Twelve-year-old Ben McDougall has music inside him.
It comes out all day long, via instrumental outbursts, detailed factoids that rival Wikipedia articles and during the Hardkore Punk Projekt, his metal-punk-rock radio show that airs Fridays at 7 p.m. on CFBX, the radio station at Thompson Rivers University that can be heard throughout Kamloops at 92.5 on the FM dial and online at thex.ca.
Ben is the youngest person to host a radio show in the campus station’s history and is likely among the youngest in the country.
He also has high-functioning autism.
“It’s not stressful, let me tell you,” Ben said of being on air.
He got his start in radio at the suggestion of those at his school, Insight Support Services, which teaches kids with disabilities. Staff recommended he get behind a microphone based on his voice and breadth of musical knowledge.
Metal is his favourite because, he said, “It’s fast, it’s aggressive and it’s all that in your face.”
Ask about his favourite metal band Mudvayne and you’ll get a history lesson: the band’s origin (Los Angeles), date it formed (1996), debut album and launch (L.D. 50 in 2000) and a detailed discography limited only by one’s time in the day.
“Researching stuff is better than painting your face white, spiking your hair, dying it purple, wearing an apron with bloody handprints on it and calling yourself Cud,” Ben said.
A tour of the Broadcast Centre on Columbia Street led to guest radio appearances. KTW readers may have also heard Ben on 98.3 CIFM’s morning show, where he has opened up about autism.
“It affects our brain,” he told KTW. “Like, we can respond inappropriately in social situations. And we get confused. We can get confused, as well. And it’s hard to make friends. It’s also traumatic for us to have blood taken. So that’s why, Life Labs, they get people with autism sedated to get their blood taken. I have heightened senses. I can hear somebody having a conversation on the other side of a closed door. And I feel a lot more pain. That’s why it’s traumatic for us to have blood taken.”
Living in a home filled with music — guitars, drums, ukulele and non-stop radio in the background — mom Crystal said: “I think it’s great for our kids on the spectrum to have a way out and he finds his through music. It’s fantastic.”
Autism hasn’t kept Ben off the airwaves and it didn’t take long before he wanted his own show.
Since May, he has hosted The Hardkore Punk Projekt on Friday nights. Sent out on the airwaves from upstairs in House 8 at Thompson Rivers University, Ben’s papa (dad) Andy supervises, as required by station policy for minors.
Andy also helps balance Canadian content rules and reaches out to bands. There’s been the odd hiccup, like a skipping scratched CD on air, but the shows have otherwise gone smoothly.
With nearly 20 radio appearances at CFBX under their belts, Andy has watched Ben grow during his time on the air.
“It’s getting him out there,” Andy said. “He’s able to speak now, easy. He’s grown so much. It’s huge for him. His confidence just went crazy. He can sit and speak to any adult, as you can see. But he can’t converse with kids his own age.”
The pair was downstairs in the station’s music library when KTW visited, with Ben showing off 15,000 rock and 2,220 metal albums/CDs, which line the walls in the station’s collection.
The expansive and eclectic music library is the best part of having his own show, Ben said, noting it has none of that commercial “crap.”
As part of the gig, hosts are required to maintain the library, meaning hours spent immersed in music.
Elymor Villanueva, host of A Warm Welcome, which airs on CFBX on Mondays from noon to 1 p.m, was also among the jewel cases. The 20-year-old computing science student said he couldn’t imagine having a radio show at Ben’s age.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Villanueva said. “Because I wouldn’t have done that at his age. I would have done something more boring, I guess — playing video games or just going outside.”
Though Ben is not the youngest radio show host in Canada — that title was quashed when KTW tracked down eight-year-old Ayla Rehman, who has a show in Ontario with her siblings called The Youngest Canadian Radio Show Hosts airing weekly on Radio Waterloo 102.7 CKMS — CFBX station manager Brant Zwicker said Ben is the youngest radio host in the station’s 22-year history.
High school students have hosted in the past, but Ben has a good four years on any of them..
“I was stunned the first time I heard his show,” Zwicker said. “He’s very confident and he really, really knows his stuff. Details about the artists and the albums. That’s what I remember as a young radio guy — who played bass in that band was really important, that kind of stuff. Factoids, useless information. In that sense, he’s a natural.”