Radio is theater of the mind and air personalities (announcer, jock, DJ or disc jockey) are its actors. To become successful it requires passion, practice, a willingness to learn, ability to read, ego, ability to write, patience, desire, and sacrifice. The institution of radio has a responsibility to entertain and inform. Air personalities anchor the broadcast industry. A microphone is power. Becoming an air personality can lead to a career in or out of radio.
The announcer alumni list includes David Letterman of Late Nite; Allaccess.com President/Publisher, Joel Denver; Comedian, George Carlin; CBS Radio President, Dan Mason; Radio One President, Barry Mayo; Carson Daly of Last Call; Allaccess.com Urban Editor, Jerry Boulding; television icon Dick Clark; actor Donald Sutherland; Quincy McCoy, the Vice President of Radio for MTVN Digital Music; Service Broadcasting C.O.O Ken Dowe; Willard Scott of the Today Show; Sly Stone, the former lead singer of Sly and the Family Stone; and Bob Pittman, a principal in the Pilot Group, a private investment firm specializing in new media and Internet companies.
As a broadcast talent coach with a career spanning more than 30 years, I would offer the following for those interested in becoming a radio personality.
1. Anyone who can read and write has the capabilities of becoming a radio personality. It is important to vocalize written copy aloud. The sound of someone's voice has little to do with being a jock. Communicating succinctly in a warm and friendly manner is the ultimate goal.
In the beginning, one of the best ways to practice is to read front-page paragraph blurbs from the USA Today or The Wall Street Journal. Buy an inexpensive tape recorder and carry it around. These recorders have built-in microphones.
Another possibility is to download an audio software program and purchase a microphone. One of the better programs is Audacity. The software is free and used by many in the radio industry. It would be best to use the tape recorder and advance to audio software at a later date.
2. Choose five blurbs to record. Hit the record button, read a sentence, stop the recorder, rewind, and listen. This is how recording levels are checked. Depending on the loudness, either increase or decrease the volume. Make the necessary adjustments, sit up straight, and begin reading.
When finished, rewind again and listen. People breathe when they talk. There should be natural pauses, however, it’s common for beginners to attempt to say too much without breathing and become short of breath. For an undetermined length of time, there is a “brain to mouth disconnect” as newbies become accustomed to hearing their voice recorded.
3. After an objective self-evaluation, it will become evident that professional help is needed. A mentor/coach can provide assistance in talent development. There are several ways to find help. Sign up for college radio classes, enroll in broadcast school, or call a local air personality for advice. Another option is to call the program director of any station and ask for guidance. Whomever the contact, information will be provided and a mentoring relationship might develop.
4. There are many routes to becoming an air personality. A mentor/coach could be beneficial when seeking an internship or community volunteer work. Currently, most internships are tied to college courses and do not begin until the junior or senior year. Inquire about volunteering and avoid the problem. This could be done as a high schooler or as a college or non-college student. At the college level, unless the plan is to teach broadcasting, select it as minor and major in another field.
5. Becoming an air personality takes practice and experience. Many college and community radio stations have non-paid positions available. Numerous high schools now have closed circuit broadcast facilities. In any of these situations, interns and volunteers can gain access to the necessary practice tools of a broadcast studio and a microphone. The same skills required for traditional radio announcers can also be applied to the new forms of vocal media such as satellite radio, Internet streaming, HD radio, You Tube, podcasting, and Internet radio.
Consider the financial aspect before entering a career in radio. Few make millions, many make a great living, and most earn just enough to pay the bills. It is a tough business to break into, but remember, it only takes one person to say “Yes.”