If you’ve ever seen a horse race, you know that those riders in the colorful outfits that ride the horses are called “jockeys.” But did you know that not all jockeys ride horses? It’s true!

Today’s Wonder of the Day is all about those jockeys known more commonly as “disc jockeys” or “DJs.” A disc jockey is simply someone who picks and plays recorded music for an audience.

Have you ever chosen and played songs at a birthday party? If so, you’re a DJ!

The term “disc jockey” can be traced all the way back to 1935. Commentator Walter Winchell first used the term to describe radio announcer Martin Block.

Block became a star personality with his radio show called Make Believe Ballroom. In-between news announcements, Block would play recorded music, but he pretended that he was broadcasting from a ballroom with the nation’s top bands performing live.

Combining the terms “disc” (referring to the old disc-shaped phonograph records) and “jockey” (a general term referring to any operator of a machine), Winchell came up with “disc jockey.” The term has stuck ever since.

Block wasn’t the first DJ, though. That honor goes to Ray Newby of Stockton, California. In 1909, 16-year-old Newby began to play records over a small transmitter while he was a student at Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless.

Today, there are many different types of disc jockeys. There are still plenty of radio DJs who play music via AM, FM, satellite and Internet radio stations. But there are also club, hip hop and mobile DJs who play music in nightclubs and dance halls or at all sorts of parties and events.

Today’s DJs might still spin “discs,” but the times have changed over the years. Phonograph records gave way to reel-to-reel tapes, then eight-track cartridges, then cassettes and compact discs. The modern DJ most likely plays digital music via an MP3 player or a laptop computer!

Modern DJs often use lots of equipment during their musical presentations. In addition to their favorite songs, they also use computers, amplifiers, speakers, headphones, microphones and special electronic mixing devices.

Many musicians write, record and perform their own music. Today’s DJs have made playing others’ music — and often remixing it with other songs or their own sound effects — an art form of its own.


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    • You’re right, Ainsley! Some of them play music and tell jokes! What is your favorite type of music to listen to on the radio? :-)

  1. That is totally amazing!


    • We’re glad you liked today’s Wonder of the Day®, Rebecca! Thank you for leaving such an enthusiastic comment! :-)

  2. I personally LOVE to listen to the radio and I think that this is a very interesting article! I am surprised about why I couldn’t be on the radio as a D.J. I would just sing all the songs instead of playing recordings of them (because I can sing better than Taylor Swift, not that she isn’t awesome).

    • We bet you are an AMAZING singer, Abby! Thanks for letting us know you visited this Wonder of the Day® and that you love listening to the radio and singing! We think that is AWESOME! :-)

  3. I absolutely love music and always have my radio on. My class is always talking about songs especially Black and Yellow because my teacher likes app state so much!

    • Thanks for sharing that you and your classmates love music, Amy! Here are some MUSIC-related Wonders of the Day® we think you might enjoy: http://wonderopolis.org/category/music/. You can scroll down to explore one or more of the Wonders, and be sure to use the navigation arrows at the bottom of the page to explore even MORE! :-)

    • Hey there, Camille, we’re so glad you visited more than one Wonder with us today! HOORAY for you! Love to hear when our Wonder Friends learn something new! It made us smile that you shared your comment about jockeys! We look forward to WONDERing with you again soon! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do all jockeys ride horses?
  • What is a disc jockey?
  • Who was the first DJ?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to play DJ at home? What type of music do you like? Rock and roll? Country? Hip hop? Rap? Maybe classical or jazz?

How do you usually listen to your favorite music? On old vinyl records? On compact discs? Or do you prefer listening to digital music on an MP3 player?

Whatever type of music you like… and however you choose to listen to it… you, too, can be a disc jockey!

Just choose a few of your favorite songs, and then invite a friend or family member over for a private concert. Feel free to dance if you want!

To be a real DJ, you’ll need to add in some of your own personal thoughts on the songs you play. Introduce the songs.

Tell your listeners something about the songs or the artists. Why did you choose these songs? Why are they your favorites?

So what’s on your playlist? We’d love to know more about the kinds of music you enjoy. If you want to share your DJ playlist, email us a copy!


Still Wondering

Visit ReadWriteThink’s Alter Egos and More with Avi’s “Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?” interactive lesson to visit several websites to learn about old-time radio shows!


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