Discovered this in an interview with DJ Dave Mandl:
Every program on WFMU is a unique mixture of loam and silt, manure and peat, each lovingly tended to bring the finest harvest of ephemera, flotsam and mixed metaphor that can be guaranteed. In this installment, Dave Mandl explains what makes his garden grow.
Some WFMU DJs spend days preparing a show. They think about it all week, make notes, put select records from their collection aside in advance, plan exact sets, or even work out precise segues well ahead of time. Some DJs come down to the station with long, painstakingly assembled lists, so virtually all they need to do when they arrive here is mechanically pull each of those CDs or LPs from the wall ad they’re all set. Some do their entire show from their personal collection, so they can step out of the elevator two minutes before airtime and stroll into the studio with three full crates of records, confident and ready to go. These DJs produce some of the best radio in the world.
I do things a little differently. I don’t prepare days in advance. I never make lists. I grab maybe a dozen of my own records and CDs (often fewer) just before I leave the house. To be honest, I haven’t got the faintest idea what my show’s going to sound like at that point, and five minutes before showtime I’ve still got almost no idea.
What I do do is pull almost my entire show, on the fly, from the walls of WFMU’s main library and New Bin in the few hours before I go on the air. The way I do this is the same every week. I pick a section of the library (say, the P section of CDs) and flip, flip, flip through each individual disc till I find a couple of things that (a) I’ve never heard before but look interesting or (b) I do know, and strike me as something I happen to feel like playing that day. Then I go to another section of the library (say, the Ws, or the film soundtracks) and do it again, then again. Occasionally I’ll think, “Hmmm, I haven’t played Care of the Cow in a while,” in which case I’ll go over to the C section, grab I Still Don’t Know Your Style, and toss it on the pile. But that’s the exception. For the most part I just go through the library as if I’ve never seen it before, flip through individual discs, and pull things one by one with absolutely no plan. For the discs in the resulting stack that I’m not at all familiar with (and there are always a few of those), I’ll then give them a quick listen to see whether they’re any good, and a lot of those will go right back in the wall. Then I flip through some more sections. I’m finished when it’s time to go on the air, and lo and behold, I’ve got a pool of maybe 75 records and CDs broadly representing how I happen to be feeling that evening. This is a s-l-o-w and tortuous process, and it’s why I prefer to arrive at the station a good four hours before airtime….