Do you dream of working in the radio industry and becoming a household name? Are you wondering if you even need to study to work in radio? Annique chats to industry professionals about what it exactly takes.
First thing’s first. You don’t need a prestigious university degree to be a good radio host. Though a degree can equip you with many useful skills that you can apply to a career in radio. Ultimately it’s not the deciding factor in what will make or break you.
But before you get all excited, burn your textbooks, and walk down the street like you’re too cool for school, listen up. Although you may not need a degree per se, having some basic, formal training behind your name can help you a lot in getting your foot into the door of the radio industry.
So, if this is the career path you want, keep reading.
Experience vs. Qualification
To get a better idea of what exactly it takes to become successful in radio, I’ve asked some industry experts for their valuable input.
“Radio is one of those industries that you fall in love with,”
Markus started his radio career at his campus radio station. By starting with radio jobs during his studies, putting himself out there, and talking to the right people at a Primedia conference, he paved his way into the South African radio world.
Regarding the question of a university degree, Markus states,
“In terms of getting hired at a radio station, a degree means almost nothing. Community radio stations want new energy, new people with diverse interests. Experience is much more important.”
He continues by explaining that a degree or other formal qualification becomes relevant when you want to go into areas such as radio producing or journalism – areas that require you to have previous industry knowledge, for example, media ethics for reporters. Those kinds of professions require you to have “knowledge that you need to learn at an institution,” as he says.
Pippa Hudson, CapeTalk radio presenter and lecturer at CityVarsity explains that a basic type of qualification in radio is invaluable. She says,
“It doesn’t have to be a 3-year degree, but you do need at least some introduction to the basic ethics, terminology, story formats and style guides.”
Apart from these formal basics, however, experience seems to remain the most important asset you can bring to the table. And the way you get experience is by launching yourself into the industry as early and as motivated as possible.
Markus notes, “If you want to be on-air, you start overnight. You get involved in spaces like your campus radio station, or at a community radio station and you stay there for as long as possible.”
Markus touches on the importance of a go-getter attitude when it comes to pursuing a career on-air.
“You start by hosting shows every day of the week. You don’t get paid, but you do it. You put in the hours, and you do it.”
Do You Have the X-Factor?
“If you want to be behind the scenes, you need to offer something different. If you come straight out of varsity with ‘only’ a qualification, you can’t really offer anything different. You need that X-Factor,”
The so-called X-Factor is key to your success in radio; it’s that certain something that sets you apart from everyone else. It could be a passion for a specific topic, like sports or economics. It could be an interesting internship or job you’ve done in the past. It could also be a previous qualification you’ve done.
Markus notes, “It’s much easier to get into the behind-the-scenes than on-air. Even if you want to be on the radio, start looking for work behind the scenes at the radio station, and make yourself known from there.”
If you want to make things happen for you, it means going the extra mile and not letting any opportunities pass you by.
“Constantly keep asking for opening positions. There are always opportunities, even if they are at 3am in the morning. And if they are at 3am in the morning, grab them. Don’t wait until the 9am slot opens, because that will never happen if you don’t put in the necessary work.”
Pippa echoes this quite clearly when she stresses that no experience is ever wasted, regardless whether it’s in your desired field or not. She says,
“You may feel like presenting the traffic report at 4am is a waste of your time, and a terrible lifestyle sacrifice, but remember that it takes you one step closer to your end goal than you were before – and gives you the opportunity to practice your on-air skills and gain confidence.
Everyone makes mistakes at first, and it’s a lot easier to make them at 4am when not too many people are listening, than at 8am when the whole city is tuned in!”
Benefits of a Radio Short Course
Though you don’t need a degree, doing a short course in a radio related field comes with distinct benefits and can help fast-track your entry into the industry.
Learn the Basics
A radio short-course is the perfect introduction to jargon, and basic skills like audio editing or vocal training. As Markus says,
“You can learn all of this on the job or in an internship, but you want to avoid embarrassing yourself by rocking up and knowing nothing at all.”
Save Time & Money
If you know you want to go into radio, a short-course will give you the basic formal qualification you need, while saving you the time and money that a university degree requires.
“The best thing to do is a short course in radio, and work at a community radio station,” Markus says, and that,“It’s less about what you’re doing, and more about knowing what you want to be doing. A community or campus radio station will give you that.”
Exposure to Industry People
Lecturers at tertiary institutions are, in general, also current industry professionals. This kind of exposure is invaluable, because you get professional advice and support to kick-start your radio career. It’s also a great way to make contacts.
Vocal Training for Radio at CityVarsity
It’s the ideal course for aspiring radio hosts and presenters. It only requires 24 hours of your time, and introduces you to a broad range of aspects that you’ll need as a host, including
- conducting interviews
- vocal warm-ups and voice production
- writing for radio
- addressing specific problems or needs
Once you complete the course, you’ll get your CityVarsity Certificate of Proficiency in Vocal Training for Radio. That, together with the right attitude, ambition, and intent should give you everything you need to start your successful radio career.
The team at CityVarsity notes the following on what leads to a success in radio.
“You do not need radio experience or a media related degree, but you do need to be genuinely excited by radio.”
The Admission Requirements ask you to
- have strong, natural elements of performance
- have an open mind and no inhibitions
- be proficient in English
For information on course dates and fees, contact CityVarsity.
Advice for Aspiring Radio Professionals
If you want to become a successful radio personality, the following qualities are important.
Be Well-Read & Respected Markus explains,
“Especially in talk radio, you can’t just rock up and expect that people will love you. You have to arrive pre-loved. People need to respect you or regard you as influential in some way.”
“You need to offer more than just being someone who can talk well. What they’re looking for are ideas and perspectives.”
Always be aware of current events. Read the news, read articles, and follow headlines and trends. As Pippa points out too,
“The most crucial thing is curiosity and an interest in news – I always tell my students that you can’t expect to be a producer of news if you aren’t first a consumer of news. So work hard at keeping yourself informed and improving your general knowledge.”
Be Very Organised
“When you become the breakfast host at a radio station, you’ve made it. But you’ve had to work really damn hard to get there. This includes having put in the hours and having been really organised in order not to let people down,”
Make the Right Connections
“You need to put a lot of effort into networking, meeting the right people, and making the right connections,”
As it goes, success is often about who you know, and being at the right place at the right time.
Be a Swing Jock, Not a Shock Jock, Markus points out that there is a tendency among young, aspiring radio hosts to be the new Gareth Cliff. His advice is not to aspire for controversy and making waves.
“Play it a little safer. Everyone wants to eventually get into commercial radio, but within commercial radio, there is only one spot for a shock jock. So rather be a swing jock, someone who is reliable, puts in the hard work, and who’s interesting and influential… but not controversial.”
Waves of Wisdom
It’s important that you stay driven, and reach for the top even if the start isn’t as great as you hoped. This industry requires patience, commitment, and a lot of personal drive.
“If you don’t get a foot onto the ladder, it’s pretty hard to climb to the top of it,”
As a final piece of advice, Markus concludes,
“Be prepared for hard work and long hours, and understand that you’re not going to become the new breakfast host overnight. Be aware of your public and personal image. Gone are the days where you can behave however you want. It doesn’t mean you have to change. Be yourself, but be aware of yourself.”
Radio is one of those amazing forms of media that you can combine with any of your other passions, or any academic subject – sports science, finance, theatre, you name it. If you are currently studying and want to get into radio, make sure you join your campus radio station to get involved right away. Or see if there is a community radio station near you and go knock on those doors.