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Become a Radio DJ: Education and Training Requirements

Research the requirements to become a radio DJ. Learn about the job description and duties, and see this step-by-step process to start a career in radio. View article »

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  • 0:03 Radio DJ Career Info
  • 1:20 Get a Bachelor's Degree
  • 3:18 Get a Job
  • 4:06 Hone On-Air Personality
  • 4:46 Build a Portfolio

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Video Transcript

Radio DJ Career Info

Radio DJs, or disc jockeys, are typically responsible for reporting on the news, sports, and weather and for integrating these items into a show that also includes music, commercials, and possibly interviews or discussions. Frequently, radio DJs are also responsible for many of the technological and sales duties associated with the industry. They're often expected to operate studio equipment and to perform editorial tasks. Additionally, they may be required to sell advertisement space, produce and write creative content for the show, schedule guests for interviews, and perform other promotional work.

DJ's typically work in well-lit, air-conditioned rooms. Some DJs work during the night, since radio stations operate around the clock. About a quarter of all DJs are self-employed, recording their shows on their own and competing with other DJs by trying to sell their shows to radio stations.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Postsecondary education is not technically required; bachelor's degree is common
Degree Field Broadcast journalism, communications
Experience On-the-job training is generally required; college radio experience is common
Key Skills Speaking, listening, communication, writing, and comprehension skills; vocal delivery; proficiency with broadcasting tools and technology
Salary (2015)* $30,960 (median for radio and television announcers)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*Net Online

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Get a Bachelor's Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that some radio DJs are required to have no more than a high school diploma; however, many of these professionals earn a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism, communications, or a similar field. A 4-year bachelor's degree program in broadcast journalism includes coursework in narrative radio, multimedia producing, broadcast writing, media research techniques, and radio announcing.

Schools that offer broadcast journalism degrees generally also have a college radio station. Working at a college radio station can give a student the opportunity to gain experience with the equipment and day-to-day activities necessary for the job and allows the student to begin developing an on-air personality.

Students in these programs should also take computer science and multimedia classes. Radio DJs today are expected to maintain social networking accounts, update web pages and blogs, and use technology during their shows and for editing purposes. Taking classes and gaining experience with computer hardware, software, and other multimedia devices can help eliminate some of the learning curve an individual would experience when entering the studio for the first time.

Public speaking opportunities and groups like Toastmasters are a great way for aspiring radio DJs to prepare for the promotional responsibilities that come with the job. Speaking formally at public events and entertaining large groups of people at local events and concerts are common requirements for radio DJs.

Most schools provide internship opportunities through the broadcast journalism program. Students should apply for and participate in as many of these hands-on experiences as possible. Internships can provide possible employment connections for a student after graduation and can help a student assess the career to make sure it's a good fit. Additional internship opportunities can be found through job boards and other online resources.

Get a Job

Graduates of these programs generally have to work in a smaller or local market for several years before breaking into the larger opportunities. After an industry professional has proven themselves in the smaller markets, they can pursue working in a larger market with a bigger audience and likely better pay. These positions are highly competitive and generally take a lot of hard work and dedication to acquire.

Professional radio DJs can apply for fellowship programs through associations like the Radio Television Digital News Association to participate in industry-specific positions like beat reporting, overseas, and foreign exchange opportunities and various other programs. Fellowships provide additional experience as well as demonstrate the individual's flexibility and prowess in the industry.

Hone On-Air Personality

On-air personality development and the ability to retain and increase audience members are key factors when applying for larger market positions. Radio DJs should use the time spent in the smaller markets to flesh out the on-air persona they have chosen and to develop marketing and sales skills necessary for selling advertising space and promoting themselves and the station.

Radio DJs might also want to consider earning a graduate degree if they want to move into more prominent positions. While not required, a graduate student would likely benefit from the additional coursework as well as the connections and networking opportunities that come about from participating in a graduate program.

Build a Portfolio

Employers look for radio DJs with a proven track record of attracting and retaining an audience. DJs should archive and curate past work that demonstrates a proven ability to deliver on-air and use that material to present to potential employers.

Once again, many radio DJs earn a degree in a field such as broadcast journalism, get hands-on experience at a student radio station, develop an on-air personality, and work their way up from smaller markets to larger ones.

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