to a certain extent, newscaster) is a dying breed. Why pay someone to man the station overnight when you can just flip everything into automation? From an economic point of view, this makes sense, but radio as a whole has been diminished by the loss of the all-night DJ. Plus a valuable training ground for up-and-comers has been axed.

Radio futurist James Cridland agrees. Take a listen to his short (four minute) podcast on the subject.

Anyone have any favourite all-night radio memories from either side of the mic?


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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12 thoughts on “What Will Become of the Overnight DJ?

  • Hey Alan I would not have had my 30+ year run in the game if it wasn’t for Neil Gallagher and Steve Young who gave me a chance at the all night show at 92 CITI FM in the summer of 78. Everything I learned from them and that shift colored the style that helped me move to other shows It’s too bad that fertile training ground has dried up. I’m forever grateful to Neil, Steve and the shift for a job I still love to this day.

    • Terry! Damn, I used to listen to you ALL THE TIME! CITI-FM was my station of choice growing up. (I just wish that Steve had hired me during one of the three times I applied…)

    • Fantastic! More stations should be following their lead.

  • Worked a midnight shift between 1997 and 2000. Really liked the job. Best part though, was listening to Visnja on 102.1 during the overnight.

  • I remember during my university days in the early 80’s when CKO (i think) was a talk FM station, (I think at 99.1 or .3) and they had a late night show that I really enjoyed during allnighters. For some reason a call-in show at 3 am on a Tuesday night just made sense in 1985…

    I’ve not listened to GTA overnight radio, AM or FM, in well over a decade, other then a few scattered hours here and there. Sure my schedule is different now as a middle aged guy, but as a chef i still have late nights, it’s more about content and personalities.

    If I wanted to listen to sports, the ESPN station out of Buffalo was much better than either Toronto sports station, or if I wanted talk radio, then the local Canadian ones had the same content as the American ones.

    It used to be training ground, your first radio job, but with syndication, podcasts, program encores and network wide shows, there’s just not enough hours or enough ears to go around.

  • two distinct memories from
    cfny in toronto while i was in university- one was Kneale Mann (sorry if i spelled that wrong) -he spun one of those tunes that you hear and dig instantly-and i called the station to find out what it was – he answered and we had a short chat- it was a fab cover of “pictures of matchstick men” by camper van beethoven-the other was a late night exam cram session and i called up Maie Pauts at 3:30am to request Bigmouth Strikes Again from The Smiths… she played it within about ten minutes-made my fucking day!

  • I used to listen to Patti Schmidt on Brave New Waves, CBC Radio. Another one was called The Wee Hours on Thursday overnights hosted by Joe Myles on UMFM. He used to call random phone booths in the US. Most of the people that answered were great. Made for some awesome uncensored radio. Early 90’s in Brandon, Mb 96.1. The overnight guy used have people call in and vote for which classic heavy metal album to play around 4 am. He would only get about 4 or 5 votes, but he would play the whole album. Brandon is like a graveyard after 9 pm. Not many places were open except the three 7/11’s.

  • Listening to the late Yvonne Daniels on the Big 89 WLS Chicago while working mid-nights

  • When I was a kid, I would have the radio on all night when I would sleep. I still listen to music to sleep at night. I remember one overnight in 1985, I wake up in the middle of the night and my headphones are on my radio station Q106 in Albuquerque (which is all but a memory now). Don’t Talk To Strangers by Rick Springfield is playing. In the middle of the song, it starts going kablooey as if the cartridge was being eaten up. This is going on for a about a minute or so. The DJ comes on, and just says, “Well, that’s it for that one” and goes to another song. I was probably one of the few that heard what happened.

    • I used to fall asleep with my Lloyds transistor radio on my pillow. I often woke up in the middle of the night and spend an hour to whoever was on the air. It was…magical.


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