|Chris Ulian (a.k.a. Chris Herlihy) records his show in his attic studio. Photo by Rhys Heyden.|
In the attic of a quiet, picturesque Wellesley house, up two curvy flights of stairs, amid a sea of Legos, and opposite a foosball table, Chris Ulian, 15, is recording a radio show that will reach 20,000 unique listeners.
Suffice to say, Ulian’s age and appearance belie his occupation. Ulian, who records under the alias Chris Herlihy, has a passion for music that he has parlayed into a weekly online radio show, currently simulcasted by two British stations, “Off The Chart Radio” and “Galaxy 24/7.”
The Unlikely DJ
Though Ulian is unfailingly modest about his success, it’s rather remarkable that this rising sophomore at WHS has snagged such a prime gig after sending demos to radio stations for the first time this January.
“I don’t watch a lot of TV. I have a satellite radio in my room that carries a station from England called BBC Radio 1. That’s something that I listened to a lot. After I listened to that for a really long time, I got into it, and I really like what the DJs were doing and really wanted to see if I could do that myself,” said Ulian.
“I wasn’t really looking for a British or an American station, I was looking for any station that would carry me. It turned out that those were the two that seemed the most professional and exciting.”
Off The Chart is one of Britain’s largest online radio stations, and claims to reach 20,000 unique listeners per week. Ulian is in the process of moving over there exclusively from the smaller Galaxy 24/7, which he said would become official after July 18.
“The aim of our station is to give young people who have an interest in radio somewhere to work on their skills, learn and make mistakes so that they can go on and make a career for themselves professionally in the future, should they wish to. Chris is by no means the finished article but he has a raw passion for music which really comes across in his shows and a desire to improve himself as a DJ which I am more than happy to support him on,” said Tim Willet, Director at Off The Chart Radio.
Ulian is perhaps best described as a consummate professional at a small-time level. His recording equipment is spartan, but effective. He deftly navigates through GarageBand (the Macintosh program for audio production) to mix his show, but admits that he would like to use a more professional audio program like Audacity. He turns off the fan in his stifling attic “studio” to cut down on microphone feedback and authoritatively shuts the door, but acquiesces when his mother comes in and offers a glass of cold water.
During the week, Ulian chooses all of the music he’s going to play on the weekend two-hour show. He puts it all into the tracks on GarageBand, records it all on Saturday and puts his voice into it. On Saturday evening, he uploads it to the Off The Chart website’s servers. It broadcasts Sundays 9-11 a.m. and Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. EST.
The show is definitely eclectic, and when asked to define its level of “underground-ness,” Ulian quips that, “On the underground rating from 1-10, 1 being, like, ‘My second cousin put together this awesome demo, you should check it out’, and 10 being KISS 108, I think I’m about a 6.”
“I liked the style of show that he does, it's something different and because it was already airing on another station, it has it's own audience who will tune in to it on OTC as well,” said Willet.
Ulian lists rapper Donnis, rock/pop group Architecture In Helsinki, electronic rocker Madeon, and Boston pop artist Sid Sriram as some of his current favorite musicians.
During the school year, Ulian tries not to spend as much time on the radio show, and focuses on his schoolwork instead. During the summer, however, he’ll spend roughly 10 hours a week listening to music, selecting tracks, and producing his show.
Ulian unabashedly looks up to BBC Radio 1 DJs like Chris Moyles and Greg James, and points out that, “…in the UK they have a different style. They talk about more than just the music. It’s much more friend-ish than a DJ just sitting in a studio somewhere.”
“The whole idea for my show was that I was trying to use that [personal] style and do it with an American voice, and see if I could make it work. It’s going pretty well,” said Ulian with a grin.
As is the case with most 15 years olds, Ulian has little to no idea what his future holds, but is open to most everything.
“I think it would be cool to work in radio if the opportunity came up,” said Ulian, “when I started out, it was the best-case scenario that I would get onto Galaxy. When I got onto Galaxy, the best-case scenario was that I would move onto Off The Chart. So my goals just keep progressing.”
Though Ulian is clearly still a fledgling DJ (his Facebook page, much to his dismay, has only around 200 ‘likes’), he has moments of greatness that more than make up for his occasional flubs and inexperience.
“I do have a very big interview possibly coming up, so definitely put that in there,” he told me, “I won’t say what’s going to happen. I will say that it’s not Rihanna, just in case you were wondering,” he deadpanned.
It’s funny today, but one can’t help but wonder if he’ll be deadly serious soon enough.
Chris Ulian’s weekly radio show can be heard from 9-11 a.m. on Sundays and 7-9 p.m. on Tuesdays at www.offthechart.co.uk. Like him on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/officialchrisherlihy.
UPDATE: Since the time I wrote this piece, Herlihy's FB fan group has quadrupled in size, from around 50 to 200, and he has been profiled by The Boston Globe. Herlihy has also snagged an interview with Owl City's Adam Young. Best of luck to Chris and his show.