How To Get Into Radio

Radio 1’s Clara Amfo, Hot 97’s Laura Stylez, and more explain how they got their break — and how you can too.

With the rise of online radio and podcasts, getting on the air seems easier than ever. And yet, with all the competition out there, cutting through the noise isn’t always as simple as it looks. The FADER spoke to some of our favorite radio personalities from across commercial, online, and BBC radio in the U.K. and U.S. about why they wanted to be broadcasters, the challenges they overcame, and the best things about the jobs they have today.

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Clara Amfo

BBC Radio 1 (U.K.), Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

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A woman I worked with [at a TV station] told me that Kiss FM were looking for a marketing intern for three months. EZ, Rodigan, so many amazing DJs started out their careers [at Kiss], so I was all about it. I ended up [working] there for about five or six years. I made myself indispensable. While I was working in the office, I would say to my boss, “When are you gonna let me on air?”...One year, [he let me] pre-record a Boxing Day show. A month or so later, he gave me a role doing overnights Monday to Friday — I’d do my office job, then stay after work and pre-record the morning show. As cliché as it sounds, because I enjoyed doing it, it didn’t feel like work.

All the while, I had my eyes on [urban station BBC Radio] 1Xtra. During my last 18 months at Kiss, I was [recording] demos, and I got offered the weekend breakfast show on 1Xtra in September 2013. For me, that was a really big turning point — getting offered that job gave me a lot of confidence. From joining the BBC, I got to do the Chart Show, I got to cover Trevor Nelson when he was off, then I got opportunities on Radio 1.

I came up through commercial radio, but as well as listening to other commercial stations, I listened to a lot of pirate, and a lot of speech radio — because there’s a lot of things you’ve got to think about. In particular, word economy: how do I make a point when I’ve only got 10 seconds? It’s the same for any DJ, you can’t assume that your audience knows everything.

What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to be a radio DJ/host?

Don’t chase what you think this job is going to give you, like fame and online hype. They’re just byproducts. You’ve got to have a dedication to being good at your job, first and foremost. I’ve had people DM me being like, “Hey! Can you give me contacts for all these agencies?” I’m like, “Do you genuinely think that because you’ve hit me up on Twitter that I can change your world?” It’s really not that. You’ve got to do those long hours like everybody else. Be prepared to work for little or no money for a long time. It’s worth it.

DJ Holiday

Streetz 94.5 (Atlanta), Monday-Friday 6-10 p.m.

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If I was going to be a DJ — like Khaled or Drama — I thought [radio] was something that needed to be on my résumé. I was an intern first, at [Atlanta’s] Hot 107.9, just DJing at the weekends, and hosting little parties. I had to leave that station because the guy who brought me in got fired. Then I was just going super hard with the mixtapes; around that time, I dropped Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and that’s what really took me over to the next level, until I got an opportunity [to present on Streetz 94.5]. It was something that would definitely make me more certified in the city.

I have roughly two or three interns that work on my show, and I’m always prepped a day before. It’s very important to know what’s going on in the world, and in the city of course. I love reporting. I [talk about] anything from a person who’s scamming somebody at Walmart, to 2 Chainz dropping a new album tomorrow, to the local Love & Hip-Hop star who wiled out at the nail shop. I just like to be up on everything. It’s a pretty dope situation, for people to trust me to report information to them. I’ve been on the radio for four and a half years now, and it’s a blessing. That’s somebody’s college or high school life — I’ve been part of somebody’s life for four years!

What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to be a radio DJ/host?

Don’t be afraid to put in work. I interned for three years; I didn’t get my first real break until my third or fourth year. I was just grinding. I was still building my brand in the streets. You’ve got to have a goal. I always set my goals about six months ahead, I try to knock down as many as I can. That’s important.

Snoochie Shy

Radar (U.K.), Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

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I've always listened to radio since I was young, but I didn't know I personally wanted to be on radio until I started at [south London youth station] Reprezent Radio. [They] asked me to come in for a session, and I fell in love with it. With my radio show, I really wanted to create a space where artists could come on and we could see their personality. I love seeing people having a laugh, I don't want them to come in and be bored from having the same old questions asked. We’ve had [MC] Not3s pruning a bonsai tree, Ella Mai singing a hot chocolate recipe, Yxng Bane wine tasting. It's always so random and fun!

I always search for new music, every night without fail I'll look and see the music that's been released that day and catch up. I try to keep it as U.K.-focused as I can, so I play a lot of U.K. rap, drill, and grime. It's important as a radio presenter to stay on top of what’s going on.

What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to be a radio DJ/host?

If you're thinking about giving radio a go, go for it, don't even think about the What ifs, just do it! You learn so much about yourself, and you get to meet some great people too. Don't let nerves hold you back.

Laura Stylez

Hot 97 (New York), Monday-Friday 5-10 a.m. and Sirius/XM Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

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I really loved hip-hop culture. I couldn’t rap and I couldn’t breakdance, and my graffiti wasn’t all that. My boys that were DJs used to love the way my voice sounds, so they would invite me to do drops on their mixtapes, or when they were DJing parties. I remember one day my friend was like, “You should be on the radio!” I’d never thought about it that way, but then I started listening to local radio in L.A., and I just fell in love with it.

[My first gig in radio] was a phone operator. For anyone who wants to get into the field, you need to learn all the basics of production first — I learned how to run the soundboard, how to edit. I started producing mix shows for DJs, [eventually] co-producing a morning show. There was another station that opened up in New York, and it was a reggaeton station, and they would play reggaeton, hip-hop, reggae, and R&B. I was like, I don’t know anything about reggaeton, but I speak Spanish, and I know hip-hop and I know reggae, so how hard could this be? So I just went, and I put together an audition package, which is called an air check. I got hired, for my first on-air position.

Being a presenter on the air is one thing, but there’s also how you market yourself outside of that. I was throwing my own parties, hosting shows, working with different brands doing endorsements, doing the red carpet at the Latin Grammys. I was friends with a lot of the big DJs in the city, ‘cause I would run into them at the club. One of those people was DJ Enuff, and he actually asked me to be part of his DJ crew Heavy Hitters. With his blessing, I was able to get an interview at Hot 97. When I got here, they didn’t put me on the air right away. They had me doing production work, digital stuff. With my background of production, I already knew how to edit, how to be a producer, and I had label relationships. It didn’t take long until Angie Martinez trusted me to come and work with her, because I really knew what I was doing, and she would let me fill in on her show whenever she had to travel. Until they offered me a slot on the morning show. And four and a half years later, I’m here.

What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to be a radio DJ/host?

[People say to me], “I see your pictures with artists, it looks like so much fun!” But when you ask people, “Okay, name me three people that you love on the radio and why” — most people can’t even answer. You should research any career that you want to explore — go deeper than just the surface. Understand that it’s a business, and how ratings work, and why certain shows have people talking for 30 seconds, as opposed to a morning show where you get five minute talk breaks. You have to learn, because at the end of the day, we can look cool on social media, but if we don’t have those ratings on our actual FM dial show, then we don’t have a job.

Maya Jama

Rinse FM, Monday-Friday 4-7 p.m., currently on summer hiatus

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Presenter-wise, I loved Davina [McCall] from when I was young. I liked that she was not so serious, she always made me feel like I would get along with her in person. Growing up more, [scheduling slot on U.K. TV] T4 came out, and I saw [presenters] Jameela Jamil and Miquita Oliver, and I was like, They look like me! That made [a presenting career] more obtainable in my mind.

I’d already been presenting a little bit online, and putting videos on Twitter, and the boss of Rinse FM just DMed me and said, “Hey, I think you’re funny, do you want to come and try and do radio?” At first I was like, I don’t know if I should do that! But I went down, recorded a couple of pilots....Basically, it was me and a producer sat in a room, and they were like, “Alright, tell me a story.” Then [Rinse] let me do their Saturday breakfast show. Then, I’d kind of train myself at home. Like, Now I’ve started, I want to be the best. I’d go into Voice Notes, and I’d make my own little radio show on my phone and listen back. I went from Saturday breakfast to a Thursday show, and then from Thursday to doing the [weekday] breakfast show for a while, and then ended up on Drive.

What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to be a radio DJ/host?

Don’t be disheartened by the nos. I don’t know if it’s a Leo thing, but when I was younger, if I didn’t get a job that I went for, I’d be like, “I’ll never try again!” But it could be that you weren’t ready, or that there’s something even better waiting, and you just need to pick up a bit more experience. Don’t feel like a no is the end.

Charlie Bones

NTS (U.K.), Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.

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I’ve been on and off various radio stations since I was 17. I recorded a show with my friend as a kid on this tapedeck thing, and remember being agonized about it; then I went on college radio, then community radio, then a bunch of pirates. I loved John Peel for his openness and playing records at the wrong speed and other mistakes and getting grumpy about it — for me that was the humanity of it. And Charlie Gillett for going to the furthest reaches of the world in sound, and the countless pirate station hosts. London pirate DJs are unbeatable.

Nothing comes quickly to me, Capricorn style. I did it my whole life, being hired and fired and hustling all around doing horrible jobs. Eventually I was blessed with the right situation coming about, with Femi [Adeyemi] starting NTS and letting me just do my thing. I'm a stubborn grinder. I think if you keep your vision strong in your mind for long enough the right setup will come along.

Sometimes, due to life and its nonsense, I show up [to the show] half dead with nothing to give, and yet those shows blow my mind for what can happen, truly miraculous and incredible things. I am obsessed with comedians, and comedians interviewing each other. To be totally aware of everything, and able to gain material, and move from something to something else [while being] fast and funny is the art.

What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to be a radio DJ/host?

Just Do!! You!!! — all those exclamation marks [in the show’s name] are there as a constant scream at me to let go of all the shit, and go on instinct. Stay interested in stuff and people, and spread love, because there is a lot of toxic media out there and people are tired of it.

Diamond Kuts

WUSL/Power 99 FM (Philadelphia), various times weekly

I never really wanted to go into radio when I started DJing, but a friend of mine was looking for a female mixer. I said I’d give it a shot — and I really loved it. I used to do a lot of preparation when I first started, but now, I go off how I’m feeling that day. I might do an old school Cash Money set one day; the next day I might do a whole Beyoncé set. You’ve also got to use social media. I’m doing Insta [Stories] while I’m on air, and I shout out whoever just tweeted me. It’s all about making sure you’re engaging with the audience, showing the love back.

Times have changed — before I got into radio, being an intern was the way in. It still is a way in, but I think the best way into radio is promoting yourself, so people bring you up in meetings like, “We need to get this person in here, their podcast or mix show is hot!” That’s how I got in. If I wasn’t out in the streets with mixtapes, no one would ever think to come to me and say, “Hey, do you want to try radio?”

What’s your best advice for anyone who wants to be a radio DJ/host?

Just be out and about. Be in the clubs, and hosting parties, where you know radio personalities will be. Anything that will get you in front of the people that you want to hear you. You’ve got to get in their faces. Build that connection, and work hard.

August 11, 2017
How To Get Into Radio