DJ DeSmet’s music first boomed from old radios perched on the windowsills of DeSmet Hall. The old radios transitioned into a mashup of old speakers from Value Village, which morphed into speakers with names like Audioengine A5 Plus. Regardless of the device or the year, volume was always full blast.
To the passersby on Bulldog Alley, the tradition of DJ DeSmet appears to be a well established role that is competitive to get. But in reality, it’s a laid back tradition which floated into popularity from guys who loved blasting music for the masses.
Its history is a best kept secret on campus, unknown even to those who’ve held the position. Although the tradition of blasting music from DeSmet Hall has always existed in some capacity since speakers were accessible, the origin of the term DJ DeSmet remains a mystery.
Andrew Shields, who attended Gonzaga from 1991-1996, lived on the third floor of DeSmet in the classic DJ DeSmet room, number 316, which he recognized from The Gonzaga Bulletin’s latest DJ feature.
“Music always played but was democratized and pretty ubiquitous,” Shields said in a text.
Although there wasn’t an established DJ DeSmet tradition when Shields attended GU, he recalled the closest comparison to the tradition.
“During the week of finals, day long recordings of Bing’s 'White Christmas' either played from the roof of the COG or Crosby,” Shields said.
Before the John J. Hemmingson Center was built, Crosby was the student center and social hub. With most foot traffic leading to Crosby, DeSmet was positioned as a prominent building on campus.
Similar to Shield’s recollection, the title "DJ DeSmet" wasn’t in use when Chaplain of DeSmet Hall, Fr. Bryan Pham, class of 1999, attended GU in the 1990s. Blasting music for campus to hear was impromptu.
“There wasn’t a designated room in DeSmet Hall where DJ DeSmet resided,” Pham said in an email. “Usually, it was a resident or two on either the third or fourth floor. Sometimes, it would be someone blasting music on the side of College Hall (formerly known as the Admin Building); other times, the music would come from the side of Welch Hall.”
Pham recalls times where student groups were painting the iconic wall and wanted some tunes to accompany them. It was common for someone in DeSmet to volunteer to turn on his radio full blast facing outward to keep them entertained.
“The radio stations in Spokane weren’t all that reliable to play hit music that students liked so that meant the person playing the music from DeSmet would have to burn his own CDs,” Pham said. “He would have to regularly replace his playlists or turn the cassette tapes over and it was arduous work.”
Former DeSmet resident Connor Flanagan graduated in 2013. He lived in room 306 and noticed individuals were playing music all over, especially in the dorm’s corner rooms.
“My roommate Robbie had a nice sound system set up and we’d kind of seen people do it before but we made it out to be a ritual where whoever got home from class first would open up the windows and start playing music,” Flanagan said.
The term "DJ DeSmet" didn’t arrive due to specific DeSmet residents claiming and creating the title for themselves, rather it was a campus nickname that snowballed into a universally recognized term on campus. The words DJ DeSmet were a campus consensus that stuck. Chatter in Bulldog Alley about the dudes behind the speakers morphed into a powerful label.
“I think it’s one of those things that just naturally developed into an unwritten rule,” said Reilly Roach, class of 2017 and the third in his immediate family to live in DeSmet. “The dynamic has definitely changed since I was there because of how the dynamic at Crosby has changed.”
The history of the tradition remains muddled and not well documented.
“Basically, everything I heard was just kind of urban legend type stuff but nothing substantial,” said Jeff Varness, class of 2019 and DJ DeSmet from 2016-17.
The recent selection process has been a mixture of luck and group consensus.
“There wasn't a formal selection process, but we all talked as a freshman group to decide who we really wanted to be DJ DeSmet,” said Peter Larson, DJ DeSmet from 2018-2019, class of 2021. “It's an informal thing, but my roommate also got the best room selection time, which really helped.”
To secure the role of DJ DeSmet, room location is key. Formerly, the room shuffled between various locations on the third floor. In recent years, the classic “DJ DeSmet” room has been 316.
“The specific room for DJ DeSmet remains empty, pending a process of selection for two DeSmet students to occupy that particular room,” said Dennis Colestock, senior director in the Department of Housing and Residence Life over email.
The informal recruitment and selection process came about as the notoriety of DJ DeSmet grew.
“Within DeSmet, DJ DeSmet is really an informal leadership role and part of the culture of the building, so we encourage the men of DeSmet to pass along the responsibility very intentionally,” said Jimmy Beh, East-Central Block residence director, in an email.
The set list of DJ DeSmet consists of a careful balance between what the DJs want to play and what they think people would like to hear. Griffin Koerner, DJ DeSmet from 2017-2018, class of 2020, even put out a survey for people to request songs when he was DJ. You can listen to the master playlist from his time as DJ DeSmet on Spotify on his playlist called “dj desmet.”
In addition to the admiration and opportunity this role provides students, comaraderie between DJs is another bonus.
“You know who the DJ was before and after you,” Varness said. “It's not like texting each other every day, but you say what's up. That’s kind of how the DeSmet vibe is where you know almost everyone in the building.”
Past and present DJ DeSmets share the bond of wanting to improve the GU community’s day and mood through music.
“All we really wanted people to do was have some fun background music while they were walking to class or for the people hanging out on that field by Herak and Crosby,” said Chase Wiper, 2017 graduate and 2014 DJ DeSmet. “Our goal was to put people in a good mood as they were heading toward the weekend. Honestly, I had no idea DJ DeSmet is still a thing, and that makes me so happy.”
Some DJs had specific songs they would routinely play for certain events.
“I would be in the room during the running for tent city and I would play Sabotage by the Beastie Boys right before they announced the tweet,” Koerner said.
The impact and energy DJ DeSmet brings to campus is unparalleled.
“I think the work of DJ DeSmet is really a form of music ministry that benefits campus a great deal,” Pham said. “Imagine walking across campus to your own sound track and just when you thought you had bad day, by chance, your favorite tune comes on courtesy of DJ DeSmet. Your day just got a little brighter and more manageable. You feel the spring in your steps, and you once again feel like you can face the cruel world with