Has anyone ever said that to you? Is that your dream job?
My voice dropped about an octave and a half between my 11th and 12th birthday, and I can’t begin to count how many people said that to me over the years. Soon thereafter, my dad took me to visit a radio station, and I was hooked.
More than 50 years later people still ask me, “How do you get into radio?” I always sarcastically respond, “Well, I used a Phillips’ screwdriver and a ball-peen hammer, and went in through the back,” but flippancy aside there are some very tangible strategies for pursuing my beloved vocation.
My Personal Experience
By the time I was 13 I had placed a tape recorder and turntable side-by-side, and using my own 45-rpm records and commercials I’d recorded off local radio stations I simulated being a disc jockey in my own bedroom. I was fortunate in that the general manager of the oldest station in my hometown was a family friend, so when I was 15 I approached him for advice.
He gave me a personal tour of his station, and asked me what I thought. I told him I was ready to start work, and he chuckled under his breath saying, “Oh, you’ll need to get your FCC license first. It’s a lot like the CPA exam – very technical and difficult. You’ll have to study for months, and probably won’t pass the test on your first try. I’ll have my chief engineer give you a study guide for the license, but when you get one come back and I’ll give you a job.”
The chief engineer asked, “Do you want to build and maintain the equipment, or do you want to be an announcer on the air?” When I told him I wanted to be the later he smiled and said, “Well, the general manager is a very smart man, but in this case he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The license to be an engineer like me is difficult, but you only need an operator’s license to be on the air, and it’s as simple as a driver’s test.” He gave me a study guide and told me to go take the test at the FCC field office the next day. I made a 100!
So, when I showed up the very next day with an FCC license in my hand and said, “What do I do now?” he was thunderstruck. True to his word, he gave me a job playing the religious tapes on Sunday morning, and thus began my half-century in broadcasting.
Unfortunately, those kinds of stories don’t happen much anymore. For one thing, radio stations don’t man their schedules with around-the-clock live announcers like they did when I broke into the business back in the mid-60s. Even high-profile major market stations often only employ a handful of full-time on-air talents for the morning and afternoon drive slots, and supplement the rest of their 24-hour lineup with part-time, automated voices to save money.
Sadly, this means there are not as many opportunities for young, aspiring air personalities as there used to be. The good news is older on-air types are being laid off at record rates (just ask me!), and younger, much cheaper-salaried announcers are replacing them.
So, don’t let that deter you, and I’d love to hear from you. Email me at: [email protected]. In my next post I’ll outline specific strategies to make your dream come true on the radio.