How to Become a Radio Disc Jockey: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Should I Become a Radio Disc Jockey?

A radio disc jockey (DJ) works for radio stations and selects and broadcasts music for an audience. Radio DJs may specialize in a specific type of music, such as rock and roll, R&B, rap, country, soft rock or alternative. In addition to music, radio DJs may also make comments about news related to politics, pop culture or sports, and inform their audience about weather and traffic. To get started in the field, DJs might have to work varied early morning or late night shifts. There is often strong competition for these jobs, and those with a college education might have the best employment prospects.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree preferred; public address announcers typically only need a high school diploma
Degree Field Communications, broadcast journalism
Experience Experience as a DJ will be valued over education; employers expect DJs to have experience using broadcast equipment before hire
Key Skills Interpersonal, speaking, writing, and research skills, ability to be persistent; proficiency in using computers, editing and broadcast-related equipment
Salary $33,742 (2015 median salary for all radio disc jockeys)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (July 2015)

Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Program

Students who are interested in becoming a radio DJ can enroll in an associate's or bachelor's degree program in communications or broadcast journalism. Students will take courses in radio announcing, speech, news reporting, broadcast writing and media research. Although associate degrees are offered, bachelor's degrees are necessary to be competitive even for entry-level jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Step 2: Do an Internship

Colleges and universities may offer students an opportunity to participate in an internship with a radio station. While an internship may not offer students a chance to get on air, they'll learn behind-the-scenes aspects of working at a radio station. This will also give them a chance to network and develop contacts in the industry.

Step 3: Get on the Air

Students may be able to find opportunities to get on the air with their campus radio station. College radio stations typically provide a hands-on environment where students may gain real-world experience. These stations often broadcast 24 hours a day, so students can get experience engaging both daytime and nighttime listeners. Students also learn about FCC rules, broadcasting law and ethics as well as personnel management and station programming while being provided with a chance to get on air.

Success Tip

  • Put together a reel. In order to obtain a job, prospective radio disc jockeys need a reel. Disc jockeys should edit reels of their best work to send to prospective employers. No matter the experience or education, radio stations will need to hear how a radio DJ sounds on the air and how they communicate with an audience.

Step 4: Hone Your Skills at a Small-Market Station

The BLS notes that radio DJs should get comfortable with their on-air personalities and build their reputation in smaller markets before moving on to larger-market stations. This gives radio DJs the opportunity to tailor their announcing style to better engage and retain an audience. Professionals in this field often need to relocate to larger markets to advance their careers. As such, larger studios typically put heavy emphasis on a radio DJ's ratings in smaller markets when deciding on who to hire.

Success Tip

  • Develop versatility. While working in a smaller market, radio disc jockeys should take the time to gain experience in other areas, such as selling advertising air-time, making updates to social media websites, and doing promotional appearances. Becoming versatile in these areas are essential, since large-market employers typically look for candidates with such experience.
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