Cincinnati is known for being a baseball town. Win or lose, our Cincinnati Reds can do no wrong. What you may not know about going to see a Cincinnati Red’s game at Great American Ball Park is that a lot of the music that you hear is local!
Aaron Sharpe is not only the Reds DJ; he is also the Development Director for our beloved local radio station WNKU! Perfect fit, right? He is the man that captures the moment by playing relevant music during every home game. He does that by playing Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire” when the smokestacks at GABP caught on fire, and by playing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s “Messiah” when Joey Votto sent a 2-2 fastball over the wall to take the win after an exhausting game in the rain. When the nations eyes were on Cincinnati last summer for the All-Star game he played local music all weekend long!
We sat down with the one and only, Aaron Sharpe prior to Opening Day about becoming the Cincinnati Reds DJ, how local music got it’s start in the Great American Ball Park and what new local music additions to listen for this season!
CincyMusic.com: How does one become the Cincinnati Reds DJ?
Aaron Sharpe: In 2000, I was a student at NKU in what was then the Radio/Television program. My professor/advisor/mentor was a guy by the name of Russ Jenisch. In addition to teaching, Russ was the producer for the Reds' scoreboard operations, and so he recruited a lot of his crew from NKU. While most of his students were pursuing a career in television and made for great camera operators and directors, I was pursuing a career in radio or music. I think that probably made me a good choice for Reds DJ (Side note - Russ left NKU and the Reds years ago and is now a rock star freelance director and producer in the world of live sports and sports television).
It was a little bit of a "what you know", but as is so often the case, it was more of a "who you know.” To throw in another cliché, it was also a lot of “right place at the right time.” The guy who did the music at the time was pursuing other interests and was leaving midseason. They needed someone in a hurry. Also, they saw it as an opportunity to freshen up the music in the stadium. This was at Riverfront, which makes me sound really old, and it was quite literally a different ball game. Player music was a relatively new thing. I played it off of a mini-disc player (which was supposed to replace the compact disc in the late nineties, but never did). I could go on and on about how different it was, but it’ll just make me sound super old. Anyway, sixteen years later, and here we are.
CincyMusic.com: What prompted you to start playing local music in the Ball Park?
Aaron Sharpe: To be fair, I wasn’t the one to “start playing” local music at the ball park. In 2003, Great American Ball Park was built and scoreboard operations took on a whole new life. Russ Jenisch was hired full time along with another NKU graduate Dave Storm, to run the operation. In the new ball park, Dave took over the DJ responsibilities as a natural component of his overall role as media coordinator. I then shifted roles and become an assistant to the audio engineer for those first few years at Great American.
Dave, who now oversees scoreboard production for the Orlando Magic, was a local musician in a great band you may remember called the Screaming Mimes. He’s the one who really made it okay to play local music at the ball park. He even got the Reds to produce a CD of local musicians doing baseball songs. It was called “Cincinnati Clutch Hits.” So, credit goes to Dave. It was probably around 2005 or 2006 that Dave started stepping back from DJ duties to focus on bigger priorities. I slid back into “the chair” and really just picked up where he left off.
That said, I do think I’ve made a conscious effort to elevate local music at the ball park in the years, since. As more great local bands emerged, it become a lot easier. Keep in mind, I can’t play a song just because it’s local, especially in-game. It’s got to work in a stadium environment. It’s got to rock, or at least be danceable. Bands like Walk the Moon and Foxy Shazam started throwing me softballs, so to speak.
WNKU had just started playing Walk the Moon in late 2010, so by the 2011 season, I had this great new local discovery that I would play before and during games as often as I could. And again, they were cranking out songs that worked in a ball park. Of course in 2011, no one knew who they were, but it was clear to me they were going to be a hit machine. Four years later, they’re playing the Home Run Derby.
Also in 2010, Foxy Shazam released “Unstoppable.” Now, I would argue that the toughest job in all of sports music is coming up with a team's winning song. Chances are, if it’s a song that even remotely matches the mood of a walk off home run in extra innings, then it’s already being used by half of all professional and college sports. I’m talking ALL sports. Remember when “Celebrate” by Kool and the Gang was the Reds’ winning song over two decades ago? That song is STILL being used by a half dozen MLB teams to this day. A lot of teams have “All I Do is Win” by DJ Khaled, which we used when it first came out just like everybody else. Before that, it was “Beautiful Day” by U2, which again, is used by several other teams out there. So, the challenge is to find a song that a) WORKS and b) is unique to your team. Most teams haven’t found that song. Some markets are fortunate enough to have well known songs written about their cities. Cincinnati is not one of them. And while “Cincinnati, Ohio” by Whispering Bill Anderson is a fun little diddy to sing along to during the seventh inning stretch, it’s not exactly a fist pumping ball park anthem. Then along comes Foxy Shazam, a LOCAL band that straight up gift wraps this song, “Unstoppable” with a giant red bow. To be clear, they didn’t write that song for that purpose as far as I know. I don’t even know those guys, but as soon as I heard that song for the first time, I knew it was our game winning song.
So, the Yankees have Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” Boston has the Standells', “Dirty Water,” the White Sox have “Sweet Home Chicago,” and the Cincinnati Reds have Foxy Shazam’s “Unstoppable.” Pretty cool. Right?
CincyMusic.com: How often do you play local music at the games?
Aaron Sharpe: Every single game, win or lose. When Dave Storm worked for the Reds, he commissioned super Reds fan, Freekbass, to write a song called “Reds Fan.” It was first used along with a video at the beginning of games. As production values continued to rise over the years with technology, that video was eventually retired. The song continued to be used on a pretty regular basis. Now (and I hope Freek doesn’t take this the wrong way), we play it after a loss. The second toughest job in all of sports music, by the way, is choosing a team’s losing song. What do you “say” in that moment that isn’t just a total downer? Well, Freekbass says, “I’m a Reds fan” regardless, dammit! Again, the right message and it’s by a local artist.
Beyond those two songs, I work local music in whenever I can. It’s tougher when you’re in the actual game itself, because it’s important to play songs that people know and are really high energy. I have a lot more flexibility during pre-game when gates open. I usually have about an hour to fill with music before anything happens on the field. While I’m not playing slow songs during that time, it’s not necessary to rock people’s faces off at that point, either. I try to work in at least one local artist during every pre-game set. On special occasions like Opening Day and last year’s All Star Game, I’ve used the opportunity as an excuse to put an even greater focus on Cincinnati. The ASG2015 pre-game playlist consisted entirely of songs that either referenced Cincinnati and/or Ohio or were by artists from Cincinnati or Ohio. This year’s Opening Day pre-game playlist will be pretty similar.
CincyMusic.com: What local additions can we look forward to this season?
Aaron Sharpe: Great question. I still have a few days to figure that out. Right? I’m looking forward to playing some Yugos, Multimagic, and Automagik, just to name a few off the top of my head. “Splendidly” is a GREAT pop song by Harbour. You’ll be hearing that, for sure. Who knows what else. Luckily, I’ve got some good friends who I can rely on heavily for ideas. That’s SO important to add. I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many people who know local music way better than I do. Cincymusic.com has been a great resource, and even after 17 years at WNKU, I’m still discovering great new local music through my coworkers every day.
Speaking of which, this is a good time to remind folks that I’m one player on an amazing team. The music is just one piece of an awesome experience made possible by the best damn scoreboard crew in all of sports. If you haven’t traveled around to other ball parks and stadiums, you may now know just how good it is at Great American Ball Park. And believe me, when it comes to playing local music, I’m extremely fortunate to have the autonomy to do so by the Reds organization (within reason, of course). Look. At the end of the day, we’re trying to entertain tens of thousands of baseball fans of all ages and backgrounds whose one thing in common is NOT music. A lot of people just want to hear Thunderstruck, We Will Rock You, or the latest Taylor Swift song, and I make no apologies for giving them what they want. Luckily, the Reds have let me walk a fine line between “playing the hits” and being "a little different" for 16 seasons now, so here’s to working for a truly great organization.