In summertime, a college campus gets a bit of a coffee break. So Rollins College looked as peaceful as a fallow field as I drove along deserted Holt Avenue not too long ago for a 5 a.m. rendezvous with a man who calls himself “D.J. Rufus.”
I’m no dummy. I knew that wasn’t his real name. I also had a pretty good idea what was inside the small paper bag he was carrying as he emerged from his car in the predawn darkness: CDs — from the ’80s!
No wonder he goes by a street name. Who wants to get caught hauling around music from the decade that brought us Flock-of-Seagull haircuts and Milli Vanilli?
But such is the stock in trade of Mr. D.J. Rufus — aka Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bob LeBlanc. At least, it is from 5 to 7 a.m. every Wednesday morning.
That’s the time slot for LeBlanc’s show, “Stuck in the ’80s (Or Thereabouts),” broadcast from the studio of the campus radio station, WPRK 91.5 FM, located in a basement beneath Mills Memorial Hall.
LeBlanc is part of a corps of volunteers who deejay at the station, both during the school year, when their shows are interspersed with those of student broadcasters, and in the summer, when they pretty much have the place to themselves.
Most of the 50-odd (sometimes very odd) moonlighters have two-hour shows, during which they play music in genres ranging from country to classical, from Bollywood to the blues.
Some are educators: There’s an ESOL teacher for preschoolers and an English composition instructor from Valencia College. Others are in the entertainment business: The director of the Orlando Fringe Festival has a show, as does an actor who plays Shrek at Universal Orlando.
There’s also a hairstylist, a pesticide manufacturer, a programmer analyst, a yoga instructor and a marketer for the Franciscan Ministry of Peace.
Of all the ways Rollins enlivens Winter Park’s cultural scene, WPRK’s influence is the least visible. But it’s also one of the most far-reaching. The station frequently turns up on “best of” college station lists, and fans can tune in via the tunein app on their smart devices.
“When I’m on the air, I might hear from my brother-in-law from D.C., my cousin in Toronto, my sister in Boston,” says LeBlanc as he and I squeeze into the cluttered control room.
LeBlanc became an ’80s music buff listening to college stations as an undergraduate in Boston, and then during law school in Miami. “The songs just never made it into mainstream radio,” he says.
Disabusing me of my preconceptions about music of the era, he cues up a track from one of his most requested albums: Floodland, a 1987 release by the British rock band The Sisters of Mercy.
A part-time deejay gig had been on LeBlanc’s bucket list for some time when he finally got himself worked into the WPRK rotation a year ago. He chose “Rufus” as his on-air alias as an homage to singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright and the blues guitarist Rufus Smith.
Now LeBlanc spends the bulk of the workweek presiding over the waning moments of marriages gone sour as a divorce court judge. Then he squeezes into the control booth on predawn Wednesdays to adjudicate deep tracks from the likes of the Lightning Seeds, the Pet Shop Boys, the Neville Brothers, Depeche Mode, Toad the Wet Sprocket and his favorite band, The Smiths.
In some ways, LeBlanc seems a better fit for a liberal arts campus than a courtroom. In his younger years, he went through a would-be writer phase, submitting several stories — and collecting as many rejection letters — from The New Yorker.
He and his wife, Joanie, have a sizeable collection of fine art and found art by local artists. And then there’s his personal collection of ’80s CDs, which numbers in the hundreds.
LeBlanc initially gave himself a year to decide whether or not his deejay aspirations were just a passing phase. More and more, he’s thinking long term.
In the distant future, he and Joanie plan to spend part of the year in Orlando and part of the year at their second home in Blue Hill, Maine, a small coastal town that just happens to have a volunteer-run radio station.
Which would make it a simple enough matter, he figures, to be stuck in the ’80s all year long.
Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.