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Hey Mr. DJ

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By Erin Melwing

News Intern

Crazy hours and the opportunity to have fun at work on a daily basis are just two of the perks in the life of a DJ.

Both Brett Waford and Jonathan Mertz were born and raised in Henry County and are both currently employed with Forever Communications in Frankfort.

“The whole point of radio is to have fun,” said Waford, who is better known as “Jumpin’ Jim Beam” to Froggy radio (104.9) listeners in Frankfort and surrounding areas.

Waford, originally from Smithfield, is a 1999 graduate of Henry County High School and graduated from the University of Louisville in 2004 with a degree in communications. Since then, he has been in radio for four years and a DJ for the past three. Although he is relatively new to Froggy, Waford is not new to the idea of being a DJ.

Waford began to get the itch to become a DJ when he was 8-years-old while hanging out with his friend Keith Morris. They recorded themselves doing a commentary for a baseball game so that they could hear it back. Waford attributes his childhood broadcasting experiments as the catalyst for his career.

Waford knew he wanted to be a DJ for a long time, but he was a little bit apprehensive about it. He was concerned about being a country boy and the whole accent issue. However, he could not suppress the itch and it came down to a now or never ultimatum after graduating from UofL. I just had to roll with it, he said.

He officially started in radio at Louisville Clear Channel Communications as an intern, but eventually went full-time. As a full-time employee, he did traffic, promotions and was on the air weekends. Eventually, he got the night shift on The Fox (93.1).

“In Louisville, my radio name was ‘Tractor,’” he said. “I’ve been driving tractors since I was four, so it made sense.”

Radio is a very competitive industry, according to both Waford and Mertz. Therefore, Waford faced obstacles along the way; his accent being one of them.

“When you’re from the country, everybody wants to harp on that,” Waford said. “I don’t think a little accent hurts anybody. That’s just who I am.”

Growing up in Henry County has greatly affected Waford as well. Waford, son of Danny and Kathy Waford, learned respect and the importance of showing respect to people from his experiences in Henry County, he said.

“When you grow up out here versus the city, you seem to respect people more,” Waford said. “I was a farm kid. Once you have it in your blood, you can’t really get it out.”

Waford chose “Tractor,” but he did not choose “Jumpin’ Jim Beam.”

“At Froggy, everything is frogtastic,” he said. “Everything is very froggy, you’ll have hops and ribbits.”

The frog atmosphere at Froggy adds to the character of the station though. The station also has a mascot that the children go crazy for, Mr. Froggy is a superstar, according to Waford.

DJs are plagued with crazy hours and Waford admits to working nights, days and mornings. However, he would not trade his job for another.

“You don’t have to worry about what you wear when you go to work. Radio is just casual,” Waford said. “However, you get to have fun at your job. Not all the time, but you do actually have the opportunity to have fun. Some people don’t ever get the opportunity to have fun at work.”

Waford’s favorite aspect of being a DJ is the interaction with listeners. Waford holds the afternoon shift at Froggy from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. The Froggy request line is 502-875-4040.

“I try to put a lot of callers on the air,” he said.

Forever Communications is home to three different stations: Froggy (104.9), Star (103.7) and WKYW (1490 AM). Mertz has done work for Froggy in the past, but is now involved in other stations within the group.

“We’ve been circling each other and now we’ve finally ended up with each other,” Waford said.

Mertz, originally from Eminence, is a 1999 graduate of Eminence High School. In addition, he attended both Jefferson Community College and the University of Louisville. He has been involved in radio for the past 11 years. He is currently the Creative Services Director for Forever Communications, Operations Director of WKYW (1490 AM), Local IT and mid-day DJ for Star (103.7). Mertz has been with Star for the past two-and-a-half years.

“Brett and I grew up together in Henry County. He went to HCHS, but I went to EHS. He and I played baseball against each other and that’s really where we got to know each other,” Mertz said.

Mertz has known he wanted to be in radio since high school. A DJ from Shelby County visited his business class at EHS during his sophomore year.

“From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be in radio. I got to go on after that and show him. After that, the bug just got me,” Mertz said.

Mertz started at WKX (1600 AM) in Eminence while he was still in high school. He has since worked at various stations including KISS (98.9), the Bull and the Fox.

“When I first started on Eminence, I was ‘Justin Case,’” Mertz said. “Once I got to Louisville and I was on 98.9, I was ‘Chuck Roast.’”

Like Waford, Mertz was able to pick his first radio name, but was given the other. Mertz currently goes by his full name at Star.

“The best part about being a DJ is getting to do something that I love,” he said. “The interaction with the people and the interaction with music on a daily basis.”

Mertz also enjoys finding out the new trends in music and knowing what is coming up and who is going out, he said. There is more to Mertz’ job description though than just music. Mertz is also responsible for designing those catchy promotion clips that get stuck in consumer’s minds. He recently finished a promotion for a series of “one-tank trips.”

“I’m focusing on, as a DJ, delivering information that gets response,” Mertz said. “As a creative services director, I do the same thing, but also make it entertaining to the point where you’re either chuckling or you can’t get it out of your head.”

The hardest part about being a DJ for Mertz is figuring out what to talk about from day-to-day. Again, he has to be creative. “You don’t want to seem robotic about talking about the same thing everyone else is,” Mertz said.

For example, if “Lost” is the top show in the ratings that week, Mertz will try to do something different than just ask people about the show. He gives listeners concepts. For instance, “If you were lost on an island with somebody, who would it be?”

“It’s about thinking outside of the box and giving the population an opportunity to speak,” he said.

Mertz strongly believes that music stations lack personality and he is constantly trying to make a difference. Mertz works from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., except on Sundays, on Star. The Star request line is 502-223-1500. The workload can be overwhelming at times, but Mertz remains focused.

“It’s the constant challenge. I’m a thrill-seeker. A really weird thrill-seeker,” Mertz said. “I’m not the one that jumps off cliffs. I like to find a challenge that people say that he can’t get done on a deadline. It’s the competition.”

Dave Foxx, of Z100 New York, has served as a mentor for Mertz. They exchange e-mails frequently.

“Even though he’s in the biggest market in the United States, he’s willing to talk to people who are in small markets like Frankfort and give them advice on what to do in radio,” Mertz said.

Mertz’ small-town upbringings have not deterred his spirit. In fact, it has strengthened him.

“Growing up in a smaller community always gave me something to thrive for,” Mertz, son of Steve and Peggy Mertz, said.

EHS gave Mertz the education on what is out there in the real world, he said. He also appreciates Henry County because compared to larger cities like Louisville and Lexington, everyone is intertwined in Henry County.

“It’s a family reunion when I go to Henry County,” he said. “No matter what city I go to in Henry County, I’m related to somebody.”

“Whatever you want to do in life, don’t listen to anybody. Seriously, if you start listening to too many people saying ‘I don’t think this is a good decision;’ if you never try it, you’ll never know if you’re going to love it,” Mertz said. “Always be optimistic about your approaches in life and go in with a positive attitude.Negative attitudes will kill your creativity and create more problems for you in any work environment.”

Waford and Mertz also have various side projects. Waford hosts a talk show from 8 p.m. until 9 p.m. Thursday nights on a station (1080 AM) in Louisville. The program is titled “The Part-Timer’s Show.”

“It’s several guys and girls and we all grew up in the business,” Waford said. “It’s the most fun thing I do. It’s with the guys and girls that have become my friends, it’s like family. We just goof off and talk about general topics.”

Mertz is currently also working on Night Sky Productions, which should be fully launched by the end of the summer. Mertz will do commercials, regular radio commericials, music-on-hold systems, audiobooks and casting services, according to Mertz. Visit www.nightskyproductions.com for more information. Mertz also has a syndicated show in the works. The station has already had several comedians on, including Tom Mabe and Tim Cavanaugh. Visit www.weekendshindig.com for more information.

“We’re hoping to get picked up by country music stations across the United States,” Mertz said.

While staying true to their Henry County roots, both Waford and Mertz have pursued a career that will allow them to do what they love while receiving a salary.

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.