Whether you’re a disc jockey for a radio station or a nightclub, the best aspect of the job
is the creativity that it allows (and even requires). Radio disc jockeys play music, chat, deliver
news, weather, or sports, or hold conversations with celebrities or call-in listeners. Club DJs
mix music, sound effects, and special effects and occasionally provide chatter between songs.
Each DJ must be in command of his or her specialty genre of music or demographic of audience
—and sensitive to listener responses.
A radio disc jockey must be able
to spin off on an item in the news or
a hot new song. “I think about how things
connect,” said one. Being extremely
organized and synchronized is critical to the radio station. Songs must fill a certain span of
time; commercials have to be aired during specific blocks. Disc jockeys must be able to
coordinate what plays when within time and audience constraints while on the air. A radio
DJ must build an audience. Most DJs specialize in a specific musical genre, have a consistent
approach, and field calls and requests from interested listeners to develop a consistent,
loyal listening public. Since only one person is usually on the air at a given time, the DJs get
lonely. More than 75 percent of our surveys mentioned “isolation” as one of the biggest
A club disc jockey keeps regular hours, usually working from 8:00 P.M. to 4:00 A.M. Most
DJs don’t socialize regularly with people who do not keep the same unusual hours. Isolation,
again, creeps in. Club DJs must keep the crowd interested in dancing, so they must know a
wide variety of styles and songs that appeal to different groups. Record promoters and agents
try to flood high-profile DJs with new albums, hoping to provide exposure for their acts.
More than 40 percent of all DJs work part-time and find it difficult to land regular, reasonably
paying gigs. Many club DJs move to large urban centers to find a market that will support
their services, but it’s still difficult to get hired initially without a following that you can
be expected to draw to the club.
No specific educational requirements exist to become a disc jockey, but most radio disc
jockeys have experience at college radio stations or in small markets; others intern while in
school to learn the equipment used in the industry and to get a taste of the style of successful
radio personalities. Many aspiring disc jockeys create tapes of their shows and save clippings
to use as introductions to professional radio stations. Radio jockeys must be familiar
with current or specialty (subgenre) musical trends and how specific songs fit together. They
must be able to fill empty space with information and have a clear, clean speaking voice and
a certain amount of technical skill. A club or nightclub disc jockey must know how to mix
beats so music progresses smoothly, how to design a night of music around a specific theme
or requested type of music, and how to use lighting and special effects to best advantage. As
first introductions, many DJs must work free at established clubs on off nights. Close contact
with record promoters is important in getting unreleased demos or other songs that can distinguish
you from other DJs. DJs trade on their reputation, so staying current with musical
trends and responding to listener feedback is critical to success.
More than 60 percent of DJs rotate from one position within the radio industry to
another, moving to news anchoring, call-in shows, specialty shows, and sports shows. Another
7 percent write copy for radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, and newspapers. Club disc
jockeys move to careers in the record industry, primarily as liaisons between other DJs and
the company itself.