WARNING: This is a rather long blog post!
In this post I'll cover:
What's a radio presenter?
The playlist radio DJ
Specialised music radio presenters
The two types of talkshow radio presenters
Matching your show content to the format
Keeping the tone the same
Targeting the right station with your show
Creating a radio talkshow
Do I need to study at college to be a radio DJ?
Radio presenter hacks
Plus much more
So you want to become a radio presenter? Well good for you! I've been a radio DJ on three FM stations. (This was back in the days when FM was big.) I've also hosted radio shows on far too many community radio stations O_o! Let me tell you this, being a radio DJ is great fun. I've been training volunteers in radio for eighteen years now and....
The Number One Radio Question I'm Always Asked Is....
What qualifications do I need to be a radio presenter?
It's a great question, but first, we have to take a step back and look at what a radio presenter does.
Radio Presenter Defined
A radio DJ is the voice of the radio station or the main voice of the radio programme. You can be a radio DJ in music radio, a speech-based radio presenter on talk radio, a sports-based radio presenter or you can be a radio reporter.
The Three Types of Radio Presenter
There are three main types of radio presenter. Playlist radio DJs, specialised music radio presenters and talk based radio hosts.
Music Radio: The Playlist DJs
Most paid radio presenters work in 'playlist radio.' That is, the radio DJ is given the music to play at the radio station. The music is in the format of a playlist. The DJs have no say over what music they can play. The radio station has researched their audience and pre-selected music to match their listener's interests. A radio presenter's job here is to find compelling content to talk about in between the music. At a playlist station, the material the radio host presents must be similar to the output and style of the station. Click here to see a perfect example of this.
The Content Must Match The Output
This is a very important point to note. The content the radio host finds and presents must be similar to the output and style of the station.
Mirror the Output of Your Station
Let's say your radio station is an entertainment based station. When sourcing content for your show, what do you need to do as a radio presenter?
Match the Audience's Passion
You will need to read the same websites as your audience, watch the same TV programmes as your audience, listen to the same music as your audience etc.
We do this for two reasons:
1) It makes it easier to research related content.
2) Your content will match your audience's passions. Doing this means you'll be able to connect better with your audience on a one to one basis.
Connect Rather Than Disconnect
If you're presenting a music-based radio show, then there's no point having loads of references to an audience from a different region. For example, those childhood references to your youth in south London won't be relevant to an audience located in Scotland.
Target the Right Station with Your Show
I managed a hospital radio station with over thirty volunteers for six years.
Our main listener base was the elderly and infirm. i.e. predominately people aged 50 and over. Many volunteers approached us wanting to present hip-hop, trans based, heavy metal, grunge rock shows etc. However, we were a station that had a gold format. These shows were not relevant to our audience. We always turned these DJs away. We needed radio DJs to present radio shows that our audience would want to listen to. You may want to present a show on toy trains and movie theme music, but if your show has nothing to do with what the station is about, then no one will want to listen to you. (Click here for an exception to this rule.)
Match the Music Policy of the Station
The music policy of our hospital radio station was to play music from the 1950s to the early 2000s. We needed our DJs to find show content that connected with our "theme" / listener base. In the case of our hospital radio station, this meant targeting seniors. So whatever music playlist station you're presenting at, you need to know your target audience. Who are they and what do they like? How do you find this information out? Simple. Ask the station manager or the programme controller this question.
Keep the Tone the Same: Classic FM
I once did work experience for Classic FM. Classic FM is a UK national commercial radio station that broadcasts classical music. The Classic FM presenters tailored their shows to match the output of the station. In other words, their content was relevant to the station and their audience. However, they also presented in the same tone and style of the station's output. For example, Classic FM plays relaxing music, so their DJs also presented in a relaxed manner.
I'm a Hip and Trendy Radio DJ
If the station presents an image of being an upbeat, hip and snappy station for young people, then your style of presenting needs to mirror this image. In other words, you'll also need to be upbeat, hip and snappy as well.
While this sounds incredibly obvious and a bit of a "duh" moment, many new presenters still don't do this. They rock up to a community radio station and want to present a radio show that has nothing to do with the output of the station. My advice is, please don't do this. It's pointless. You'll only be broadcasting to yourself. Remember: Match your show to the tone of the station. Don't be like a certain author who thought that a sketch-based comedy show would work well on a soul based music station. It didn't. Live and learn hey!
Exception to This Rule: Mixed Programming Stations
Again there is an exception to this rule. What if your radio station has mixed programming? In other words, anyone can present any type of radio show? For example, it goes from a rock show straight to a poetry show. I've answered this in a massive blog!
Music Radio Presenting: Specialised Music Radio DJs
You can also be a radio disc jockey that hosts a specialised music show. John Peel is a very famous UK example.
Specialised music radio DJs often select their own music and create their own shows. In other words, they have the creative freedom that playlist radio DJs don't have. Creating, presenting and playing music that you love can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
These types of radio shows were always my preferred format of radio presenting. It's one reason why I love community radio. Presenters can create their own shows, support local bands, and can also help the local community. It's another reason why I train for free in local radio. While there may not be many paid jobs in community radio, it's not all doom and gloom. In my next blog, I'll discuss "listen again." Listen again has opened up a new door for radio presenters.
Keep Your Radio Show Synced
Remember, you still have to match your content to your audience. So if you're targeting a rock audience, then make sure what you talk about is relevant to that audience. Many new presenters forget this point. They end up rambling about nothing related to their audience. A classic I hear time and time again is: "Guess what I did/ate/drank watched last night etc.?"
Talk Based Radio Presenters
Talk based radio broadcasters often work on talk shows that discuss topical issues.
A good example of this could be Adrian Chiles on BBC Radio 5 Live.
There are a few different ways that talk show radio presenters can host shows.
The Topic / Question-Based Talk Show
One way is to pick a topic and then ask a question. For example, let's say the topic is Israel and the question is: Does Israel operate an apartheid state?
The talk show presenter introduces the topic to the listeners. Next, they open up the show for a debate on the subject.
Two Ways to Host a Radio Talk Show: Impartial or Not?
For many years in the UK, radio DJs were impartial. That is, they didn't take a side in the debate. They simply played a devil's advocate role. Let's take our Israeli topic as an example. In an impartial debate, the radio host would introduce the subject, give a pro argument analysis, give an anti-argument analysis and then throw the debate open to the public. They may also have studio guests from opposing sides of the argument. Callers would phone in and debate the subject with the guests. The host's role, in this case, would be to stay neutral. They'd drive the discussion forward and also bat the questions from side to side.
The Non-Impartial Radio Talkshow Host
In recent years, the UK has moved towards more of an American format of talk show. In this case, the host of the show doesn't stay impartial. They state their personal views and the audience tries to persuade the presenter. The idea behind this method is to generate controversy. Controversy motivates people to call in and argue their point of view. talkSPORT in the UK has been incredibly successful using this approach of presenting. (And later on, I'll be writing a blog about how I think talkSPORT is a great station to study.)
There's No Right or Wrong Way to Talkshow Presenting
While my favourite style of radio talk show is to have an impartial host (I worked for the BBC remember!), I'm also a massive fan of talkSPORT. There's no right or wrong way when it comes to presenting talk based radio shows. It just comes down to a matter of personal taste.
Which method do you prefer and why? Drop me an email and let me know!
Creating a Radio Talkshow Format
When I was at BBC Radio London, the producer and presenter would get together and discuss the big news stories of the day. Once they'd decided on the topics, the next step was to consider their questions. They needed to think about what type of questions would generate debate. What would encourage listeners to make contact with the show? Then they would section their show off and cover two to three subjects throughout the transmission.
Pre-Recording Radio Shows
Radio presenters can also pre-record their shows. One time at a UK national radio station, I noticed that the radio DJs had pre-recorded their presenter links onto a CD. My job as the technical operator was to play the pre-recorded 'presenter links' in between the songs.
Every day the producer would select the music for the next day's show. He/she would then send a list of the songs to the presenter. The presenter then recorded their links onto a CD. (Remember, this was ten years ago = CD.) My job was to play the song from the computer playout system and then follow it with a numbered presenter track from the CD. Can you imagine if that went wrong!
Mixed Programming and Listen Again
I've decided to write a separate blog about this topic.
Do I Have to Study Radio at a College Level?
This question is difficult to answer. It has many layers to it. In short, it's no, yes, maybe.
No: You Don't Need to Study Radio at a College
If you want to be a music radio DJ, then my answer is no. However, it's not so clear cut. It's a tricky answer because I went to radio college. At college, I learned the basics. However, radio college didn't teach me how to be a radio DJ, and it didn't get me the job at the BBC. Nowadays, there are thousands of internet radio stations where you can get free, full-on practical radio experience. It was much harder to find this in 1997. After I left Lambeth College, I joined the hospital radio station, Radio Kings. The truth is, it was my volunteer work at the hospital radio station where I learned the most radio skills. Two years after joining Radio Kings, I became the manager. Suddenly, I was running a community radio station with two broadcast studios and thirty volunteers. This experience gave me professional authority. Next, I trained in all aspects of radio. My hands-on community radio experience was the main reason I was employed at the BBC. They wanted radio skills, but they also wanted people and teamworking skills.
Disclaimer to This Answer
However, if there is a radio course at your local college and it's cheap, then go for it. When I was unemployed, I studied an H.N.C in Radio Production at Lambeth College. In 1997, it cost me £30 / $40. I got the course cheap because I was unemployed. A couple of years ago, the UK government changed the rules. Nowadays, if you're unemployed and over 24 years old, then you have to pay £1,000 / $1,400 for the same course. That's too much money for a radio course. If you want to become a music radio DJ, then my advice is you don't need to pay £1,000 for a course. Study with me and build up a good portfolio of work. A good portfolio of work (and a rocking website) allows you to approach potential employers. You don't need college for that.
Always Join a Community Radio Station
You definitely should join a local radio station. Use my radio presenting course to gain the necessary skills, and use the station's equipment for practice. Being at a local station also gives you something to put on your CV. Having a pumped up CV is important.
Check out my blog: How to apply for jobs in radio here.
When Radio College Is a Good Idea
Radio college is useful when you want to be a radio journalist. Strong journalism skills get you into jobs like news reading, radio reporting etc. These are skills you can teach yourself, but many employers want to know that you've had official journalism training. This is so you don't make a costly mistake and say the wrong thing on air. In other words, defamation etc. Defamation can get you sued.
The next question you want to ask is, do you want to be a radio journalist/reporter? Journalism is very different from being a music radio DJ. Do you really want to cover topics like death and tragedy etc.?
Making Radio Documentaries
You don't have to ask tough questions to make radio packages and radio documentaries.
Check out "The Beginner’s Guide To Making Radio Documentaries" here.
You don't have to be a journalist to be a talk show host. However, you do need to know about libel, editorial guidelines and what you can and can't say on the radio. Get these wrong, and your station could be sued. My radio presenter course covers libel for music radio DJs.
Radio Presenting Hacks
Before we finish this massive blog on how to be a radio presenter, let's look at some radio presenting hacks.
Present with a Purpose
When presenting a radio show, it's important to have a purpose to everything you say. Make sure everything has a beginning, middle and an end.
Present Your Radio Show to One Person
Present as though you're only talking to one person. It will give your show a more personal feel. Don't talk to a group of individuals. It will sound impersonal.
Know Your Audience
Know your audience. Make sure you connect with them. Like what they like, talk like they talk. Be interested in the same things as them.
Use Your Emotions When Being a Radio Presenter
Use your emotions when presenting. Laugh when something is funny, feel sad when something is sad etc. However, try not to project anger. Anger is a very negative emotion. Anger can make you sound arrogant. As DJs, we need to capture our audience, not push them away.
Plan Your Radio Show
Always plan your shows. That means doing your research, scripting your links, selecting your music, finding your content, creating your running order, practising your openings etc. It takes a lot of hard work to be a real radio DJ. Many new presenters think they can just wing it. Trust me; you can't. I've tried it. If you make it up as you go along, you'll end up producing a poor show that no one wants to hear.
The Number One Radio Presenting Tip
If you take one important thing away from this blog of doom, it's this, ALWAYS prep your shows.
Listen to Your Radio Station
Listen to your radio station and know what's going on. Many presenters at community radio stations live in their own show bubble. They get so focused on their shows that they don't listen to the station. You need to know what the other DJs at your station are doing. In fairness, I have also been guilty of this myself.
Promote Other Radio Shows
Promote other DJs shows on your show. You're not in competition with them. Email them and ask if they have any interesting guests etc. coming up on their shows. Most of them will return the favour. The more listeners the station has, the more chance your show has of being discovered. Promoting other radio presenter shows is win-win for you and the station.
Know What Your Radio Station Is Involved In
Knowing what your radio station is doing is also important. It means you can trail events and community projects for your station. Don't just think of yourself and your show, think of your station as well.
Listen Back to Your Shows
Listen back to your radio shows/podcasts and see where you can improve. How were your audio levels? What was your content like? Did you feel you connected with your audience? How was your tone? Were you using inflexions or did you present in a monotone way? How was your delivery? Was it too fast, too slow etc.?
Your role as a radio presenter is to provide 'relevant' information to the listener. Your job is also to provide 'interesting' information to the audience. Interesting being the keyword here. Whenever I'm training any radio student, be it in person or online through my online radio courses, my number one mantra is always: Make everything you talk about have a purpose. Make it interesting and relevant to either the show or the station. Too many beginner radio presenters talk aimlessly without any purpose to their output. Please don't do that!
Bonus Radio Presenting Tip
To develop an impressive one-hour, jam-packed radio show can take up to two days of hard work. Once you’ve presented that show on air, you have to start preparing the next show. Radio presenting is like a factory. You need to develop a system of preparing. Present your show, then take a day off and relax. Now, you have six days to prepare for your next show. Six days sounds like ages to prepare a radio show, but in reality, it isn't. It normally takes one full day to prep a well thought out, well-researched, professionally sounding show. Preparing your show at the last minute takes a LOT of energy. Of course, I never did that! O_o Try and avoid last minute preparing. I speak from experience.
Break the job up. Block off sections in your diary to prepare your show. Always think ahead. If you don't do this, you'll run out of time. Then you'll be prepping at the last minute once again. You know you've done this already!
Start with the fun part. Select your music. It will help you start. Next, make a running order. Work out your timings. Finally, work on your presenter links.
If you don't push yourself, you'll get "comfortable." "Comfortable" = bland shows. Bland shows = always being an average hospital/community radio DJ.
Pull yourself up with self-critique. It will raise your standards. Professional standards will lead you to make excellent radio shows. Good radio shows open doors.
Gather as much radio experience as you can. Study how to present, how to operate the mixing desk, how to create radio packages, learn to interview etc. The experience I gained at hospital radio led me to become a studio manager at the BBC.
Never be an arrogant radio presenter. Always listen to your radio trainer. Take on board everything they tell you. Develop an attitude of wanting to learn and wanting to improve. If you can’t find a radio trainer, then enrol on one of my courses. You’ll be able to ask me for advice anytime. I'll even listen to your shows and offer feedback.
Listen Again Blog Coming Soon
Got a question? Drop me an email:
And now for coffee!
Learn where to find show ideas.
Discover how to show prep like a pro.
Master the mixing desk. What it is, how it works and how to use it.
Discover what you shouldn't do as a presenter.
Ashley Cowan runs the Online Radio School where he tutors in radio presenting and media interviewing techniques. He was a BBC World Service, Radio studio manager for nine years. He was also the station manager for Radio Kings, the hospital radio station for Kings College Hospital. Other crimes include being the training manager for K2K Radio & Whitechapel AM.
As a radio presenter, he's hosted radio shows on three FM stations. That was back in the day when FM radio was a big deal. The poor radio stations that had to put up with his brand of terrible comedy were: Radio DÅB, FLR 107.3 FM, and City FM. Radio DÅB had 100,000 listeners! Woo!
When he's not writing about himself in the third person, then he was also a community radio DJ at Radio Kings, TGR Sound, Sydenham Radio, and Croydon Radio.
He once did production work for Total Rock.com. That was a fun station with a cool owner and a great broadcast team! Brown fizzy water often accompanied the broadcasts!
In his spare time he's London Irish (so he likes a beer) and he also teaches guitar. He's recently created an online "Fingerpicking for Guitar" course. There he teaches the art of fingerpicking for erm...guitar. Students can learn twenty different fingerpicking styles for their chords.
is an ex BBC, radio studio manager, and the ex manager of Radio Kings, the hospital radio station for King's College Hospital. He's presented on three FM stations and waaay too many community stations.