Becoming a radio disk jockey (DJ) requires a strong vocal presence, a willingness to work unusual hours for low pay, and the flexibility to move from station to station or even from place to place. An entry-level radio DJ may also be responsible for a station's clerical work or commercial production, so a background in office management or electronics may also prove useful. A DJ's workday can range from a four-hour shift on the air to a day-long remote broadcast from a distant location.
One suggested educational path to follow in order to get into this field is a concentration in English, speech and theatrical arts. Radio personalities may be asked to create their own advertising copy, so a strong writing background is fundamental. A DJ may also have to rewrite news articles provided by a wire service or create interesting bits of patter between songs. By taking creative writing courses in high school, you can develop the sort of on-the-spot storytelling skills popular with audiences.
Another important educational tool is theater and speech. Program directors at radio stations prefer to hire applicants with strong vocal skills and the ability to speak clearly. Theater and speech classes can help you improve your clarity, while eliminating any distracting accents or impediments. Many high schools offer in-house communication courses with working television or radio stations, and these facilities offer excellent opportunities for on-the-job experience and may even offer the chance to create an audition tape, called an air check in the radio world.
A number of colleges and universities offer broadcasting as a major, so a radio DJ candidate should enroll in a suitable program with a radio broadcasting component. Working for the campus radio station can provide real world experience, along with a more professional air check tape. Although a degree is not strictly required in order to break into the radio business, program directors often give hiring preference to degreed candidates. College programs can also provide technical training that will allow you to work a board, radiospeak for operating a studio control panel.
Once you have a professional air check tape and a degree in hand, it's time to seek employment. The main person responsible for hiring new on-air talent is the station director, although in smaller operations, this task may fall to the station's general manager or owner. In general, the station director usually has a generous supply of air check tapes and resumes from would-be disk jockeys, but smaller stations may advertise openings from time to time. The trick is to get the station director to listen to your tape personally and call you in for an interview.
A new radio DJ is often assigned to overnight or weekend shifts at first. While this may seem like a career setback, demonstrating a willingness to take on unpopular assignments can help you secure better shifts in the future. If you're fortunate enough to be hired by a popular radio station, expect to spend many hours in the studio cutting commercials, broadcasting sporting events and anchoring remotes. There is a significant amount of turnover in the radio business, as computers have taken over many routine aspects of the job, and experienced radio personalities constantly move on to better paying markets.
Finding work in smaller markets can be hit-or-miss. It is not unusual for freelance disk jockeys to move several times a year for work. As radio formats or station ownerships change, a DJ must learn to change as well or prepare to move on to another gig.
The average salary for local, entry-level radio work is often relatively low and paid hourly. Only a small percentage of nationally recognized radio talents earn the top wages associated with the entertainment industry. Most DJs supplement their income through mobile work or nightclub gigs.