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.

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Should I Become a Radio DJ?

Radio DJs (disc jockeys) can work in various formats and on various schedules. They 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 are 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.

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Career Requirements

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 (2014) $29,790 (Median for Radio and Television Announcers)

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

Step One: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While the BLS notes that as little as a high school diploma may be required for radio DJs, these professionals generally have 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.

Success Tips:

  • Work at your college radio station. 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.
  • 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.
  • Participate in public speaking opportunities. 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.
  • Take advantage of internship opportunities. 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.

Step Two: Obtain Employment

Graduates 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.

Success Tips:

  • Participate in a fellowship program. 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.

Step Three: Hone Your 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 market(s) 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.

Success Tips:

  • Consider earning a graduate degree. Graduate degrees are generally not required for radio DJ positions. However, individuals who wish to move into more prominent positions would likely benefit from the additional coursework as well as the connections and networking opportunities that come about from participating in a graduate program.

Step Four: Build a Portfolio to Advance Your Career

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

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