Joel Shimer: how music became his future


Photo courtesy of Shimer.

Jacob Welsko, Former Culture Editor

For as long as he can remember, Joel Shimer has always loved music. Whether it be from DJing, working in radio, playing, or just listening, Shimer has always been around music. 

During his high school years at Emmaus, Shimer found income through his very own DJ business, working events such as prom and middle school dances. As a senior, he participated in the national level of choir. He would also work to make money off of singing classic rock cover songs with his guitar. Describing himself as not so much of a booksmart individual, Shimer knew his main focus and passion wasn’t devoted to school. So, using his experiences, interests, and personality, Shimer landed himself a full-time job in radio right before his senior year–choosing an opposing route to the traditional college experience many high schoolers pursue. 

At just 17 years old, he began working for 99.9 The Hawk, the popular radio station where he has been ever since. 

In 2016, Shimer was performing in downtown Bethlehem at a pop-up beer garden at the Sun Inn that would lead to him getting his job on radio. While playing the gig, he noticed that the Hawk van pulled up, so he said into the microphone, “oh my God, the reason why I know all of this classic rock music is because I grew up listening to The Hawk–my favorite radio station growing up.” Shimer discussed what would happen next and how it helped land him his dream job.

“So I had met a kid down there who had taken my business card and then basically–to make a long story short–that was in July, in August of 2016 I sang on Rick Michael’s show, the guy I work with every day now. One thing kind of led to another and him and I just hit it off right away, it was very apparent that there was some type of chemistry there. We had a very like-father-like-son bond,” Shimer said. “So I sang on his show in June and then I sang on his show again in August […] and when I came back a second time, he said ‘oh dude my producer got another job,’ and totally joking around he said ‘we’re gonna hire you.’ I [said] ‘I’ve always wanted to work in radio, I’m on. I love radio, always have, I’ve always been a radio nerd, [I] grew up listening to this station, I would love that.’”

Shimer mentioned how his parents were fairly skeptical before he took on this job. 

Since his father worked in radio in the 1980s, he and his family were well aware of the cutthroat nature of the business. So, Shimer was advised to have a back-up plan in case this opportunity fell through. However, he never had a plan B because he believes that “if you need a plan to fall back on, then you’re not all in for plan A.”

Plan A for Shimer was always his dream of working in radio. So, what started as a simple joking job offer in passing became more serious when Shimer retrieved his school schedule and adjusted it to fit the routine of a radio employee and high school student.

“The morning show is 5:30 to 9:00 so I would get up at like 2:00 [or] 2:30 [a.m.],” said Shimer. “Go and drive from Emmaus to Easton–like 45 minutes away. I would come here, I would do the show, sit through a couple meetings, reply to emails, then I would drive back to Emmaus. I think my first class was at like 11:00 and since it was senior year I had only a couple select classes, so [I] took those, hopped back in my car [and] went back to the station. So I did about a year of running back and forth […] and one thing led to another and they offered me a full-time position.”

With having to balance school and a serious job opportunity, there is part of Shimer that feels he missed out on his final year at EHS.

“There was definitely times where I thought ‘wow, I’m working all the time, I have a full-time job practically,’” Shimer said. “It definitely did get hard, but I still feel like I maintained enough balance my senior year that it was like the best of both worlds. I was going out, I was working every morning. but then I still got school and I still had the social aspect of seeing my friends every day.”

Shimer spoke on the heavy workload he was faced with and that he had to focus on multiple areas of life.

“It was a lot to juggle,” said Shimer. “And the way that I juggled it was by really putting my school work on the back burner, which I would not recommend but I trekked through. I mean I got by like the skin on my teeth.”

Despite being challenged by balancing school and his job, Shimer expressed nothing but gratitude for his career, saying he feels that he was born for it, being the entertainer that he was while DJing. Additionally, he’s luckily never been a stranger to working, citing the East Penn Diner and The Brass Rail Restaurant as employment opportunities throughout his first three years of high school. Years later, he’s used his work ethic and considers himself very lucky to have been able to “climb up the ladder very fast” in radio. He believes that “in a business like radio, it’s all about patience and more so what you can learn, when you’re enclosed in these four walls, to build and to grow–especially as a personality.” 

It also helps that Shimer knows what he’s talking about, being a student of classic rock who’s been playing guitar since he was five years old “the offspring of two music lovers”–as he puts it–he was able to find a career surrounded by a familiar passion. 

“I’ve always been a huge music fanatic,” Shimer said. “[I’ve] always been into the older music [so] when I say I grew up listening to the Hawk–I grew up listening to the Hawk. […] I have to pinch myself now that I work on a show that I used to listen to. But I’ve always been a music guy, […] and it’s funny [because] anybody that knows me knows that music is my thing. It’s just always been my thing.”

Shimer hasn’t forgotten his musical love, saying that in his free time he enjoys the “fun but expensive hobby” of collecting vinyl records and the lost art of sitting down to listen to albums in full. His favorite acts range from bands like The Beatles–who he heralds as the “greatest band of all time”–to Yes. Through his work, Shimer has been granted opportunities to meet his heroes who he “grew up worshipping” like Jon Anderson, the lead singer of Yes. 

Aside from meeting rock musicians, Shimer also recounts a story of casually meeting a celebrity with his mom.

“I was supposed to take Rick, the guy I work with, and last minute he was like ‘ehh, I don’t feel like going,’” Shimer said. “So I called my mom and said ‘hey, you want to go meet Jay Leno?”

Shimer describes these types of moments as the “cherry on top of the cake when it comes to a job working in radio.” However, every aspect of a job isn’t always glamorous. He still faced with challenges even though he loves being on air. 

“People think that doing a morning show every day is easy, piece of cake, you just wake up every day, roll out of bed and go on and do a morning show,” said Shimer. “But there’s so much preparation that goes into it. Coming up with stuff to talk about every day sounds like it’s no big deal, and it’s easy until you have to do it every single day. And I think the pressure of that definitely has gotten to me more so in the past two months than it has ever.” 

Amidst these obstacles, Shimer still finds it hard to think what he would be doing had he not ended up on the Hawk. He jokingly said he’d probably be in jail somewhere, or more realistically sticking to his DJing business that unfortunately would’ve suffered due to the pandemic. Since he didn’t end up going to college immediately out of high school, Shimer feels he missed out on the more traditional experiences. 

“I definitely missed out on the experience of college altogether, I don’t have it,” said Shimer. “I graduated, I kept working, they gave me a full-time job, I moved out [and] I worked more. But a big positive is that I’m not in debt at all–none. And at the end of the day, the job that I do now [you] do not need a degree. You need personality, you need somebody that’s gonna be with you to take that personality and refine it into […] today’s morning radio DJ. I’ve been lucky enough around here to have been surrounded by a lot of smart people that have done just that for me.”

There’s surely been some times when Shimer has thought about what could’ve been at a college or university. In fact, he actually considers going to school for marketing or related fields of study somewhere down the road to put technical terms to what he is working with now. Even though college might be in Shimer’s future, he can still speak to students who seem leary on going or not. 

“This is not a major gripe with me but […] I lived it,” Shimer said. “It’s like everywhere you walk, everywhere you go–the c word, college, is just pushed at you. I remember even in middle school and elementary school [… to] ‘start thinking about college.’ I kind of always knew and always thought that that wasn’t going to be for me. So I would just tell kids out there that think that college isn’t for them, that there’s still light at the end of the tunnel. If you decide that a traditional four-year, go-off-to-college experience isn’t going to be for you [because] it’s not right for [everybody] and it’s even worse when you discover that it’s not for you after you’ve already made steps in that direction. I wish that a teacher would’ve said to me somewhere along the lines [that] four-year college isn’t for everybody [and] there’s a lot of different options out there. I never heard that [and] I wish I would’ve.”

Shimer exemplifies these words and is proof that you don’t need to have everything figured out all at once in order to be successful. 

“Life has always just moved and I moved along with it,” Shimer said. “I’ve never taken an opportunity to sit back and think ‘what do I really want to do […] with my life?’ It’s always just worked itself out for me, and again, for that I’m very lucky.”