Rick Adams is playing "The Hamster Dance," a song he hates, a song that makes him cringe, a song that makes him shriek. However, it is also a song that lots of kids want played on his daily AOL radio show -- and so he plays it and announces the names of the kids who have requested it.
DJ Rick last September created an Internet radio show for kids ages 8 to 14, and he hosts it live Mondays through Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. It is replayed at all other times. Only AOL members can tune in.
It's something he has wanted to do since he was a little kid growing up in the south of England.
"I have a picture of myself when I was 3 or 4 in front of a microphone," he says with a laugh. He is British, which you know immediately when you hear his accent.
He loves to make kids laugh, and he does that a lot. "Madeline," he tells one caller who offers to sing, "let's call you 'Tonsils.' "
Rick calls parents "wrinklies" and school "the office," and kids call him regularly with characters they have created such as "Somebody" (who just wants to banter with Rick) or "Puppy Girl" (who pretends to be a dog). A girl from Hawaii sometimes calls just to be put on hold, because she can hear the show playing, which she can't always do on her computer at home.
But what you hear on the radio doesn't begin to show you the action behind a live show.
Kids can go to the Radio KOL homepage and send a song request or a "shout-out" to friends or family.
In the studio, Rick is looking at these requests. There are so many of them that in a nearby office a couple of AOL summer interns sort through them, too. They send Rick a list of the most-requested songs with the names of the kids who have requested them. Included are songs by Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, Raven and Usher. (However, he can play only a few Usher songs because he has to watch for inappropriate language.)
All this takes place in a tiny studio at AOL headquarters in Dulles, Virginia, that Rick helped build. It's no bigger than a closet and only slightly warmer than a refrigerator. Rick likes it that way.
The walls are plastered with posters of Scooby-Doo, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and the Cat in the Hat. Rick shouts and laughs, plays requested songs, answers e-mails and instant messages (he calls them "instant massages," and beats his chest when he says it) and jokes with his listeners all around the country. Later this month, AOL members will be able to watch Rick when a Web cam is installed in the studio.
AOL says more than 1 million kids listen to the show every week.
Rick has regular guests. The Game Guru is on every Monday, talking about new electronic games. Dr. Bill, a vet, answers questions about pets on Thursdays. On Fridays, Stuart Claxton from Guinness World Records plays Stump Stuart, where kids quiz him about amazing records.
Also on Friday, kids call in and scream, "It's the weekeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeend," while Rick times how long they can make the scream last.
But live radio can be a dangerous thing: "Sometimes kids will forget what they called about," says Rick. "We have moms getting on the phone, interrupting."
Whatever happens, happens. He shouts into his microphone, "We are live and on the air and there is nothing you can do about it!"
-- Ellen Edwards