COLUMBIA — It’s 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The bars have closed, their patrons have found their way home and two young disc jockeys at a community radio station are one hour into their weekly red-eye flight over the airwaves.
Kyle Cook and Tony Layson first met in the MU dorms. After leaving college, Cook started volunteering at community radio station KOPN, and Layson soon joined him. The two started filling in here and there for other announcers' time slots, and soon a time slot for their own show opened up.
“This slot opened up in the middle of the night,” Cook said, "and we just thought, 'How cool would it be to do this show in the middle of the night where you’re just basically just trying to stay awake all night doing a radio show?’”
The time slot — 2 to 5 a.m. on Sundays — suits Cook and Layson just fine. Their show, dubbed Mystery Science Radio 3000, has been running for more than five years, and their experience shows outside the station.
Hearing the two talk in real life is like listening to a radio show, replete with tangents debating the worst songs to get a lap dance to (also a popular on-air topic), run-ins with conspiracy theorists and other stories enthusiastically told and heard.
Long-standing jokes and gimmicks pepper the radio show.
“It’s always been a call-in show,” Cook said. Call-ins have included people impersonating everyone from members of the band Insane Clown Posse to the Columbia mayor. Another gimmick, lovingly called the “Hardee’s Challenge,” consists of the announcers starting a vinyl record, driving to Hardee’s, ordering food, and trying to get back to the station before the record ends.
“We’ve come close a couple of times,” Layson said, "but we’ve never actually missed it.”
Another gimmick is playing story records — records consisting of spoken word tracks — while Layson and Cook add their own soundtrack. In a recent episode, they played a kids’ record of “The Transformers” while fading in bits of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”
“It was very emotional,” Cook said.
Slowing down records is another popular pastime, as is buying 45 rpm vinyl records for the sole purpose of playing them at 33 rpm and chuckling at the way the singer sounds slowed down.
Behind all the games, though, are two serious audiophiles with a thorough knowledge of music and an intimidating record collection. Their collection of music is kept in something of rare form these days — hard copy. Layson has a few thousand vinyl albums, and Cook has nearly as many albums and CDs. It’s from these stacks that the two gather most of the songs they play on their show. They are careful to rarely, if ever, play a track twice, feeling that the radio is meant to surprise you, not merely “[play] every Top 40 song from the last 40 years,” Cook said.
“It’s like if you heard the same news story over and over and over again,” he said. "There should be constantly a new interest or at least a curiosity for new things.”