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Local disc jockey looking to help other blind people realize a dream
Cindy Klepper - Thursday, September 12, 2013 7:57 AM
Originally published Sept. 9, 2013.
Monte Sieberns has been turning the turntable since he was a kid.
"I kind of would volunteer myself when my father would have a hog roast at his barn," Sieberns admits.
He'd even offer to take requests - for a quarter. It didn't always work out the way he hoped.
"The most popular request was, ‘Could you please turn that off? We're trying to visit,'" Sieberns says in his smooth radio voice.
Somewhere along the line, Sieberns grew up, and his fascination with music and with radio grew with him. For a while now, people - unlike the unappreciative audiences of his youth - have actually been paying him to fill the airwaves. He's currently on Wabash radio station WJOT, popularly known as The Bash 105.9.
As Monte "The Music Man" Sieberns, the Huntington resident makes use of every bit of musical knowledge he's amassed. But it's not only musical knowledge he's amassed; it's also musical recordings - tens of thousands of songs, the oldest dating back to 1891, ranging in style from techno to Mozart.
"Every genre of music," Sieberns says. "That's what we pride ourselves in when we DJ."
That's right - the noon-to-five air time at the radio station isn't enough for him; he also operates his own business, Interstate Sound Audio Group, providing DJ services for weddings, dances, parties and other community events.
He's looking to grow the business, with a specific market in mind.
"There are other blind people out there that are unable to get gainful employment because they have to fight the stereotype," says Sieberns, who's been blind since birth.
Sieberns wants to package the physical equipment and the tunes and put that package in the hands of other blind people, who will then provide DJ services in their communities.
"It's a relatively new concept," he says. "I would just add that aspect to an already existing business."
The idea, he says, was born when he got a request to DJ a wedding in Colorado. Why not employ DJs in other states? And why not open the opportunity to others without sight?
It's nothing that can't be done; Sieberns doesn't use a massive staff.
"It's just me and a driver," he says. "For obvious reasons, they don't want me driving around."
The driver helps set up the equipment - "Just because I don't want to have to handle the lifting by myself," Sieberns says - and can disappear until it's time to go home.
"I have the process pretty streamlined," he says. "I can set it up by myself."
Sieberns says his career choice was set when he was barely out of diapers.
"I started mimicking things on the radio when I was about 3," he says. "I knew what they were doing is what I would be doing."
Sieberns was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of his cousin, Paul Sale, then a Huntington North High School student who was involved with the high school radio station. Sale took the preschooler with him into the radio station booth, where Sieberns absorbed everything.
"I just had a fascination for records," he says. "Anything to do with sound fascinated me. I'd pretend to be reading the markets; anything to record my voice."
A few years later - he might have been 8, he says - he got his first chance to get behind a microphone in public: The powers-that-be at the local skating rink let him introduce a record.
"I was hooked," he says.
He started hanging around the skating rink, hoping to get a chance to work the DJ booth again. (Well, there was also a girl, and the possibility that her attention might be drawn to the suave announcer was also a plus.)
When his siblings wanted to have a dance, Sieberns told them to tell their friends to bring their 45s, and he'd spin the tunes in the pole barn.
He hung out at the former Huntington radio station, then known as WHLT, making friends with the station staff.
"Radio, radio, radio," he says.
His parents, Tom and Pat Sieberns, who still live in the area, helped him buy the records that formed the base of his collection.
He took off to Vincennes University, planning to study radio there. That, he says, was "a failure."
"For me, it just wasn't where it was, at least not for radio," Sieberns says. "For radio, either you have it or you don't."
He moved in and out of radio stations throughout the Midwest for several years before joining the Wabash station in 2006.
"I've been doing some vestige of DJing since 1980, about 33 years," he says. "It doesn't seem like that long, but that's what it's been."
Now, in addition to handling the afternoon radio show and running the DJ business, he's turned his attention to digitizing his tens of thousands of songs.
"There's no way I could store it all if it weren't digitized," he says.
The boxes of 45s he's had stored in Las Vegas, Illinois and elsewhere is slowly being converted into bits and bytes, with much of the vinyl going to collectors.
"It's been kind of a chance for me to rediscover my collection," Sieberns says.
The change in format doesn't mean the end of his collecting days, he says; there's always room for more.
"I'm constantly looking to add," he says.