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Monday, October 23, 2006

Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News

Dwayne Carver says the voice and comic skills he acquired in broadcasting are useful in teaching aspiring paramedics.

Career Makeover

DJ changes career format to rescue work

After 15 years on radio, Dearborn man returned to school, studied EMS, now trains paramedics.

Brian J. O'Connor / The Detroit News


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Have you remade your career?

Did you switch from engineering to sales? Escape the boss from hell? Use your severance pay as seed money to start a small business? The Detroit News wants to hear from readers who've successfully remade their jobs, professions and careers for future stories. To tell your story, e-mail Personal Finance Editor Brian O'Connor at


When he switched careers from radio disc jockey to paramedic, Dwayne Carver ran into one unexpected predicament.

"People come up to me all the time and say, 'You should be in radio,' " laughs the 46-year-old Dearborn resident.

The problem is that, after 15 years on radio stations in and around Michigan, Carver just can't turn off the mellifluous tones that seem better suited to flow out of a stereo rather than the mouth of a paramedic.

"It's not like being a tap dancer. I can't just take off the shoes," Carver says.

"What's worse is that it just drives older women nuts. I have all these blue-haired ladies swooning."

Where he came from: Right out of high school, Carver focused on being an actor and a musician. He signed up for theater classes at Henry Ford Community College, acted in community theater and played in bar bands.

"One day I just decided to combine the two and have a steady paycheck," he says.

His radio experience was limited to his high school radio station, an operation so small it didn't broadcast on any real frequency. "It was piped into the cafeteria where it was ruthlessly ignored," he says.

Carver headed to the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in Southfield and landed a job at a tiny FM station in Monroe.

"I barely graduated because I was already working at the station while I was in school," he recalls. "I decided the broadcasting life was it. For 15 years I had a ball."

What changed: Over the years, Carver moved to stations in Saginaw and Grand Rapids, even doing an a.m. drive show during the "morning zoo" heyday of the 1990s.

Eventually the instability of life in the broadcast arts -- with stations cutting back and changing formats and capricious personnel -- began to take a toll.

"When you start out, it's like that lyric from a Who song, 'Hope I die before I get old,' " Carver explains.

"Then I got old and it was like, 'Now what?'  I started to get the idea that I wasn't going to be able to do this forever, despite my best efforts."

Moment of truth: One culminating event for Carver was watching a talented fellow DJ get fired simply because a station manger didn't like him.

"That was it for me," he says. "I just thought, this is going to get real old really fast, and I started to think about what to do with the rest of my life."

Around the same time, Carver's wife had started nursing school to fulfill her own lifelong desire. He helped out as her study partner, and that led to discussing whether he might want a medical career, too.

Carver decided against nursing or medical school, but becoming a paramedic seemed like a good fit.

"You make an immediate impact," he notes. "You go in and you help and you ride off into the sunset. That was appealing to me."

Stumbling blocks: Heading back to school was difficult, especially because Carver's limited college experience was in liberal arts, not hard science.

At the same time, he continued work, then landed a job with a private EMS company as well.

His fellow students and paramedics, though, enjoyed having a classmate who was a local radio personality, and they would call him on his radio shift to request songs.

"They'd say, 'Dude, play some Led Zeppelin,' " he says with a laugh. "It was a lot of hard work. I had two jobs and went to school at the same time. There were a couple of years where four hours of sleep was a luxury."

Since then, Carver has moved from being a paramedic to training paramedics, a job that spares him some of the injuries paramedics often suffer, while also making use of his broadcast skills.

"Everybody's been in a class where it's so boring that you just want to poke your eye out with a pencil to make it stop," he says. "In my case, all of the comic skills and everything else comes in very handy in front of a classroom."

Carver also feels that teaching broadens his ability to affect people's lives.

"As a paramedic, I can save one life, but if I teach people to be paramedics I can save a whole lot of lives."

Words of wisdom: One point that Carver stresses is taking a realistic look at life and where a career might -- or night not -- lead.

"There was this mind-set that because I got into radio I was going to have a great career and then retire," Carver says. "But there was a bunch of events over the years that made me think there's more to life than this, and that I could do something far greater."

And when it comes to the hard part of making a change, the key is to commit deeply enough to follow it through.

"You really have got to want it," Carver notes. "Otherwise, you're just kidding yourself. No matter how you change careers, if you're not passionate about it, it's just not going to happen."

You can reach Brian O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or

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