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Where Did the Term 'DJ' Come From?

A DJ spins a record at WPTR in Schenectady, New York.

What is the origin of that curious term, DJ? A disc jockey or DJ is a name that's been common in the radio industry since its early days. To trace its origins, Neil Hever will have to go back to 1940.

According to WNEW's 50th anniversary book Where the Memory Lingers, Walter Winchell was first inspired to use the term "disc jockey" after listening to WNEW's Martin Block who would take to the airwaves to create a "Make Believe Ballroom" experience for listeners.

Yet Bill Randle, one of the deans of the profession, has traced the term to the late Jack Kapp, a record executive who called on-air presenters "record jockeys" in 1940. This could have possibly been because the job of the presenter included controlling the sound volume or "riding the gain" on their records. It made the person behind a soundboard look like a horse jockey with two large reins in their hands. 

(Original air-date: 2/8/2019)