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Arts & Entertainment

On Air and In Between Songs With Two Drexel University Deans on WKDU

June 9, 2017

Dean Allen Sabinson, left, with Dean Frank Linnehan, right, at WKDU during their back-to-back DJ set.
Dean Allen Sabinson, left, with Dean Frank Linnehan, right, at WKDU during their back-to-back DJ set.

It was a monumental moment unlike anything that’s ever been aired on WKDU 91.7 FM, Drexel's free-format, student-run radio station — or any radio station in Philly, for that matter: Drexel University’s Dean Allen Sabinson playing Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” on air and describing how the track, “one of the great songs about being a performer and having stage fright,” helped him appreciate hip-hop.

Immediately after the song ended, LeBow College of Business Dean Frank Linnehan, PhD, was on the air talking about how he originally was going to play a song of an artist who has famously talked about their stage fright, like Van Morrison or Carly Simon, but instead chose the aptly-titled “Stage Fright” by The Band, whom he’d seen play live in college.

The Band? Eminem? Two Drexel deans — on the University’s student-run radio station? It was all part of the “Westphal vs. LeBow” dueling DJ set held June 8, as previously highlighted by DrexelNow. During the two-hour-long set, the Dragons went back and forth playing their favorite songs in genres ranging from rock ‘n’ roll to blues to international bands and artists to local musicians to, yes, hip-hop. To introduce the songs or transition into the next one, the deans often shared personal stories, opinions, anecdotes and memories of the music and artists they were playing — and riffed off one another in the DJ booth as well.

All in all, it was a Thursday morning well spent.

“We do a lot of difficult stuff as deans,” said Sabinson. “This is a respite.”

“Two hours of listening and playing music? Can’t get any better than that,” Linnehan added.

It all came together thanks to Chris Burrell, WKDU’s electronic music director and an adjunct professor in the LeBow College of Business. Burrell had been DJing a Westphal event a little less than a month ago when he struck up a conversation with Sabinson, who mentioned that he did a guest DJ stint on WKDU a couple years ago and jokingly asked why he was never invited back.

“I said, ‘Well, we can fix that. And I’ll raise it and get Frank involved as well, so we’ll have two deans,’” said Burrell.

Soon afterward, a date and time were set, and Sabinson and Linnehan got to work creating their playlists. When it came time to sit down and review the choices, the two deans — who have known each other for about 10 years now — realized just how perfectly suited they were to DJ together.

“It was hysterical,” said Sabinson. “The trajectory of our playlists was utterly parallel. But we’re just two guys of a similar age that grew up with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and grew up within 20 miles of each other in New York.”

In fact, both deans had put Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” in their playlists. In the end, however, Sabinson got to play the song on air, “in tribute to our great city of Philadelphia.”

Many of the songs the deans picked had some sort of personal connection. Sabinson had seen Led Zeppelin in concert, so he played “When the Levee Breaks” on air. Linnehan mentioned afterward that it was his wife’s favorite Led Zeppelin song (so now he didn’t have to play it) and followed up with Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Bring It On Home,” which Led Zeppelin covered. The set also featured music from classic rock (David Bowie; AC/DC; The Yardbirds), current local artists The War on Drugs and international acts (French Argentine singer Carlos Gardel; Jean Luis Guerra from the Dominican Republic; Spanish-born, French-raised and multilingual artist Manu Chao).

Dean Allen Sabinson, left, with Dean Frank Linnehan, right, in WKDU's vast vinyl archive. Photo credit Chris Burrell/WKDU.
Dean Allen Sabinson, left, with Dean Frank Linnehan, right, in WKDU's vast vinyl archive. Photo credit Chris Burrell/WKDU.

During the set, the deans also promoted events on and off campus (music-related or not) and read two PSA announcements for nonprofits close to their heart. Linnehan spoke about Philadelphia Academies, an organization that supports local high school students to stay in school; he’s been on their board for about 20 years. Sabinson introduced listeners to Project HOME, a local nonprofit that helps lift people out of poverty and homelessness through opportunities in housing and employment, for example; the University has a history of teaming up with the organization on initiatives, including mounting multiple exhibits on campus featuring the work of Project HOME artists.

For Linnehan, getting to play songs on the radio was “a dream come true,” and something he wished he had done in college, like what Sabinson actually did. It’s no wonder that both leapt at the chance to appear on what Sabinson calls “the voice of Drexel.”

“I love that WKDU has kids involved from all over the University, including Westphal and LeBow,” said Sabinson. “When a student gets engaged in something like WKDU, they’ve got a community with like-minded people and a place to go. Those kids are going to graduate, and probably with friends for life. And then of course there’s the music!”

“WKDU is one of the last true college radio stations and I think it’s worth promoting,” said Linnehan. “It’s built up a great reputation and you can’t get music like this anymore.”

That’s exactly why Burrell wanted to get the deans in the studio and on the air.

“We were thinking about visibility for the station and having some of the best folks at the University really understand what we’re doing, because we’re holed away in the basement of the Creese Student Center and not everyone knows about us,” said Burrell. “But we think we’re doing a really great job and we’re different from anything else on the radio dial in the area.”

Based on the success of the DJing deans (Burrell called them “naturals on the mic”), there could be an encore show or other opportunities for more Drexel faculty and staff to get involved with WKDU. Currently, the only professors on the air are Burrell and Lawrence Souder, PhD, a teaching professor of communication in the College of Arts and Sciences and host of the weekly “Good Morning Neighbors” program, in which he interviews local nonprofits. But that seems likely to change.

“This has been so much fun, and I would love to come back do this again — are you kidding me?” said Linnehan. “I would do this on a regular basis in a heartbeat.”

“But after this they’re going to put us on at 2 in the morning,” joked Sabinson.

“Doesn’t matter! I’m retiring this month!” Linnehan replied.