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NHS Science Teacher Christian Canfield Rocks Out As WAPJ Radio DJ

Published: May 19, 2018

For Newtown High School Science Department Chair Christian Canfield, life has been a bit more musical lately. Roughly four years ago, Mr Canfield began volunteering with Torrington’s non-profit, non-commercial radio station, WAPJ, 89.9 FM or 105.1 FM.

His interest in radio began in the mid-1980s, when he was a student at the University of Connecticut. When he graduated with a degree in biology in 1984, he continued to hang out with friends in the area who worked at the local radio station, WHUS. He had also studied history in college.

“I was on the air for a couple of years there, playing miscellaneous stuff…It was fun. It was fun to be part of this community of music enthusiasts,” said Mr Canfield.

He stopped working at the radio station in 1987. While he said he would not call himself a musician, he does play guitar, and he has “followed rock n’ roll my whole life.”

“Fast-forward,” Mr Canfield said, through his teaching career, getting married, and having children: One day, he and his wife, Grail, noticed a local radio station near where they live in Litchfield. He had been listening to WPKN in Bridgeport, 89.5. “A couple of wrong hits of the button,” and he and his wife discovered 89.9, WAPJ.

“We started listening to this cool radio station…We’ve been listening for about ten years,” said Mr Canfield.

Mr Canfield explained that as his children grew older, he began looking for a hobby. He reflected on the fact that he does not fish, and he does not play sports. That was when he thought about “getting back into radio.” He attended an orientation event at WAPJ. According to WAPJ, it is supported by private donations and sponsors. Mr Canfield’s fellow volunteers, he said, are a “great group of people.” The station’s general manager and chief engineer is John Ramsey.

The station offers a range of programs. Mr Canfield has two shows. His rock show is called No Commercial Potential, a nod to musician Frank Zappa.

“I play at least one Zappa song during every show,” said Mr Canfield.

After filling in for a country music show a few times, Mr Canfield also took over hosting the station’s country program. He called it My Country Place. The rock show No Commercial Potential airs from 5 pm to 7 pm on Wednesdays, and My Country Place airs Saturday from 9 am to noon.

Eventually, Mr Canfield was also named as the program director for WAPJ. He said serving as the program director is “sort of like” his role as the department chair of NHS’s science department.

On Wednesdays, Mr Canfield said he is “always very excited.” He leaves school, goes home, finishes some chores, and then goes to the station to “spin records.” Chores for Mr Canfield mean taking care of his family’s barn, where goats, chickens, a horse, and a donkey live. Since it is spring, chicks have been hatching. Mr Canfield said his family now has upwards of 50 chickens.

“I’ve always loved rock n’ roll, and I have always loved animals. I feel like this is the perfect place for me to be,” said Mr Canfield. “I am surrounded by animals and music.”

The work at WAPJ is all volunteer, he explained, and like any volunteer effort, it is a labor of love. For his No Commercial Potential show, Mr Canfield said he plays songs that may not be played on the air often on other stations. A short time ago, as an example, Mr Canfield said someone called the show wanting to hear Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love. Instead of playing Cream’s version of the song, he looked up covers for the song.

“I don’t play jazz, but I played Ella Fitzgerald singing Sunshine of Your Love in 1969. That was pretty cool,” said Mr Canfield.

He listens to other stations for ideas and to stay current. Mr Canfield said he listens to musicians like Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile.

Since he started his time at the radio station, Mr Canfield said he has shared his interest in music with his students, without asking them to be listeners.

“I have always told my students about it. My first year, a couple kids actually called me at the station a couple of times,” said Mr Canfield.

While the station’s broadcasts do not reach Newtown, the radio station streams online at wapj.org. People listen from all over the country, according to Mr Canfield.

“Click ‘Listen Live’ and you can hear us,” said Mr Canfield.

According to the station’s website, wapj.org, No Commerical Potential is described as having a broad playlist. It “celebrates rock n’ roll and all its subgenres, so please tune in and listen to long lost hits and obscure gems by Zappa, Beefheart, Iggy, Residents, Johnny Winter, Electric Prunes, Ultimate Spinach, Hendrix, Who, Legendary Pink Dots, Dream Syndicate, Beck, Jeff Beck, T. Rex, Bowie, Cream, Alice Cooper, Primus, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Stranglers, Jeff Buckley (and his dad, Tim), Pink Floyd (and Syd Barrett), Jack White, Skrillex, Gorillaz, Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk, the list goes on and on…”

Mr Canfield described his work at the radio station as a creative hobby: “I’m always thinking, ‘What am I going to play this week?’”

My Country Place is described as having, “old country, new country, hippie country, southern rock, and a touch of bluegrass along the way. From Bakersfield, California to Austin, Texas to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. From Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Tom T. Hall to Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, and Dierks Bentley. From Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette to Gretchen Wilson, Lucinda Williams, and Trisha Yearwood. From the New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and The Flying Burrito Brothers to The Outlaws, Charlie Daniels, and Marshall Tucker. And don’t forget Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, Buck Owens, and the Bad Boys of Country: Johnny, Waylon, and Willie…”

For his programs, Mr Canfield said he publishes his playlists online. The playlists are often announced on the radio station’s Facebook page, “WAPJ FM 89.9 & 105.1 Torrington Community Radio,” and on its Twitter account, @WAPJ899.

Over his years with the station, Mr Canfield said he has been surprised to find some of the song covers he has liked. He has also enjoyed callers who request specific songs. Mr Canfield said he is certainly glad he opted to volunteer at the station.

His family members — wife Grail, sons Gareth and Caleb, and daughter Ruby — have been supportive. They have offered advice and encouragement along the way. He added that he feels that it is good to have his children see him doing something that he likes to do.

Volunteering as a radio DJ has not taken away from Mr Canfield completing his duties at NHS.

“A good teacher is a well-rounded person. And even though I am a science teacher, I am interested in much more than just science,” he said.

He encourages other teachers to find a passion outside of their main job, which can require a lot.

“It is nice to have something else to think about and do,” said Mr Canfield.

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