How can I Become a Radio DJ?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

As radio DJs must have strong personalities and operate soundboards, they often have experience in theater or electronics.
As radio DJs must have strong personalities and operate soundboards, they often have experience in theater or electronics.

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.

A DJ works at a radio station.
A DJ works at a radio station.

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.

Radio shows are typically broadcast on AM or FM frequency bands.
Radio shows are typically broadcast on AM or FM frequency bands.

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.

A DJ's workday can range from a four-hour shift on the air, to a day-long remote broadcast from a distant location.
A DJ's workday can range from a four-hour shift on the air, to a day-long remote broadcast from a distant location.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Thanks for sharing this. As an aspiring DJ this article is very helpful.


I want to a radio DJ but I don't know where to start.


Nice. Being a DJ is hard and challenging, but even though its like that, it's still a lot of fun.


A good place to start is online. It's a lot cheaper. Try shoutcast radio stations that are looking for help.


If I did get hired, how could I change the station's venue of music from overplayed crap to actual entertainment?


I am a successful, well known radio dj and started in radio at the age of 9. I'm now in my 30's so sometimes it not what you know, it's who you know! If you are in the US I would try going to a college radio station and building up experience, make an aircheck (audition tape), and start sending it out to program directors along with a resume.

Good luck to anyone trying to get into the business. It's not as easy as it used to be due to the computers and automation taking over.


Probably one of the best pieces of advice here is the internships or taking about any role you can at a radio station. So many people have moved on from promo work or handing out station bumper stickers to other great roles. Get a foot in the door; it is often the hardest step.


If you want to be a successful radio DJ, the best place to start is hospital radio. Contact your nearest hospital and tell them you want to be a DJ. You will be expected to volunteer your time and you will have to learn the ways of a station. This can all be taught to you for free by the people there.

I learned this way, at the same hospital that Simon Mayo learned at. He's quite successful these days, isn't he? LOL!! Anyway as I say this is the best way: you will be given tests every few months to see how you're coming along, and when it is decided that you are ready you will make a demo of yourself talking, and playing records, etc, which will be submitted to a panel of judges and they will then decide if you are right for the job. You will not earn a penny before any of this has happened. It takes years and years to make it, but it's worth it when you do.


In you are interested in radio, you should checkout your local Public Access TV stations. Sometimes they offer radio broadcasting classes for reasonable prices. If you are in the DC or VA area, check out Fairfax Public Access TV.


Becoming a Radio DJ has been one of my dreams. Thanks for the tips !


I'm curious, would podcasting help to getting a job as a DJ?


Some good tips in here. I agree with the need to always be working on your craft, even if you aren't currently employed in radio. It's really important to ensure that you are always looking for ways to get on air or better yourself once in the studio.


I just received a phone call from one of the radio stations in the country that I live in. They told invited me to go in for an interview, but I don't know what to expect! I'm dead!


I was thinking about being a radio DJ when i got older. If you have ever read the books by Kitty Norville -- you know the kind of radio DJ she is. she plays music, takes all kinds of calls, and she mostly talks about the supernatural, like vamps and werewolves, and why they couldn't exist and all kinds of different stuff. She even has guests and i would love to be like her. I talk a lot. I'm great in english. So, if anyone can tell me how to do something like that, that would be great!


A broadcasting degree is beneficial in getting a job in radio, however, extra education is not exactly necessary. You need to be comfortable with yourself and your voice, and be passionate about the music your station plays.

The most important thing to do to get a job in this competitive field, is to get any job you can at the station, and work from there. Make friends, and make a good impression. Working for free for a period of time may be necessary before they will offer you a job.

Radio Djs make around $8.75 an hour, and around $20,000 dollars a year. Pay varies with the area's market. There is not very good pay, but there can be many perks depending on your area. Perks also are dependent on the station, area, and market. I hope I helped you out.


i live down here in south africa and i seem to be fascinated by dj-ing, especially radio dj-ing. all i plead for is for someone to offer me a job -- even an unpaid one is fine. i just want to gain experience.


i'm J.T i would like to work on radio especially in reading news because i like reading. i also do believe that one day I'll be given a chance to promote myself. I thank you.


I want to be an intern in seoul korea. any ideas how to go about this?


If you would like to start being a radio DJ i found this radio station called Reach OnAir that allows you to become the DJ!


You need a tape and a resume. Take or mail them to the Program Director of a radio station. Call the station first and get the name of the PD so that you can address the material directly to him or her.

Be willing to do anything, including answering the request lines or helping out on promotions. Get your foot in the door. that's what is important.


I really want to be a DJ, but how do I apply for it and how many years would I have to do in college? Is there good money in it?


i would like to be a radio dj and particularly broadcast in my home language Tswana. i have tried Motsweding Fm, North West Fm and community radio Mafisa Fm. i strongly believe that i have the passion for radio and my ideas and inspiration will make me a good radio dj.I have studied public relations for three years with Uj. i would like to enroll in a short course that will push me directly on getting the chance to be on radio as a dj. Anon


I would like to start as a dj too. But where do I start? I don't know. I seem to be really creative but where do I start?


i want to be a radio dj but do not know where to start. i'm doing journalism and media studies at rosebank college.

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