Often when people find out I work as a radio DJ, they put a fist in my face as if they were holding a microphone and ask me to do my 'radio voice.' Truth is, my 'radio voice' in real life doesn't even remotely sound like my voice on the radio. This is because there is so much processing and filters going on between the voice and the actual broadcast that what is poured on one side doesn't sound the same as the output. It's almost like making a soup, you might have a nice piece of chicken but all the additives make it much juicier and tastier after it's cooked.
I'm pretty sure that just about anyone and their grandma can be on the radio at this point, but the bottom line for anything that is broadcasted (and this applies to TV as well as radio) is that you must have ratings. Often I get people contacting me about new ideas for radio shows, many that are fun, new and creative but that I know will never work on the air. Why is that?
First of all, your show has to have major mass appeal. A show that is about tiddlywinks or maybe even about Pokemon Go won't fly because the numbers in your city won't be enough for advertisers to flock to support that show with ad dollars. You need to prove that you have enough of a certain 'demographic ' to support your show. While a show that focuses on Pokemon Go might just have millennial potential in numbers, millennials still tend to be more tied to their smart devices than radio. Also, the staying power of a Pokemon Go show is in doubt as we don't know how long the craze will last. So just like in TV, creating a new radio show comes with a lot of uncertainty and no guarantees of success.
What do we know that tends to work right now? We play familiar music because people do not listen to new unfamiliar music like they used up in the past. Yes, you can argue with me and say 'But I love new music!' - however, the sad part is that the ratings don't show that nowadays. What also tends to work are recognizable personalities who have built a fan base, not unlike rock bands who have paid their dues by touring constantly building up their followers. Radio personalities do the same just by grimly hanging on to whatever radio show they have for years and one day they wake up with a good fan base.
Unfortunately, people are fickle. I have seen, based on an unfortunate blurt or two, radio people who lose their fans overnight. That's how careful a radio geek has to be with things one says. So back to square one, you'd like to be on the radio and wonder how to get there. Fear not, Virginia, this is where if you have initiative and don't mind substandard wages, you can still break in.
There are places called 'small market radio stations', certainly you would have to move and scrounge for a living but many of these tiny stations beg for free labor. I have friends who have worked at these places for many years and eek out a decent living, not luxurious but not without perks (I.e. free concert tickets and music!). The other way to indulge your wannabe radio god yearnings is to start a podcast. Traditionally, you won't make much money, but you can at least have a fun hobby that may earn you perks if you focus on one field. For instance, my friend Serein Wu has become an up and coming beauty blogger who scores great freebies.
So pick a market! Most of all, have fun, because if you don't have fun, nobody else listening to you will fun either!
Mimi Chen is a multi-talented actor with credits for CBS-TV, VO artist, singer, and dancer, but is also known for being an FM rock radio disc jockey who has worked in Trenton (WPST-FM), Philadelphia (WMMR-FM), San Francisco, (KSAN-FM, KYUU-FM, KKIQ-FM, KOME-FM, KFOG-FM, KRQR-FM, KMEL-FM, KSOL-FM, KKCY-FM, KDBK-FM) and Los Angeles (KCSN-FM, KSCA-FM). While at KDBK-FM, she became the first Asian-American talk radio host in an English speaking format, in the midday time slot. She currently hosts the top-rated radio show "Peace, Love and Sunday Mornings" at 100.3 The Sound (KSWD-FM) in Los Angeles.
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