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Radio DJ

Overview  

Don't touch that dial

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 records and giving the weather forecast; DJs have to put a spin on the news and the weather to attract listeners. 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 between records 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 Primus for Rockline or George Stephanopoulos for All Things Considered. 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.

More than music

DJs are rarely limited to spinning records; 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 in a city are expected to turn up at promotional events and concerts which, depending upon the DJ's outside obligations, can be considered a perk or a detriment. The schedule constraints of the job can be physically and mentally strenuous. The rewards for the strange and long hours are primarily interest in the job and the ability to be creative; radio DJs, with the exception of a few stars such as Howard Stern, do not make a lot of money. Successful DJs can, however, gain personal satisfaction from their local celebrity status.

Career Path  

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. Experience at college stations and internships also help. 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 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.

Uppers  

Work with creative people;Some amount of celebrity

Downers  

Long (and sometimes weird) hours;Low starting pay;Little job security

Personality Match  

Creative;Extroverted;Charismatic;Spontaneous

Personality Miss  

Sensitive;Need structure

Hours  

Averages about 40 per week

Salary  

Median salary for radio news announcer: $25,000;Range for smallest to largest markets: $7,100 to $102,676

Skills  

High school diploma;Good speaking voice

Our Survey Says  

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."

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