Backwash

There are a number of reasons to marvel over Alisha Sweeney. At 22, she's just graduated from the journalism department at the University of Colorado at Boulder with her second bachelor's degree in five years. She's an artist preparing for her first gallery show: "[Sm]art Projects" will be on display at 60 South, a nightclub at 60 South Broadway, next week. She's getting ready to move to London, a city she's never set foot in, to take a job with BBC Radio. And, perhaps most miraculous, for the past two years she's reported to the basement-level studio of Radio 1190/KVCU-AM at the crack of dawn, five days a week.

Local radio listeners who crave music and personality in the morning -- rather than dick jokes and market updates -- have gotten to know Sweeney as the producer and host of Radio 1190's morning show, which airs from 7 to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday. Unlike many college-age kids who savor every possible moment in their beds before stumbling puffy-eyed and messy-haired into morning classes, Sweeney has willingly adapted to a somnambulistic life: She typically sleeps about four hours a night. For this, her 30,000 daily listeners should be grateful.

When Sweeney took over the morning shift in April 2000, following the departure of longtime jock DJ Loki, she quickly established herself as an affable on-air talent with a prodigal, almost precocious, knowledge of a wide range of music, much of which was recorded years, even decades, before she was even an apple in her music-hungry father's eye. (Sweeney makes many on-air references to her parents' love of music -- and often pulls curious tracks from their collection to play during her show.) Since then, she's become the station's most popular personality (and the winner of a Westword Best of Denver award for Best DJ in 2001). Maybe it's the exactitude and earnestness she displays while introducing listeners to new sounds as part of her "Artist of the Week" segments that endear her to us. Maybe it's that down-to-earth timbre of her voice, or the fact that she often sounds as if she's got a little cold. Or maybe it's the fact that Alisha, who's never assumed a zany on-air handle, has always been just Alisha -- a real, smart and dedicated voice on the dial.

Whatever it is, fans need it to soak it up while they can. On August 16, Sweeney signs off for good and takes the leap across the pond. Milkman Dan, current co-host of Saturday's Hangover Brunch program, will assume the morning duties (and the erratic sleep patterns). But those who need an Alisha fix will be able to access her Web site, djalisha.com, where she's already begun posting interviews as well as a personal journal. ("My boss thanks you, since I come in to work with a smile sometimes," reads a typical farewell message from a fan who's signed her guest book.) 60 South will dedicate its August 8 "Lipgloss" event as a going-away party and one-night-only artist's reception for Sweeney, who's says she's in denial about her pending split from the radio station -- and audience -- that has partly defined her over the course of roughly 500 shows.

Backwash: Did you ever have any trepidation about committing yourself to the morning show?

Alicia Sweeney:No, I never hesitated. When they offered it to me, I was just so excited, the time element wasn't even a consideration at all. But I've never been the typical college student. I've always put my passions before sleep. In high school I was the student body president, and I would go to school at 7 a.m. and make sure that the announcements were all in order. I'd talk to the teachers and be sure everything was set. I've always been very driven and disciplined in that way.

So you did your high school announcements. Was that your first experience with broadcasting?

Actually, when I was in ninth grade, my friends and I went to this haunted house in Fort Collins, and they were all really scared. I was just laughing, because that was my way of dealing with being frightened. When we came out, this radio station was there, and I went on the air talking about the haunted house and embellishing some stuff and saying my friends' names. It just felt very natural and easy for me to talk on the radio, live on the air. And it was really good for my popularity at school.

One of your degrees is in journalism. Why did you decide to go into radio, as opposed to other mediums?

The focus of my journalism degree is Media Studies, because I've always wanted to think analytically about the things going on in the media and how our culture is being formed -- like, why we are who we are. My heart is really in wholesome media, community stations like Radio 1190 that aren't driven by corporate ratings or some man sitting in an office hundreds of miles away from the station itself. I never wanted to be a voice or a personality. I chose to be a DJ because I wanted to be myself on the air.

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