The first part of becoming a profesional DJ chapter one is on how to become a radio DJ…
BECOMING A RADIO DJ
I had dreamed about becoming a radio DJ since I was about ten years old. I used to make tapes in my bedroom with an old record player and a cassette tape recorder my grandfather gave me. I had a few records my parents bought at a garage sale and I’d play them over and over again, announcing the name and artist along with today’s weather and news. I’d listen to DJs on the local radio stations and tried to copy their styles with my pre-pubescent voice. I have no idea where those tapes are but I’d bet they’re hilariously terrible.
I got my first “real” radio gig at Temple University’s college radio station in Ambler, Pennsylvania. It was a tiny, 5-Watt signal that barely reached to the end of the campus, but always blared loudly in the student dorms and cafeteria. I worked the weekend shifts, so I got to bring my own music and say whatever I wanted. Some of the skits my friends and I did on that station would make Howard Stern look tame by comparison!
I did that for a semester or two and got tired of it. I later joined Temple’s “real” FM radio station, WRTI in Philadelphia, as a reporter for a program called “Lifestyles.” I did a few reports on campus events and activities, and decided then I didn’t want to be a reporter. Music was much more fun for me. Since WRTI was an all-jazz station then, I packed up my headphones and tried not to let the door hit me where the good Lord split me.
A few years later, I got the radio bug again, and managed to find a gig at a community radio station while doing nights as a nightclub DJ. I did Friday mornings from 7 until noon, playing a preset list of Top 40 and soft rock songs on “carts” (tapes that look like an old eight-track tape, if you’ve ever seen one of those). I was always half asleep because I worked a big club on Thursday nights until 2AM then partied until 3 or 4AM. I recorded pretty poor demo tapes and shotgunned them out to everyone I could. Good thing most unsolicited demo tapes go directly into the trash.
While working at a big nightclub in New Jersey with several radio personalities, I finally got a break. I filled in part-time on a small commercial station in Trenton, New Jersey as a co-host on a show that played “Post Modern” music (alternative rock). When I finally got a part-time job offer at that station, they told me I’d have to give up my nightclub gigs because they were a “conflict of interest.” Since I was already in my mid-twenties, married with a baby, and making five times more cash at the nightclubs,
I had to turn down the radio gig. There was my dream, right in front of me, but the timing was all wrong. Easy come, easy go.
So that’s my radio story. But if you’re single and carefree, and you dig traveling all over the country while living on microwaved foods, there’s nothing like the rush you’ll feel when you meet adoring fans who tell you they never miss your show. My advice to someone entering the radio field is to make sure this is exactly what you want to do for a living, and make sure you’re young enough before all the “adult” problems (bills, mortgage, kids, etc) take over. Forget new cars and fancy clothes—prepare to live in almost poverty level conditions indefinitely. Don’t count on having a single circle of lifetime friends, because you’ll probably have to start in a tiny market where no one would ever want to live, and you’ll have to move all over the country at the drop
of a hat to take on better opportunities. Leave your ego at home because you will get fired and laid off frequently. But if it’s truly what you have your heart set on, go all out and do whatever you need to do to break in. Spend all the time, effort, and money you can into producing a killer demo tape, which I’ll cover later in this chapter. Eventually, someone will open the door for you and you, too, will get an opportunity of a lifetime.
This section offers a brief analysis on the radio business, your options, and an introduction to basic radioterminology. For a much more in-depth description of the business, great tips on how to land your first on-air job and a great success story, definitely get your hands on a copy of Mike Staff’s How To Become A Radio DJ (available at www.djbook.com)—it’s mandatory reading if you’re dead serious about a job in the radio industry. Mike’s book even comes with a sample demo tape that he used to get his radio job, so you know it works.