Richard J. Dalton hated high school. Growing up in New Jersey, he shunned the rock bands like Guns N' Roses and AC/DC that his peers were listening to in favor of dance music like Front 242 and Jane Child. He dyed his hair blue and dressed weird. Consequently, his classmates teased and tripped him as often as possible.
"It was absolutely horrible," he confesses. "I was considered a freak. And there were only about seven of us [freaks] in the school, so we got picked on a lot."
Dalton today is a classicâ€"and triumphantâ€"example of an adolescent loser who, were he to attend a class reunion, would find that he's surpassed the entire homecoming court and football team in coolness. The DJ draws huge crowds when he spins at venues like The Last Supper Club and Chapel. He's been courted by artists like Lady GaGa and Rihanna to play his songs. And earlier this year he opened for Beyoncé at KeyArena in front of thousands.
"It's like it suddenly became cool to be a freak," he says in a tone of amazement. "We're finally getting to have our momentâ€"and we're completely taking over!"
Granted, he has legions of fans and rubs elbows with hot celebrities. But Dalton is most proud of his work at C89.5 FM, a nonprofit dance radio station operated almost entirely by the students at Nathan Hale High School. Since relocating to Seattle five years ago, Dalton has taught the school's advanced radio course and volunteered to help run the station. More important, he's used the music he loves as a way to help build confidence and professionalism in the students whom he relates to all too well.
"The kids that take the radio course aren't usually the popular cheerleaders or athletes," he notes. "They're usually more the artsy type. They're different than most of the other kids at school. I understand what that's like."
Dalton teaches the students enrolled in his course the ins and outs of radio production, programming, and on-air hosting, which they then apply to running C89.5. Together, they broadcast dance music to 100,000 weekly listenersâ€"an astounding feat for a nonprofit high-school station. Fans of his work have dubbed the NHHS teacher and on-air personality Richard "Jesus" Daltonâ€"a nickname he balks at and is quick to shoot down.
"Seriously?" he says, shaking his head in disbelief. "The first cassette I ever bought was Paula Abdul's remix tape. People would probably lose all respect for me if they knew that...What is cool, though, is that I get to work with amazing people who are on the same wavelength as me. I get to spend hours doing things techno- and radio-related. I get to be a geekâ€"and finally, that's OK."â€"Erika Hobart