Radio Broadcasting, Careers in

views updated


Whether or not a person can find employment in the radio broadcasting industry depends on how well that individual's skills, professional background, and person interests fit with the requirements for on-air or off-air positions. When filling the high-profile on-air positions, employers are generally looking for individuals who have skills in vocal performance, a background in announcing or reporting, or an expertise with specific subjects such as sports or journalism. When filling the off-air positions, employers are looking for people who have sales, fundraising, organizational, and management skills or are adept at working with engineering, electronics, and computer components. The opportunities for employment obviously depend on the size of the station. A small local radio station may employ a staff of fewer than ten people. A large regional station, however, will employ a correspondingly larger staff, which provides a broader range of possible careers.

On-Air Positions

The main on-air talent of a music-oriented station usually consists of a morning team of two announcers. One may be responsible for road traffic or news updates, while the other provides the flow of the program. Larger stations may have two people working together to provide the flow rather than just leaving it to one person. In any case, these prime positions are usually filled by the most appealing and experienced on-air personalities at the station. They have generally honed their skills by starting in the most basic entry-level jobs. Entry-level announcers are often assigned the overnight and weekend time slots at smaller professional or even college stations. This provides practice in on-air delivery and in handling the technical aspects of running a studio. When a person becomes proficient at the entry-level job, he or she may become the midday or evening disc jockey (deejay), eventually moving to the more prestigious morning or afternoon time slots, when audiences are large.

Other on-air positions include sports announcer, news reporter, or talk-show host. Entry into these jobs may require additional experience outside of radio broadcasting. For example, many sports announcers have had successful, high-level athletic careers (either amateur or professional). Others have worked their way up from announcing high school games to college games (with a very small number progressing on to the professional-level sports events). Many news reporters have a background in journalism and have already worked for newspapers before changing over to radio broadcasting. Others move directly into a news reporting position with a commercial radio station after serving an internship or gaining experience at a college radio station. Reporters at all-news stations generally specialize in weather, sports, business, or consumer affairs. Talk-show hosts, who often get their start as successful authors, politicians, doctors, clergy, or actors, require several assistants. Some assistants help to produce the show. Others screen calls or operate the control board while the host talks and interviews guests.

Off-Air Positions

The top off-air positions in radio broadcasting are station manager and general manager. These two positions, which involve overseeing the entire operation at a station or group of stations, are most likely to be held by people who have previously served as a sales manager. Therefore, someone who wants ultimately to become a station manager or a general manger should probably look for an entry-level position in the sales department. To be on a radio sales staff often requires some sales experience, although the experience does not necessarily have to be related to media industries. The most successful sales people will often be given the opportunity to move up into managerial roles within the sales department. Top stations break the managerial roles into those of local sales manager, who oversees all sales of time for local advertising, and national sales manager, who works with advertising agencies or national advertisers that are interested in buying time. These two managers report to the general sales manager. Some stations have research directors who read and interpret national audience surveys and conduct in-house studies to determine who listens to the station and why.

Managers do not come just from the sales staff; they can also come from the programming side of station operations. Sometimes, an on-air employee lacks the performance appeal that is necessary for him or her to reach the top and become a morning host. If, however, this person has strong organizational skills, he or she might decide to make the transition to off-air personnel and take on a position such as music director, which is responsible for choosing the songs and helping to design the rotation of the music that the station uses. A person in this position needs to understand research methods such as auditorium testing of songs to determine what the audience will like. The music director reports to the program director, who is responsible for overseeing the total station sound. In connection with this, the program director should keep up with all industry trends and monitor the programming at competing stations.

In addition to the music director, the program director must work closely with the news director, the promotions director, the production manager, and the traffic manager. The news director, who oversees all news operations, is often someone who was a highly motivated reporter but decided to make the change to the off-air side of the business. A promotions director heads up the a station's publicity campaigns, which can include giveaways, live remote broadcasts, station promos (i.e., promotional recordings), and general hype. This person must be extremely creative and have strong skills in the area of public relations. The production manager is in charge of scheduling, facilitating, and assisting in studio production work for commercials, promos, and programs at the station. The traffic manager schedules all commercial and promotional segments, as well as any program segments that occur during a given period. This person sometimes has a traffic assistant, who may also be assisting with the production and news operations.

On the technical side, engineers are important for installing and maintaining the equipment within the studio, building towers, hooking up transmitters to power the signal, and establishing satellite receivers and uplinks. The chief engineer may be a one-man department, or there may be an engineering staff, including a maintenance engineer who is responsible for general upkeep. Contract engineers may substitute for or supplement the chief engineer. The contract engineer usually serves several small stations that cannot afford a full-time employee in this area. A contract engineer may also be a person who provides a very specialized skill, such as transmitter tower construction or maintenance, to a large number of stations. The newest position in radio is probably the technical job of webmaster. The webmaster's duties may be more in line with promotions, sales, or production functions, depending on the station. Often, the webmaster must work with all three areas.

Other Industry-Related Opportunities

It is possible to have a career that is part of the radio broadcasting industry without being employed by a radio station. For example, there are companies that produce syndicated programs and newscasts that are sold to stations, while others companies provide stations with professional-quality recordings of station identifiers and teasers. These companies have many of the same personnel requirements that the stations have. The difference is that the final product is being sold to someone else to broadcast rather than being broadcast by the people who produced it.

Other opportunities for employment exist with companies that sell equipment, supplies, promotional materials, and the like that have been created specifically for radio stations. These companies are looking for sales professionals, engineers, and people who have promotion savvy.

Communication lawyers interpret government and judicial decisions and file complicated legal documents or defend the license of a station. A few law firms specialize in this area. Small stations would be more likely to contact these firms on a case-by-case basis. Larger station groups might have their own legal department to deal with these types of issues.

Finally, some Internet websites provide web-radio services. These operations may be run similar to an on-air station, but the signals are disseminated through streaming audio via computer. Thus, computer technicians are required in addition to many of the same personnel that are required for the operation of a standard radio station.

See also:Radio Broadcasting; Radio Broadcasting, History of; Radio Broadcasting, Station Programming and; Radio Broadcasting, Technology of.


Brown, James A., and Quaal, Ward L. (1998). Radio-Television-Cable Management, 3rd edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Fry, Ronald W., ed. (1991). Radio & Television Career Directory. Hawthorne, NJ: Career Press.

Mogel, Leonard. (1994). Making It in Broadcasting: An Insider's Guide to Career Opportunities. New York: Collier Books.

Smith, Leslie F. (1990). Perspectives on Radio and Television. Grand Rapids, MI: Harper & Row.

Stephen D. Perry