Radio Responsibilities: Being an On-Air DJ

Being a radio DJ is a hectic job but it can also be a fun and very rewarding career. Unlike many other jobs, it is not hectic in terms of worrisome stress. Rather, a DJ has to be a master of multi-tasking and time management. There are many tasks to perform and processes to keep in mind while hosting a live show on-air. This guide will introduce you to some of the main responsibilities of a radio DJ during a show.

Station Identification

A station ID is an audio snippet that lets listeners know the call sign, frequency and name of the radio station they are listening to. A station ID typically uses the following format: “Hi, this is Billy Rockstar and you’re listening to RKYM, 91.4 FM, Rock Radio Station.” This is helpful for people who are just tuning in and also as a way to make the station stick in people's minds. A station ID is usually said out loud by a DJ or it is pre-recorded for later playback. When artists are visiting the radio station for interviews or guest appearances, DJs may also ask them to provide a live station ID or record one so that it can be used multiple times in the future. In the U.S., a station ID is also called a stinger. There are regulations as to how often a station ID must be played, so DJs need to remember to include it during their show.


DJ Vocal Characteristics

Listeners respond well to a memorable voice, especially since it is the only means of communication via radio. For men and women, this means that their voices should be free of qualities that might irritate listeners, such as being too nasal, squeaky or raspy. Most commercial stations prefer DJs with a general non-regional accent so that listeners across the country (and even internationally!) can understand the voice. Diction is another important quality. DJs should be able to speak well, using measured tones and natural language.


Transitioning Between Songs

When hosting a live show, it would sound very choppy and jarring if listeners had to hear the end of the song and then wait for the DJ to cue up the next one. To ensure a smooth, continuous flow, DJs have adopted the practice of cuing up the next song into a second player while the first one is already playing. When the first song comes to an end, the DJ gradually reduces the volume while simultaneously raising the volume on the second player. This effect is known as cross-fading. If a DJ has to speak after a song, they simply fade it out and then speak. To keep up the energy levels of the show, it is common to have some instrumental music playing in the background while the DJ speaks.


A Rundown of the Playlist

During any radio show, listeners need to know what they have been listening to. There are several ways for DJs to share that information. On-air, they can let their audience know the titles and artists of the songs that were recently played as well as the next few songs that are coming up. This also ensures that listeners learn about new tracks released by record labels. Today, many DJs also provide a full playlist on the radio station’s website so that anyone can go back to it and learn the artist and title of a particular song.


Bed Music in the Background

As mentioned earlier, when a DJ is speaking on-air, it is common practice for them to continue playing music in the background. This type of music is called bed music. One of the main reasons for it is to avoid dead air (silence while live on air). Dead air sounds extremely awkward during a live show and it can become boring for listeners. Ideal bed music should provide an appropriate ambient vibe while remaining non-intrusive so that the listeners can focus on what the DJ is saying.



A PSA is an abbreviation for Public Service Announcement. A PSA is different from an advertisement since it is non-commercial in nature. Typically, PSAs offer short snippets of news, events or promotions from non-profit groups that may be of interest to the local community. DJs normally receive a list of PSAs in advance so they are careful to allocate enough time in the show schedule to incorporate these announcements. PSAs are normally read out loud by the DJ, but sometimes they are provided as a pre-recorded audio clip.


Listener Requests

Taking requests is one of the primary interactions between the DJ and listeners. It helps build listener loyalty and adds some spontaneity to the show. While DJs traditionally take requests over the phone, today many radio stations also allow fans to chat live with the DJ through instant messaging services and send requests online. Some stations also have a request widget on their website for listeners to send requests in advance.


Transitioning Between Different Music Formats

Based on the playlist and requests, a DJ may be required to switch between music formats several times during the course of a show. This means that they should be proficient at using and handling turntables and vinyl, CDs, and digital files. The DJ must also be able to quickly and correctly perform cross-fades between the various systems to ensure a seamless transition.


Adhering to FCC Regulations

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is a U.S. government group that oversees and regulates communications channels across the country, including radio, television and Internet. The FCC has many rules for radio stations, such as licensing, the types of advertising that are allowed, offensive language that should be avoided by DJs, content and topics in songs and much more. It is the DJ's job to become familiar with FCC regulations and abide by them. DJs and radio stations can be heavily punished by the FCC for violating the rules.


Logging the Playlist for the Music Director

Consistently during their show, every DJ has to log the details of each song they have played. Typically, they have to include details of when the song was played, how long it was, the name of the artist, album and song, whether it was newly released and if it was a request. This playlist log is then submitted to the station’s music director whose job is to report the information to organizations such as ASCAP and BMI. These organizations collect cumulative reports about the frequency of songs played across the U.S. and then divide royalties appropriately among the artists.

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