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10 Secrets About the Radio Industry

Secrets: secrets are no fun unless they're shared with everyone! This week, we're talking all about radio secrets. When you've been in the radio industry for a while, you start to acquire top secret morsels of information the average radio lover has no idea about. Presenters may be talkative on-air, but they're tight-lipped when it comes to a few behind-the-scenes things!

Working in radio is more than just talking in-between tracks and playing your favorite songs. There's so much hard work, so many challenges, and multiple weird scenarios that go into the profession. Want to know some juicy secrets DJs, technicians, and other busybodies in radio won't tell you? We're spilling the tea below.

1. Celebrity interviews aren't always as authentic as they seem.

On occasion, a celebrity's team may send a PR package over to a station before they are scheduled to have a conversation with an interviewer on-air. The package may include things like information about their new album, or a song they have in the works. These packages are sent so DJs are in the know about what their interviewee is up to, the celebrity can promote their work, and a unique, secure interview for several stations can be recorded.

However, sometimes the PR package method can be a bit...lazy. Every now and then, the packages will include pre-recorded answers from the celebs – used so that DJs can record an interview with a celebrity without the celebrity actually being in the studio. If you've ever wondered why celebrities are giving the exact same boring answers to different questions across various stations, this could be why. We know: it totally feels like cheating. But the method does give smaller stations a chance to get their hands on coveted celebrity interviews.

2. A comfy chair is the key to success.

Unless you're manning a station yourself, the layperson typically doesn't think about how time-consuming DJing a radio station can be. On a typical day in the studio, you’re sitting down for hours on end. Some people in radio even start their days at 4am and have to slap on a happy persona despite morning grogginess! So you need more than just cups of coffee to succeed in radio: you also need a really comfy chair.

Sometimes radio presenters stand up or take stretch breaks to combat the exhaustion of sitting for so long. (Yes, you can get exhausted sitting!) This can actually be better as it keeps them more alert and opens up the diaphragm when talking.

3. Radio is absurdly competitive with very little reward.

Only the lucky 1% are able to make millions of dollars running a station or being a radio DJ. This business is very competitive. You sometimes find yourself envying someone for coming up with a great idea for a segment idea or giveaway...even if they're a great friend! Other times, you'll lament over the fact you have to drop about $1K on new equipment just so your online radio station can keep up with the big leagues. There's no doubt: it can be expensive and exhausting.

4. Your phone probably holds more songs than a radio station rotation.

We've heard the question so many times: "Why do radio stations play the same songs over and over?" No, they can't just play whatever tune they want over Spotify. Songs are entered into the station's system manually, all following specific guidelines. (Don't even get us started about copyright and the DMCA!)

A typical radio station may have about 1,600 songs in rotation. That's why you'll often hear very popular songs, and predominantly very popular songs, on many radio stations. Entering many songs into the system is hard work, so the songs that do make it through need to be crowd-pleasers. Not to mention songs need to be malleable enough so programmers can insert promos and other cool transitions into the mix!

5. Radio stations are sent hundreds of songs...and only add a few every week.

Segueing off of radio song selection: because manually entering songs into a station is hard work, stations need to be picky about what new material they enter in every week. You can't even imagine how many emails from new artists they receive every week asking them to play their latest song on their station.

In a YouTube video from former radio employee Jett of In Third Person, he explains that his station's program director from the mid-2000s wouldn't hesitate to throw away songs that didn't move him. "I remember it, he took [a] song, put it in the CD player, he listened to this guy's song for five seconds. The moment he started - there's the intro - guy starts singing. He STOPPED, ejects the CD, puts it back in the case, closes the case. WHIPS it in the garbage...I was like 'woah, you just threw that guy's album in the garbage!'" Jett says.

"And it continued. I mean he didn't necessarily throw all of them with force, but a lot of those CDs, like some of them was just like 'okay, not this week' and some just went into the garbage." Jett explains earlier in the video that despite all the song submissions they got, the country station he worked for typically only added four to five new songs per week.

6. Being a DJ is really just sitting in an empty room and talking to yourself.

It takes a special kind of person to listen to their own voice for hours on end every day. It's so easy to fall into the trap of rambling away like you’re Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume. You wonder if people are listening, and on some stations – especially student radio – they most likely aren’t. Pro tip: when you're just sitting there, doing nothing in-between links, bring something to keep you occupied. Maybe a magazine or a notebook to doodle in!

7. There's a constant fear guest callers will swear on-air.

Even though they're not involved with the station in any way, callers can truly make or break shows. A funny caller instantly makes your segment more entertaining. A bad caller just makes things more awkward for everyone. Particularly when you're running a family-friendly station, there's a constant fear a caller will mistakenly swear on-air.

We get it, life happens. If little old Joe who calls in every night isn't having a bad day, he may accidentally stub his toe and let out an F-bomb for hundreds of listeners to hear. Fortunately, many talk radio stations nowadays have a “dump” button that will remove the last few seconds of audio, which is handy if an angry caller decides to unleash his sailor mouth on-air.

8. A presenter may be pretending to love the song they're playing.

Yes – sometimes DJs have to play songs they don't enjoy. Sometimes they've heard the same song over and over every day and are so sick of it. Sometimes it's 4am and they're really tired and would rather be in bed at the moment. Despite all of these struggles, they still have to put on a happy, energetic persona and present the next song like it's the best thing since sliced bread. Why? Because they love their listeners, and part of their job is to make them feel good.

9. There are so many rules and guidelines!

So. much. red tape. You can't just chat idly between songs; there are usually stringent rules and style guides to follow, even for the wildest of shows. Not to mention there’s the FCC in America, which is an organization that regulates traditional broadcast radio stations and fines them for infractions. Those regulations include lists of words divided by how offensive or inappropriate they are, and repeating them on air can result in big bad fines. However, it's not so terrible. The more experience you have in the industry, the more you know how to get away with certain things. (And luckily, with internet radio, there are less rules to follow!)

10. But at the end of the day, it's still a wonderful job.

Although there may be tons of nuisances, there are even more perks to being a radio station worker! You get to play music and talk for a living, some callers are hilarious and even become loyal contributors, and the rough days can still be loads of fun. That's why the secrets above are secrets: working in radio is so great, there's no need to complain about the annoying parts.

If you're a radio fan, we hope you learned a new thing or two about the industry! And if you're a radio station owner, we hope you found this list relatable. Until next time, happy broadcasting!

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Article Image: A woman wearing yellow headphones holds a finger up to her lips in a "shush" gesture as she stands in front of a blue background. (AsierRomeroCarballo via DepositPhotos.)

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About Kathryn Milewski

  • New Jersey