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ENTERING RADIO, NOT A KID

QUESTION:

How the heck does a person get started in the radio business? Specifically as on-air talent?

I'm in my early 30s, a computer systems analyst who is bored with programming and analyzing computers, singer, actor, dancer (vast community/professional theatre experience) and part-time board operator for a local "canned programming" Christian radio station.

I've been to many radio career fairs and they all seem to be saying the same thing...working in radio is a lot of fun and very rewarding. Now, they also push folks into becoming interns (re: free, abused help). Well, I can't become an intern, however, radio is where I want to be. What do you suggest?

I'm probably going to order a couple of your books to start with but an honest answer would be very much appreciated. I also am going to have a demo tape made very soon. Will this help me at all?

DAN REPLIES:

> How the heck does a person get started in the radio business?
> Specifically as on-air talent?

Almost always by starting at some tiny, small-market station that allows you to learn many aspects (jocking, promotions, production, news gathering) of the business simply because they canít afford to hire enough people to accomplish those jobs. Typically thatís a six- or seven-day-per-week job, but the long hours are offset by the meager pay.

When youíre in your late teens or early 20s (when most jocks enter the business), the low financial reward and even lower job security is a lot easier to deal with than when youíre in your 30s, with a financially rewarding career and probably considerably more "adult" obligations (e.g., family, house).

> I've been to many radio career fairs and they all seem to be saying
> the same thing...working in radio is a lot of fun and very rewarding.

There is a unique human breed called "radio people." If youíre one of them, then radio can be both fun and rewarding (albeit for most jocks, itís not particularly financially rewarding).

> Now, they also push folks into becoming
> interns (re: free, abused help)

That often is a good way for a young person to enter the biz. And youíre right that for many stations, "interns" = "free, abused help." Thatís not what itís supposed to be, of course. By law (in the U.S.), a business offering internships is required to teach the intern practical skills directly related to the business.

>Well, I can't become an intern, however, radio
>is where I want to be. What do you suggest?

A few thoughts.....

  • Youíre a part-time board operator. Does this mean you know how to use the equipment typically found in a radio broadcast studio? Can you say to a station, "I already know how to run the equipment; I want you to teach me how to be a radio personality"?

    If so ó and assuming you donít have any major personal obstacles (severe speech impediment, present prison incarceration, social skills so seriously flawed that they would cause you to fail an in-person interview) ó your best bet probably is to aim for a part-time on-air job at a small station within 50 miles of your home. Almost all radio stations ó even in the largest of markets ó find it very difficult to find & keep good part-time help.

    Your first such job might be as board op during a Sunday morning religious or public affairs show...BUT with the understanding that this is only to be a springboard to on-air work. Make it clear that as enthusiastic and eager to please as you are, you will NOT be content to be a long-term part-time board op.

    Try making a list of all the radio stations within that 50-mile radius, weeding out those which would be precluded by format (e.g., it you want to be a music radio personality, thereís not much to be gained by running the board for a satellite-delivered News/Talk station).

    Do your homework: Learn about the stationís format, its place in the market, the name of its program director, its on-air sound before you ever call the PD. (If the stationís call letters are WXXX but it always refers to itself as X99, you wonít impress the PD by saying, "I listen to WXXX all the time....")

    Then call each station with your "pitch" prepared and rehearsed: "My name is Ed Jock, Iím 32 years old with a good job here in (City), and my dream has always been to be on the radio. I already have experience as a board operator, so at least Iím familiar with the equipment. And Iím calling to ask if you might be interested in the services of a hard-working, reliable weekend or fill-in jock."

    That will be enough to generate one of these responses from the PD:

    A) "Forget it."

    B) "Where have you worked?"

    C) "How soon can you get here?"

  • When you call the PD for the first time, the receptionist might ask what the call is regarding. Here are some responses that might help you:

    "Iím a listener, and I had a question about Programming."

    "Iím calling with a solution to his weekend air shift problem."

  • Even at small stations, some PDs are harder to reach by phone than they should be. If calling during regular business hours doesnít connect you to the PD, try calling at 8:15AM or 5:45PM. Program directors work very long hours, and when the receptionist has gone home itís almost impossible for a PD to resist picking up a ringing phone line.

  • With your computer experience, you might really catch the attention of a small, budget-starved station. Maybe you can help with their music scheduling or traffic software. Maybe you can offer to create & maintain their music database. (Again, make sure that gradual exposure to on-air work is part of the deal. Otherwise, youíll forever use you as a free or cheap part-time computer expert.)

  • You have a lot of theatrical experience. Can you create a funny character for the morning show? If so, just call up the morning host one day on the studio line, in-character. Morning shows in all market sizes always are looking for good "regulars" (i.e., listeners who donít get paid a dime for their contributions). More than one successful jock has begun exactly this way.

  • Your experience includes singing. Can you write, sing & produce parody songs for the morning show? (And do you have access to the equipment needed to do it?) If so, youíll be on-the-air and overworked before you know it.

> I also am going to have a demo
> tape made very soon. Will this help me at all?

If you already know are familiar with the rudiments of running a radio show (how to work the equipment, industry jargon & practices), sure. If you are NOT familiar with industry conventions, however, itís probably best to wait.

I hope some of this might be helpful to you.

Good luck on your future radio career!

Best,
Dan OíDay

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