college DJ
college DJ

Want to Be a College Radio DJ? Here’s What You Need to Know

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November 1, 2018
9 mins read

Going to college is a scary experience, especially if you are moving to a new state and do not know anyone there. That’s why, in my first week of college, I found myself walking into my university’s radio station, asking if I could be a DJ. I took the spontaneous action after spotting a Vampire Weekend poster through the window while exploring my new campus. When I read the sign indicating that this was the radio station, a crazy idea popped into my head. I had never thought about being a college DJ at any point before then, but in that moment, I knew it was what I needed to do.

Becoming a radio DJ was one of the bravest things I have ever done. That may seem like an overstatement to some, but I am typically one to stay on the sidelines and not make any big entrances. For me to walk into a unfamiliar building in a new city and ask for a job, on a whim, was a massive feat for me. But I am so glad that I did it.

When I walked in to the station, there was a DJ on air in a studio to my left and a small lobby. It took me a shameful minute or two to locate anyone who had the looks of authority. The hallway felt labyrinthine and there were far too many doors to keep track of. Luckily, I saw a man sitting in a desk at the end of the hall writing something down. He looked important.

I timidly knocked on his already-open office door, said hello and asked if there were any staff openings. He shared that he was surprised at my boldness, and subsequently explained that most people will sign up for his radio training class and then are integrated into the staff. Though I was informed that not many people just walk in and ask how they can be a part of the station, he thankfully liked my barging in and asking to be a college DJ. I was given instructions to begin training next week and if I enjoyed it and demonstrated adequate skill, I could work up to having my own slot on the air.

Thus, began my favorite college experience by far. I trained once weekly for a semester, and it was always the highlight of my week. A few weeks in I was allowed access to the second studio and could blast whatever music I wanted. This training exercise was primarily to get used to the equipment, but I will admit I used it to jam out more than once. For instance, on one particularly stressful day, I headed to the studio after class and put on an album by The Killers. I just remember closing my eyes and feeling the music take the place of all my anxiety. It was simply unbeatable.

If after all this, the idea of becoming a college DJ is looking appealing, here’s what you need to know.

1. Credit Where Credit’s Due

First things first, check if you can get college credit for it. At my university, they offered one credit for completing the training course. If you are interested in music, why not earn credit while doing something you love?

college DJ
Radio equipment and broadcasting can be intimidating, but learning to master it can be a fulfilling process. (Image via WPKN)

2. Protect the Equipment

Following that question, be sure ask yourself if you are comfortable being responsible for equipment. In my first few days at the station, I was petrified that I would break something or make an irreversible mistake with all the expensive machinery around me, but it is a responsibility that I got used to.

If the thought of that really presents an unbeatable anxiety, then I would pass on being a DJ, because getting over that fear is necessary to work effectively. On the other hand, if you think that you will never master anything technical, don’t write it off too quickly; I was in the same boat. In the beginning it is overwhelming to learn the specific functions of each button on an entire soundboard, but you will likely pick it up quickly.

3. Ms. Personality

Another aspect of DJing that you have to be comfortable with is speaking on-air. Now I am sure that sounds like an obvious point not even worth mentioning, but it is actually very critical. Many experience the ordinary nerves when you realize your voice is being broadcast out to who knows how many people, but when you cannot bring yourself to calm your voice and find yourself wishing to be done, problems can arise.

At my campus’s radio station, we had trainees who realized this after trying for a while to get over their fear. For some, it is impossible to feel fully at ease when broadcasting. However, if you fear your anxiety may hinder you, I still encourage you to try your luck, because it often does get easier. My boss would inform me when he observed improvements in my speaking presence on-air. He told me that when I first began, I was shaky and unsure of myself, but right before I left, he said that I had really grown as a DJ and now sound natural on-air. It is possible to improve.

My campus station put a lot of weight on choosing an on-air personality. Half of the people who worked there adopted a new persona for their show; we even had a girl who faked a British accent, resulting in a listener from Britain calling in and asking what part of the UK she was from. In my case, I kept my own personality authentic but crafted a different name as my DJ title.

When thinking about your own on-air persona make sure it is something original and have a few backups in case your boss or coworkers aren’t crazy about it. And the creativity doesn’t stop at your own name; you have to also come up with a catchy show title. This was probably my most stressful task as a college DJ. I wanted to sound cool but not as though I was trying too hard (even though I was). Hopefully you, like me, are lucky enough to have a couple of honest friends to run titles by and receive productive input.

Honestly, DJing is what I miss the most about my former school. When I transferred to a new college, I was too scared to join their radio station. I kept urging myself to channel my daring attitude from two years ago and walk into that station, but I could never bring myself to do it. If you have any interest in working with music, I highly recommend you do as I once did and summon the guts to ask if your local radio station has any staff openings. I can wholeheartedly say it is something that you will not regret.

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