For the Love of Crap
Deejay Jenn Garrison's "Prizewhores' Explores Radio Subculture
'I think they think we don't listen, that we don't deserve to win prizes,' wonders Chris Donahue, a sixtysomething radio-giveaway addict, one of the subjects of local disc jockey Jenn Garrison's new documentary, PrizeWhores. 'Do you think the deejays would rather we just not show up?' The look on Donahue's face reveals a concern that perhaps her 'extreme hobby' crosses over lines of decorum, but that look also betrays a bit of bravado, because after all, she is a loyal radio station listener how else would she know where to show up? and she has as much right as anybody to come out and enjoy the fun ... doesn't she?
Donahue's comments merely scratch the surface of the strained and complicated relationship between local radio station jocks and the so-called 'prize whores' like herself who frequent the stations' live promotional events, or 'remotes.' And why should they think she and George, her husband of nearly 40 years, actually listen to the mostly rock-formatted programming? The only real interaction deejays have with these freebie junkies is when they appear at events to glom prizes from token T-shirts and koozies to big-ticket packages with luxury items like wave-runners and trips to the Grammys. But the interesting thing about this subculture and its inhabitants, folks like the Donahues, is that they approach the cheap giveaway 'swag,' basically crap, like T-shirts and CDs, with the same passion as a cruise to the Bahamas.
First-time documentarian Garrison has gotten to know folks like these through the years and has always been curious about what drives them. 'Why are we so invested in celebrities ... even minor ones like radio personalities? What is it about our relationship with the media and this cult of personality?' These are questions Garrison began to ask upon entering grad school at UT in August of 1999. 'Academia put into words what I already knew in my gut from my experience working in media. [American media] is about business and money, but it's also about people and how the business tries to make these people a commodity.' From there, Garrison launches into her spiel about 'commodification, consumption, capitalism ... all those 'C' words,' tossing out soundbites like they were free condoms or koozies.
From her earliest Austin days on UT student station KVRX to regular shifts on KGSR and a coveted morning co-host slot on alt.rock monster 101X, Garrison has made her mark as one of Austin's most recognizable female voices. 'In all my work experience, two things are clear: egos and insecurities. We all have them, and they really make us tick. Examining other peoples' makes it easier to understand them.' PrizeWhores is Garrison's attempt to explore the source of that elusive 'tick' as it were to unravel the mindset of these ultimate fans and more specifically, her own relation to them as a media personality.
And in an industry like commercial radio, where a positive career move is akin to leaping from a pit of slithering vipers into a seething den of jackals, these devoted 'radio junkies,' 'remote groupies,' or 'prize whores,' as they are so readily dismissed in the trade, might be the one redeeming thing going.
PrizeWhores screens Wednesday, Oct. 24, 7 & 9:30pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado), sponsored by 101X and The Austin Chronicle.