April 1, 2006
Steve Seel had it figured out early. "As a little kid I used to play 'radio'," he says. "My first toy was a Webcor miniature reel-to-reel tape recorder. My friends and I would talk and record songs off our record player. It's the geekiest thing imaginable, but that's what we did."
As a DJ for The Current, Seel enjoys the same thing he did as a kid-playing and talking about the music he likes. For Seel, it's a bit of a dream come true. "For a really long time, I never thought that I was actually going to be in radio," he recalls.
Seel had majored in advertising at the University of Florida. Unexcited about entering that field, he went to the public radio station in Tampa-the city where he grew up-and asked if he could help out in any way. The station manager told Seel he could assist with classical music, but cautioned that the job paid minimum wage. It was actually more than he expected.
"I said, 'You pay? FabulousI'll take it.'"
Each day at noon, Seel begins his shift at The Current with "My Three Songs," a trio of tunes requested by individual listeners.
"I love how people use it as an opportunity to get really creative and have some fun," he says. "And it helps keep us on our toes. A lot of songs people request aren't yet in our library. It just reminds us of the CDs we still need to buy."
It's mutually beneficial: listeners help The Current expand its playlist while The Current helps listeners satisfy their musical curiosity. A music lover's curiosity is often eclipsed by the busyness of life; seeking out new artists and sounds can take a lot of time.
"People who are 35 and have a 1-year-old at home won't be going out and picking up music magazines like the NME or Q," Seel observes. "But they'll listen to the station and tell me, 'My ears have opened up again' or 'I thought that part of my life was over, but now it's not.'"
Seel acknowledges that the station appeals to people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and up, as well as to teenagers and college students. He says that if The Current is doing its job well, it will appeal to all of those age groups within the course of an hour.
"The caveat of doing the kind of music mix we do," Seel says, "is that there's probably something coming along that you're not going to be crazy about. But hold on for five minutes because it'll change."
Seel's radio roots are in classical music. His first public radio job in Tampa taught him a lot about classical, but his taste for the genre was nurtured right at home.
"My dad was a classical music aficionado," Seel says fondly. "We went to classical music concerts every other Thursday night. He had a massive record collection and would impress his friends by blasting Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture on his hi-fi."
Seel's classical music education intensified at WNED in Buffalo, N.Y., where, coincidentally, he worked with Minnesota Public Radio's All Things Considered host Tom Crann. After a short stint back in Tampa, Seel was hired as a classical music host at Minnesota Public Radio in 1999. When The Current launched in 2005, he was excited to take his public radio career in a new direction.
"Classical music means a lot to me emotionally and professionally," Seel says. "But I'm a rock musicianit's what I play and what I have the greatest memories attached to. The Current was announced and I thought, 'You mean, I can stay at Minnesota Public Radio and play Gang of Four?!' It was something I simply couldn't pass up."
In addition to his on-air duties, Seel produces various programs for The Current, and he's also the moderator of Policy and a Pint. Getting to pursue his myriad interests at work constantly invigorates Seel, something he doesn't take for granted. "I consider myself to be enormously, enormously fortunate," he says.
And when the day is over, Seel doesn't leave his musical interests in the broadcast booth. "When I go home," he says, "I plug my guitar into my direct box and play for two hours."
Listen to Steve Seel on The Current weekdays from noon to 3 p.m.
(This article also appeared in the April 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)