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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.

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.

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.

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.

Read On.

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