On the Record: DJ David Watkins with huge assortment of vintage vinyl

David Watkins started collecting records as a teenager. Now he’s 57, and his collection is still growing. 

A 1960s music revival during Watkins’ high-school career drew him towards garage punk, ska and other music from the era. He wanted to know where this music came from and what influenced it, so he found himself traveling back further and further through music history.

“You start peeling back the onion and there’s just more and more and more,” Watkins said. “You listen to the [Rolling] Stones and The Who, and they were listening to Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.”

Today, Watkins’ collection still includes a few albums he bought back in high school. He hasn’t kept count of how many he’s accumulated over the years, but he had to weigh his collection when he moved from California to Sister Bay in 2020. His vinyls weighed in at about 2,000 pounds, while his stock of 78s – the predecessors to vinyl records, typically made of shellac and used commonly in the early 20th century – weighed in at about 5,000 pounds. 

Combined, the collection is large enough to fill up a room in Watkins’ house. In that room, a wide range of genres are represented, especially 20th century R&B, blues, jazz, country, old-time, rock, exotica, Hawaiian, international and rare Christmas records.

Watkins’ record room. Photo courtesy of David Watkins.

This impressive assortment doesn’t stay home and collect dust; rather, Watkins DJs with them. He began a mobile DJ service in Los Angeles in 2017 after years of working at record stores – including Hollywood’s Amoeba Music – and playing Christmas sets for work parties.

“I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to make them work for me and see if there’s not a market for spinning real records,’” Watkins said. 

There was one, both on the west coast and in Door County, where Watkins’ wife had partially grown up and where the couple visited every summer. After the cross-country move, Watkins found his niche on the peninsula, DJing at local venues like Donny’s Glidden Lodge, Bayside Tavern, Drömhus and Al Johnson’s Stabbur Beer Garden, and local events like Christkindlmarkt. 

DJing with real records is uncommon nowadays, thanks to the rise of digital listening options like CDs and streaming services. While such options give DJs a larger library of music that’s not as costly to obtain, the convenience comes at a cost – real records have a certain sound that can’t easily be replicated, according to Watkins.

“If you listen to vinyl, and even more so if you listen to 78s, you get an even fuller appreciation of the breadth and the range of sound, from the low end to the high end,” Watkins said. “A lot of that seems to be missing when you’re listening to it digitally.” 

He’s not the only one who notices the difference. 

“Other folks will hear the music before they see me, and they’ll come up and go, “I knew it was a record’ because there’s a certain quality the sound has,” Watkins said.

In addition to DJing at venues around the peninsula, Watkins totes his collection to local libraries, where he leads listening parties and music-history programs. These started when a librarian at the Sister/Bay Liberty Grove Library, which Watkins frequents, approached him to ask if he would be interested in doing a magic show for their summer reading program (Watkins has been an amateur magician for over 10 years.) He agreed and offered to lead a record program too.

Each of Watkins’ programs cover different aspects of his knowledge base; one of his first focused on where great records come from. When 78s first gained traction, Watkins explained, only rich people could afford to buy them. So the only two companies that produced records catered specifically towards their interests, focusing more on making money than creating music that would stand the test of time. When their patents started expiring, other parties got involved and produced records that appealed to a wider audience than just the wealthy. 

“There are so many interesting little nooks and crannies to the whole story,” Watkins said. 

Watkins’ next library program is on April 16, 5:30-6:30 pm, when he’ll discuss early country music and play pre-World War Two 78s. The program will be held at the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Library, 2323 Mill Road.

Interested in adding a retro flair to your next event? Visit Watkins’ website,, for booking information.