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Thinking of a Career in Radio? Some Good Tips on What to Expect

Careers On and Off the Air


G. Gordon Liddy

G. Gordon Liddy's path into Radio was made easier by his fame as a Watergate Burglar, author, and actor.

Photo: G. Gordon Liddy, Creative Commons, MDCarchives
A new year often brings on thoughts of changing jobs or careers. If you've toyed with the thought of a career in Radio, let me give you some sound and real advice. Although the industry has suffered thousands of job losses in just the past three years, part of it was due to the economic downturn and part of it was due to the a continual consolidation of duties over the past ten years. Technology has hurt and helped traditional AM and FM Radio at the same time.

MP3 players, iPods, Internet streaming, satellite radio, and cell phone radio apps have put pressure on acquiring revenue - there's only so many ad dollars to go around. Conversely, automation, software advances, Internet streaming, and phone apps have propped up traditional radio with the ability to lower overhead and find new revenues. My point is this: Radio has been changing and continues to evolve. With that, there have also been some types of jobs lost and other types of positions created.

Get Real

If you want to be in Radio so you can play your favorite music because you're absolutely positive you can put together a great show, leave now. Few stations are going to let you pick the music you play, except maybe a college station or a tiny local station in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. In almost all other situations, a Program Director or Music Director is going to make those choices using sophisticated music scheduling software.

If you think you could do a great talk show and expect to get hired to do a full-time shift in a large market making big bucks, sit down and chill. Few people with little or no experience walk into situations like that. An exception to this rule is a celebrity or person who is already famous. For instance: Bob Dylan. Several years ago Dylan was offered the chance to do a weekly show on XM Satellite Radio called Theme Time Radio Hour which garnered a decent amount of listeners and critical respect. Years ago, G. Gordon Liddy, the famous Watergate burglar from the Nixon Administration, slid into a syndicated talk show after a writing and acting career. When Air America (the now defunct progressive radio network) first began, actress Janeane Garafalo would up with a full-time radio gig - a hire that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Celebrities and known personalities have an advantage over unknowns because they're already a proven commodity and attract interest. But, non-celebrities don't despair: the odds of becoming a talk show host or radio personality are not completely bleak. You'll just have to work much harder to get there.

Which School? Books or Hard Knocks

I'm often asked if one needs to go to school to be on the Radio. I usually answer the same way: "I went to four years of college and my on-air partner barely finished high school. We both make the same amount of money."

In Radio, experience is going to take you further than theory. Securing part-time work at a radio station doing anything is going to pay off more than you realize. It allows you to build up contacts, trust, learn more about the business, and acquire more skills. If part-time is not available, offer to donate some of your time to help a local radio station in the programming or promotion department.

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