Talk about deadline pressure: radio DJs, announcers and newscasters have about five to 10 seconds to capture your attention before you switch the dial. The job requires a lot more than playing music and giving traffic updates. To attract listeners, DJs have to put a spin on the news and the weather, too. As one DJ puts it, "In radio, you're only as good as your audience thinks you are."
Radio DJs have to be able to think on their feet and ad-lib much of the commentary to make smooth transitions between songs, commercials and other show segments. No formal education is required, but writing and researching skills figure largely into a DJ's job, whether she is interviewing Maroon Five or a local political candidate. In fact, the lively and (occasionally) witty banter that disc jockeys lob at one another is often scripted, and they frequently write promotional and news copy themselves.
The number of jobs available for traditional radio DJs is shrinking in the ever-shifting modern media landscape--for instance, one DJ can service several terrestrial stations at once, thanks to digital technology that records several hours' worth of talk time in just a few minutes and then distributes it to several stations. However, more and more radio personalities are making the leap to opportunities in satellite radio and the Web. Several independent radio stations operate entirely via streaming audio over the Internet airwaves (WOXY in Cincinnati and East Village Radio in New York are two notable examples), while public radio affiliates offer expanded online audio content and podcasts.
More than music
DJs are rarely limited to playing music; they are usually assigned a specialty like sports, weather, general news or traffic reports. Radio announcers also work at news radio stations where they are newscasters, anchors and co-anchors. Broadcast news analysts are called commentators, and they present news stories, interpret them, and integrate them into a broad discussion of how they will affect the audience they serve.
Not your normal hours
The hours for DJs and announcers can be long and irregular, which can affect their social and personal lives. Popular DJs are expected to turn up at promotional events and concerts, which can be considered a perk or a downer. The schedule constraints of the job can be physically and mentally strenuous, but of the rewards for the strange and long hours is the ability to be creative. Furthermore, radio DJs--with the exception of a few stars such as Howard Stern and major market morning show hosts--do not make a lot of money. Successful DJs can, however, gain personal satisfaction from their local celebrity status.
Getting hired in radio broadcasting is competitive and can be difficult. A degree in broadcast journalism or communications does not guarantee that you will be hired; station managers are more impressed by taped auditions that showcase an applicant's delivery and style--however, experience at college stations and internships also helps. DJs usually start out at a local station to gain experience and gradually move to larger and larger markets. Competition for jobs at national networks and satellite radio firms is stiff, and employers seek out college grads with years of radio experience.
Anyone considering enrolling in a broadcasting school should contact personnel managers of radio stations as well as broadcasting trade organizations to determine the school's reputation for turning out qualified candidates. Announcers who operate transmitters must obtain a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restricted radiotelephone operator permit.
Radio is generally "very relaxed." One DJ candidly admits that "the business is more pure entertainment than anything else." For example, dress code is "irrelevant--your persona is what counts." As far as those personas are concerned, insiders say, "broadcasting attracts a larger than normal share of egotists."
Breaking into the field requires "persistence, some experience and knowing a few key people." The workload is "variable," depending on the station. For example, a DJ in Arkansas says that she "is never very busy," while a DJ in Miami feels as if he "is a professional juggler at times" because he works so many shifts and has his own radio show. The "real money" in radio is as a producer, but the die-hard DJs are in the business, as one such devotee vouched, "for love, not money."
Work with creative people; Some amount of celebrity
Long (and sometimes unusual) hours; Low starting pay; Little job security
Creative; Extroverted; Charismatic; Spontaneous
Sensitive; Need structure
Average about 40 per week
Median salary for radio news announcer: $25,000; Range for smallest to largest markets: $7,100 to $102,676
In-depth knowledge of music and popular culture; Good speaking voice and interviewing skills