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Best College DJ in North America

River Hawk Junior Goes Swiss in August

DJ Nick Canovas

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet UMass Lowell’s Nick Canovas, the top college DJ in North America. UMass Lowell Photo by Tory Germann.

By David Perry

Nick Canovas is 20. He is a junior, majoring in sound recording technology.

He hails from Bethlehem, N.Y.

He is not a dad, but plays one on WUML-FM. Sort of. 

But he most assuredly is, according to CMJ’s International Radio Festival’s competition, the best college radio DJ in North America. Canovas’ Time in the Study — the WUML (91.5 FM) show for which he assumes the role of “DJ Dad” — was selected over 165 other college radio shows on the basis of radio skill, personality and musical knowledge.

“My dad does really get a kick out of it,” says Canovas, who also serves as the station’s director of promotions and assistant chief engineer. 

The road to radio began when Canovas was a freshman, doing the midnight to 2 a.m. Left of the Dial show. He napped, and overslept. Rather than take the time to dress, he grabbed a bathrobe and ran from Eames Hall to the WUML station in the basement of Lydon Library. 

“Such a dad thing to do,” said a fellow host when he arrived. “And I just ran with it,” says Canovas. “I tell jokes a dad might tell. People went with it, and responded to it.”

But it’s the variety of music that won him the contest for him, believes Canovas.

Canovas bleeds River Hawk blue. One day, his tall frame is settled into a chair at the radio station, the next he is leading a group of students around campus as an orientation guide.

Canovas is the sort of Lowell cheerleader the Mill City loves. He makes sure his show includes such local acts as Western Education (also UMLers!), Whiskey James and Mizer. When he travels to Zurich, Switzerland in August to pick up his prize and present a two-hour version of his show at the International Radio Festival, Canovas will pack it with Lowell pride, planning to spin a bunch of local recordings. (He is working on making sure the show can be broadcast locally, as well.)

Canovas exemplifies “what young, fresh DJs are programming on campuses around the world and we look forward to welcoming him to Zurich this summer,” said founder and CFO of International Radio Festival Darryl von Daniken.

Canovas hopes to take his older brother with him to Zurich, but he owes much to fathers. His own, an avid booster of the show, and all dads who wear bathrobes.

“My dad really enjoys it, and he has the most dad laugh you can imagine” says Canovas. Nick’s own taste runs from Ben Folds to The War on Drugs, but he puts that all aside when he gets behind the microphone.

“I think one of the reasons the show does well is that I’m always looking out for new music. People really want playlist diversity. Before I got here my tastes were limited, but I read internet blogs like Pitchfork and it has really opened my mind to more pop culture and underground culture.”

The DJ Dad would like his post-UMass Lowell work to include broadcasting, “in one way or another. Should I not be able to make it behind the microphone, I’ll be equipped to work on the other side, thanks to preparation in my major.”

We asked Canovas to come up with a list of 10 songs most people don’t know, but should. This is what he gave us and why, in his words:
  • Whiskey James - “So You’re Saying There’s a Chance”
    The rap scene in Lowell has been growing over the past few years, and this alt-rock/rap band has been at the forefront.
  • Kamasi Washington - “Askim”
    This song shows how Washington pulls off a new breed of space-jazz with his three-hour long album, The Epic.
  • Bent Knee - “Sunshine”
    This band has played a few venues in Lowell and is known by some for this apocalyptic cover.
  • Brad Mehldau - “Dear Prudence” 
    This song was actually requested during one of my shows, and with a sultry yet ominous feel that the Beatles original didn’t have, it’s probably the best request I’ve gotten.
  • Mizer - “Tuscan Raiders” 
  • I love showcasing the musical talent of UMass Lowell students, and this band is no exception, combining jazz grooves with more modern approaches to singing and rapping. Check out their video here.
  • yMusic - “Balance Problems”
    I also enjoy branching out to genres that a random listener wouldn’t find on your everyday college radio station, and this new age classical sextet is anything but typical.
  • Death Grips - “Inanimate Sensation”
    Death Grips is the band I always go to when friends ask me about the strangest music I know, and this song, in which the main recurring riff sounds like an auto-tuned paper shredder, is quite possibly the strangest of them all.
  • George Ezra - “Budapest”
    A lot of college DJs were playing this song right before Ezra became huge in the pop world; it just goes to show how strong of an impact the college radio world has on music!
  • Lifelike - “So Electric”
    Despite only being composed of three endlessly repeating chords, this electronica jam might be the single best driving/running/feeling-awesome song I’ve heard in the past few years.
  • Chance the Rapper/The Social Experiment - “Wonderful Everyday: Arthur” 
    This is the song that always closes my playlists, because its feel-good vibe fits perfectly with my show’s closing slogan: “Pie is good, the sky is blue, and WUML loves you!”