Disc Jockey  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotIt might be a talk show, a news show, a sports broadcast or a music show. It doesn't matter -- if it's on the radio, there's probably a disc jockey (DJ) talking on the air.

There are different types of DJs. Broadcast DJs work at radio stations or over the Internet. Nightclub or mobile DJs work at nightclubs or events like parties, school dances and weddings. For more information on nightclub DJs, read the article, New Technology has Nightclub DJs in a Spin.

dotBroadcast DJs are the voice of the radio. Sometimes, they decide on the content of their shows, including the music. Sometimes the radio station makes those decisions for them. In either case, they bring it all together for the listener. A DJ's job is to keep listeners informed and entertained.

The duties of a radio DJ vary depending on where they work. Some play the records and CDs (or select mp3s on a computer) themselves. Some simply talk between songs. DJs may also interview people, read news and weather information, and do the voice work for commercials.

Sometimes DJs read scripted material on the air. But often, they're making it up as they go!

dotAlthough there are exceptions, a DJ should have a voice that is casual and comfortable. DJs have to be prepared to work odd hours, especially when they're first breaking in to the field.

Overnight shifts are often where DJs get their first gigs. But DJs also say these shifts come with the most freedom to play the music they want.

DJs can work at college radio stations or commercial radio stations. Often people DJ at college stations on a volunteer basis, and the programs tend to be much edgier than commercial radio.

At commercial radio stations, DJs get paid, but often they don't have as much say in what plays on the air.

dotThe past couple of decades have seen a drastic shift in the radio industry. With lots of cutbacks at radio stations, DJs must know how to do many different things to increase the chances of keeping their jobs. So, technical training is definitely a plus, as are good communication skills.

Like most careers, there is quite a range in what radio DJs can earn. Depending on the station and their experience, they can earn a little or a lot as a DJ!

"It is possible [to make a living as a DJ]; however, we're warned by many in the industry that it's a rough living," says Jennifer Lancaster. She's a college radio DJ.

"Unless you can become really good and work a morning show, or work in a really small town, DJs aren't paid that much, and a lot of stations are going to automation," she says. "Then again, there is also Internet radio and podcasting as possible career options as well."

Most broadcast DJs work at one station, although some do freelance work and sell individual shows to different stations.

dotTypically, broadcast DJs must have control of their hands. But, apart from that, there aren't any physical requirements to working as a broadcast DJ.

At a Glance

Entertain an audience by playing music or chatting

  • College stations can give you a good start in radio work
  • A pleasant voice that sounds casual and comfortable is important
  • You'll likely need a college diploma in broadcasting or applied communications, or a degree in journalism