How to Become a Disc Jockey

By Eric Hammer

Want to know how to become a disc jockey? The answer is a little like the answer to the old joke about how to get to Lincoln Center (practice, practice, practice). The bottom line is that getting a job as a radio disc jockey is hard. It's a very competitive field with a very finite number of openings.

That said, most of the resources we've quoted for this review fail to mention the explosion of satellite radio stations and especially Internet radio stations. While these stations often pay much smaller amounts of money (especially Internet radio stations) than commercial stations, they are a source of growth in an otherwise static industry (after all, there are only so many stations that can fit on the radio dial - it's all about frequencies and once all the usable frequencies are gone, there is no more room for another over the air station in a particular market).

Now, all that being said, the news isn't all bad. Being a radio disc jockey is a fun job for many people and, like acting, a dream for many. In addition to plenty of practice (get an internship at a smaller radio station to get started and also try to get on the college radio station when you're in school), you'll also need to be quick on your feet and able to ad lib (come up with something to say on the spot).

You will also need to have perfect diction (i.e. you can speak clearly as well as quickly - people who slur their words and slow talkers don't tend to work out well when they try to work on the radio). Finally, a background in creative writing and journalism helps a lot since you'll often need to write your own ad copy and or rewrite news stories to be short and snappy.

How Much Can You Make?

The average salary for radio DJs in the United States is $19.43 per hour according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of course, salaries can vary widely with top markets paying very good money and some small radio stations offering a little over minimum wage.

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Any time you try to find out how to become a DJ, you'll immediately be asked what kind of DJ you want to be. Remember that in addition to working on the radio, you can also land work playing at events such as weddings, confirmations, bar/bat mitzvah celebrations and parties.
Keep in mind that you'll need an excellent speaking voice. Note also that your voice has to play well over the radio; you'll generally be given a "radio test" before being hired for a DJ job where your voice will be tested to see how it sounds on the radio.

Probably the most important thing however that any DJ needs is the ability to think on his or her feet. Take a look at the movie Good Morning Vietnam with Robin Williams and you'll get an idea of what we mean. Robin purportedly ad libbed every time he was "on the radio" during the filming of the movie. In other words, if you can come up with something to say on the spot and keep things moving at a fast pace, you're much more likely to succeed in this business.

Qualifications / Requirements

While no formal qualifications exist for the job of radio disc jockey, the reality is that most people who want to know how to become a DJ are told to start by getting a bachelor's degree in journalism or English. Public speaking experience is also very helpful in getting a job as a DJ.

First Steps

Start by applying to be an intern at a small radio station, or even better, working at the college radio station. While you won't make much money (if any) at first, the experience and contacts you'll develop will prove invaluable to you as you move forward with your career.


Check out these helpful resources to find out more about how to become a DJ:

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Disc Jockey - Search "disc jockey" on this site for good information on pay and requirments.

Artist House Music: How to Become a Radio Disc Jockey - This is actually a video from the owner of a small radio network (34 stations) where he offers advice gained from several decades in the industry on how to become a DJ.

Radio Connection Broadcasting School - This is a school which teaches you how to become a DJ.

WiseGeek: How Can I Become a Radio DJ? - This is another basic, but well written introduction to the business of becoming a DJ.

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