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BG resident’s gap year turns into DJ gig, music-writing career

WBGU-FM DJ Penny Rae Hawkins wasn’t a part of her parents’ imagination when the band Journey sang the opening lyrics to their hit song “Don’t Stop Believin’” in 1980. Yet, the lyrics about a dreaming, small-town girl fit Hawkins’ story of how an unplanned gap year led her to chase her dreams.

“My name is Lindsey Haynes, but I prefer to go by Penny Rae Hawkins. It’s the name I use at the station,” Hawkins explained.

Four years ago, the Penny Rae Hawkins persona was not a fully formed concept. When Hawkins graduated from high school, all she wanted was out. She did not imagine she would go to college or work as a DJ then, but life took some twists and turns that got her to BGSU.

Hawkins is a junior journalism major with a minor in music business. The slim, dark-haired girl had her hair pulled back in a ponytail and tucked under a backward baseball cap. Her T-shirt promoted the event where she would DJ that night. Her boyish apparel contrasted with the bright pink lipstick she wore under her large, dark-rimmed glasses.

She grew up in Lisbon, Ohio. While Lisbon is in eastern Ohio, not far from the Pennsylvania border, Hawkins described it as the middle of nowhere. She didn’t know what she wanted from life before BGSU, but she knew she didn’t want Lisbon.

“Lisbon basically had nothing to offer me. No interesting jobs, no entertainment, nothing. Even the closest Walmart was 20 minutes away,” she said.

Her unintentional gap year — or actually two — got its start when she left Lisbon.

“I actually moved here about four years ago with my friend, who was already a student, but when I moved here, I didn’t really have any money. I didn’t have a job;  I didn’t have a plan,” she said.

Getting to Bowling Green was only part of the battle though, according to Hawkins. The first year after arriving was a struggle.  

“I moved to BG with my twin sister, three months rent and not much else. Those first three months were spent applying for jobs and watching a lot of Netflix. It was tough,” she said.

Hawkins found herself in that two-year struggle. She had dreams but no clear plans on how to achieve them. She tried to start a band by posting fliers at her local laundromat, but no one showed interest. In the end, she found herself working at Taco Bell, and it was not where she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

“After living here for about a year and a half or so, I just decided ‘This is not what I want to do with myself. I need to get an education. I need to do something other than this,’” Hawkins said.

Her twin sister, Brittany Haynes, supported that decision.

“I always felt like I was the more grounded one, and she’s the dreamer. And I commend her for that because she does dream extremely big. She always wanted to be in some sort of show business. She’s always wanted to see her name in lights,” Haynes said.

Hawkins said starting at BGSU was exactly what she needed. She said she has found a way to incorporate her love for writing and music into a path toward fulfilling her dream of working in the music industry.

“I see journalism and music business meshing together to allow me to write for Alternative Press (magazine) when I graduate,” Hawkins said. “Although, other publications like Rock Sound or Rolling Stone magazines would be great too. It just makes sense because I grew up listening to that genre and music of artists published in those magazines.”

In the meantime, Hawkins works for WBGU-FM as a DJ on Thursday nights.  She also works the station’s promotional nights at Howard’s Club H when she can.

Phil Beskid, student radio advisor, loves her passion and the energy she brings to the station. He said he also appreciates her availability to work through the summer, which brings some stability to programming over the break.

“Every time I walk past the studio window, she is a bundle of energy bouncing around and reacting to the music she is playing. It’s always nice to see,” he said.

Andrew Vogelpohl, junior media production studies major, serves as the programming director for the station. He said the DJs have free reign in designing their own shows.

“She keeps her show fresh and fun. Her personality comes out, and you can hear it on her show. She knows what she’s talking about. She’s really into her music, and she’s passionate about it. That’s the important thing,” he said.

Vogelpohl, a non-traditional student himself, feels Hawkins is mature for her age.

Haynes said Hawkins’ maturity comes from the way both of them grew up in Lisbon.

“(Our) mom was there raising us, but we kind of raised each other too. It affected our relationship and how we view the world sometimes,” Haynes said.

Both Hawkins and Haynes said these insights are a result of lessons learned while growing up together as children and young adults.

Hawkins said life is a continuing journey and is excited to see where it takes her. Like her radio show, she hopes her life will “Make Waves” and be full of the “latest and greatest” adventures to come, she said. In the meantime, she enjoys having a platform to share her thoughts with the world.

Hawkins added that having a public voice comes with responsibility. She feels she needs to use her platform as a force for good.

“I would say to the world, ‘Don’t settle for less than you know you’re worth,’” Hawkins said. “I learned, at a young age, compromise is good in certain situations. However, if you don’t have to compromise or if it’s not profitable to compromise, don’t do it. Follow what you know is right to the fullest extent you can.”

Hawkins’ path wasn’t typical, but she said music showed her the direction she needed to go. She encourages others to keep searching and “believin’” their way to their dreams as well.

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