Donald Isaac Jr. 2014
During his first year at Bluffton, Donald Isaac Jr. had an idea for a radio show on campus station WBWH. Less than two years later, that show, “The Chillout Sessions with Donald Isaac,” is sending “smooth” jazz to an international audience, primarily via affiliated websites—including New York City- and European-based sites—that stream the syndicated program.
His work on the show, and at the station, led the junior from Dayton to change his major last spring to broadcasting and journalism, and to set his sights on a career in radio or possibly television.
Isaac’s father played a big role in his son’s choice of both music and a college. Musically, because his father liked jazz, “I grew up with it,” Donald Jr. says. But he also became a jazz fan “because it’s relaxing; it’s different than anything else on the radio,” he continues. “That’s what I want when I turn on the radio—something relaxing.”
Donald Isaac Sr. coaches young football players as well and had met Bluffton coaches at a meeting. His football-playing son hadn’t heard of the university until then, but he ultimately chose to continue his career at Bluffton, where he also planned to pursue a pre-medicine major.
Change of heart
As a first-year student, though, he talked to Dr. Daniel Fultz, associate professor of communication, about his idea for a radio show—which he started soon after, live from 7-9 p.m. Sundays on WBWH. “It was just for fun at first, then I realized how much I liked it,” says Isaac, who gained experience writing his own scripts and playlists. After that year, he decided to forgo football and take the paying job of operations manager at the station, now at 96.1 on the FM dial.
Since then, Isaac has been working to expand “The Chillout Sessions,” named in part because he wanted to incorporate “chill” music from Europe with smooth jazz—a combination of several genres—to give the show a more “worldly feel,” he explains. And that infusion is “one of the prime reasons my show gets so much international feedback,” he says.
New episodes still air at 7 p.m. Sundays—although they’re now prerecorded—with replays at 3 p.m. Fridays, on WBWH and streamed on BlufftonConnection.com. Episodes from the program archives air at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Isaac also hosts special editions of the show that feature the music of, and interviews with, individual artists. The music sometimes includes world premieres; the interviews are done on the phone or Skype. He contacts artists through social media, which usually leads to an email exchange, he says. With few radio stations playing smooth jazz, artists are anxious to get their music out and, in some cases, he introduces them to a new audience, he adds.
Among smooth jazz performers, Kenny G. is perhaps the best known. “He does so much for the format,” says Isaac, noting the saxophonist’s ability to get play time for instrumentals on radio stations dominated by vocals. “Other smooth jazz artists can’t do that.”
Broadening the audience
The Chaminade Julienne High School graduate hasn’t hesitated to seek other outlets for “The Chillout Sessions.” Wanting to add a syndicated show on WBWH last fall, he chose Chocolate Jazz Radio, featuring smooth jazz trumpeter David Wells, whom Isaac had seen perform in Dayton. After he aired the show a few times, he got a call from Wells, who was starting Chocolate Jazz Radio as an online station and wanted to syndicate “The Chillout Sessions” there. Wells also recommended Isaac’s show to a few small FM stations in West Virginia that have become affiliates.
Isaac struck up a correspondence, too, with Tesh Hitman, a longtime radio man in Great Britain and the owner of Hot FM Smooth Grooves Radio, which has become another affiliate, at hot-fm.co.uk.
The affiliates list also includes The Coast Radio (thecoastradio.ning.com) and Black Soul Rhythms Radio (blacksoulrhythms.com), both from New York; Orlando, Fla.-based jazzy103.com; and, from Europe, JazzNet 247 Radio (jazznet247.com) and Platinum Grooves Radio (platinumgroovesradio.com). And the show is available on demand at mixcloud.com/donald-isaac; samurai.fm/thechilloutsessions; and soundcloud.com/donald-isaac.
Pointing out that “all of these affiliates came from word-of-mouth referring,” he says “it’s been a big growing year for the show. It’s all about having these key contacts.”
Back at Bluffton
But WBWH is still the flagship station, notes Isaac, the station’s program director and practicum supervisor this year. “It’s promoted all through the week internationally” and has gained a number of listeners in Europe and some in Japan, for other shows as well as his, he says.
Telling listeners where his show is produced also recognizes the university, whose small-school atmosphere and ability to provide individualized attention has fit well, says Isaac, with his learning style. “When I saw the class sizes here, I thought, ‘This is going to be nice,’” he says.