How to be a good DJ

The National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations, which maintains the employment website, defines an announcer as the “radio station’s ‘voice’ … with whom the public identifies. This person introduces programs and music, reads commercial copy and public service announcements, and is involved in the overall public presentation of the station.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines some of the duties expected of an announcer as taking listener requests, interviewing guests, managing listener contests and preparing program content. This chapter offers suggestions on how to best prepare and present yourself as an on-air announcer/DJ.


Sennheiser HD202 headphonesAll good DJs wear headphones. Turning on a microphone in the on-air studio mutes the speakers, which means the only way you can hear what is happening during an air break is to listen through your headphones. This is especially important when there is more than one person in the studio, as the person running the audio board needs to ensure each voice is talking at the same level, adjusting fader levels as necessary. Similarly, if that second person’s microphone was not turned on the DJ would not know without monitoring the levels on the board and through his or her headphones.

Go for the over-the-ear type headphones because they stay on your head a lot better than ear buds, clip ons or those that wrap around the back of your head. The last thing you want to worry about during an air break is whether your headphones will slip off.

Sony MDRV150 headphones

Your headphones will need to have a 1/4” plug for the audio board. Most headphones are 1/8” and may or may not come with an adapter. 

The two most popular brands around WKNC are the Sony MDR-V150 and Sennheiser HD 202. Koss and Bose are also excellent brands. When you do get a pair of headphones, label them with your name or initials so you know they are yours. If you lose your headphones, the adviser may have a pair you can borrow or use for studio guests.

Choosing a DJ Name

All What you need to keep in mind when choosing your DJ name is that this is how people will come to know you during your time at N.C. State. Indeed, many fellow DJs may never know your real name.  The only real restriction is that you CANNOT use genitalia as part of your DJ name – so no funny stuff like C. Lit or DJ Deez Nuts. Think twice before using something too racy or suggestive. You also shouldn’t use someone else’s DJ name, since he or she was here first.

It is highly recommended you not use your real full name. WKNC is VERY popular in Central Prison, Butner Federal Prison and half a dozen other inmate facilities. Plus lots of strange folks listen to the radio, especially late at night. You don’t necessarily want them to look you up in the campus directory.

You can use your first or last name, or a variation of such like DJs Bex, Chuck, Cioffi, Jenna or Mick. You could also spice up your name like Mz Kelly, May Day, Sweet Melissa, Uncle Paul, Cannibal Cory, Tommyboy, Filthy Rich or Just John.

Some current/recent DJs who get points for creativity are: A La Mode, Agent Orange, Barf Brooks, Cabbage, Danger Tape, DJ Cantona, DJ Climber, DJ Siren, DJ Switch, dj trafficjam, DJ Two Sheds, DJ Wise (you don’t have to start your DJ name with DJ, you know), E-force, Hot Tamale, Lucretia, Riff Raff, Rochester, Safety Scissors, Special K, Sweet Annie Rich, The Noobhammer and Optimus Rhyme.

Some other cool/creative DJ names in recent history: 57, Amp on Tweak, Arch, Ben Himself, Big Kahuna, Brimley, Cagey B, Cannonball, CruellaD, Dischord, DJ Accha, DJ Blaze, DJ Cage, Dj CedVicious, DJ Forge, dj squared, Dr. Digital, Dr. Kittens, ed. word to your mother, Gene Jacket Sanford, Godrik, Goose, Gustaf Von Ottokar, HayLo, Hellen Back, Hi-Tec, Infrared, JENOCIDE, JonesFactor, K-Swish, L.A.S.E.R.T.R.O.N. 2047, leachface, Mama Pearl, mojo on the radio, Monkey Mike, Mr. X, Murderbot 3000, N8, NeedForReed, N-Tice, Ol’ River Haynes, phlavorphil, Quality Jones, que cera, Rouge, Scullboy, Scurvy, Sean Franchise, Sledgehammer, Surge, the gatekeeper, The Man with the Golden Gun, tuberculosis folks, VI the Great, and Zeus.

Or you can always play around with a random DJ name generator and see what you find!


Personality may be the most important part of being a DJ. It would be easy to have a computer pick and play music all day, but without the voice of the DJ, the station has no personality. We cannot explain how to effectively have personality by listing all things you should do — if we did, you would become a cliché. Instead, the best way is for us to tell you what not to do, and what is left will be your unique personality.

The main point is to make sure that you sound like a real person on the radio. Do not confuse this with being unprofessional, this is not what this means. Don’t alter your voice when you go on the air; your listeners can always tell. Back in the thirties, announcers altered their voices to what we now refer to as the “announcer voice.” Back then, radio was the predominant medium and people thought of it as such a novel and grand thing that they expected that kind of articulate perfection. But today, with television and the Internet, radio is not such a radical medium and people want it to be more personal. This is why we use our regular voices during air breaks.

One important thing to remember is not to rely on other DJs to do things the right way. Some DJs are better than others. Just because you hear someone who has been at the station for a long time do something, that doesn’t mean it is good.

Music Selection

A word of advice: if you came to WKNC to play your favorite music, do that at home — we are in the business of pleasing our listeners. WKNC serves the community, not ourselves.

Being a DJ is a privilege, not a right. When you accept an air shift within one of our four formats, you are committing to represent the musical integrity of the format. As a DJ, you represent WKNC to the masses. During your show, it is your JOB to make us look awesome. We are NOT a free format radio station. That is why you can’t play whatever you want whenever you want. You should absolutely play songs that you are passionate about, but you should absolutely not rotate your favorite twenty songs from week to week. Don’t play anything during your shift that you played the week before. Incorporate new music into your sets. As a DJ, you are a musical trendsetter. There are a lot of older songs that are great, and you shouldn’t stop playing them, but it’s really important to provide our listeners with fresh, awesome new music all day all night and all weekend long.

Our mission at WKNC is to provide an ALTERNATIVE to commercial radio stations in the Triangle. This is the tradition of college radio. A general rule is that if you can turn the dial and hear a song on a local commercial radio station, then you shouldn’t be playing it on WKNC. One of the major critiques of commercial radio is that they play the same songs over and over and over again. That is why we have a five-hour rule, meaning you should never play an artist on your show that was played in the past five hours on WKNC. Once five hours have passed, play a different song by that artist. “But it’s a request” is not an acceptable excuse for breaking the five hour rule.  

Learn and then continue to learn about the genre you represent. Follow music magazines or blogs and review new music on Pandora, Hype Machine ( and

Finally, when choosing music for your air shift you want to arrange songs in sets that cleanly flow from one track to the next. You want to avoid a transition between songs that is so jarring – soft instrumental to hard rock, for example – that folks in the radio industry call it a “train wreck.” This is where the preview function in AudioVault can help you.

Preparation (Or, Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance)

Never open the microphone before you have a good idea of what you plan to say. If you plan to talk about an upcoming  show, make sure you know all the details you want to give about it. Getting on air and saying, “That band is playing tonight at Motorco. I’m not sure what time the show starts.” lets the audience know you didn’t properly plan that air break. If you don’t know something, don’t talk about it.

It is not uncommon for new DJs to literally write out their air breaks ahead of time. While that isn’t a practice you want to keep forever, it is a great way to get used to talking on air. Preparation also means you have your headphones on and are ready in front of the audio board. Your microphone has been moved into proper position. If you are using AudioVault, it is scheduled to stop when the current element does. If you are using a CD or other player, it is either in single mode or you are prepared to fade down the channel before the next song begins. Anyone in the studio with you has been notified that you are going on air and they need to keep quiet. Your cell phone has been silenced so it won’t ring in the middle of your air break. You know what you plan to say and you have the next element cued and ready to start at the conclusion of your air break. Then and only then are you prepared for your air break.   

Follow The Logs And The Program Clock 

Another form of preparation is following the Program Log, which lists scheduled DAs and PSAs. The GTL Simple scheduled at 58:30 of each hour is a time check that causes the log to refresh and ready the next hour. Whatever is playing will continue to play, but the next element on the program log will begin your top of the hour break. If you have a 20-minute break, try to do it as close to 20 minutes after the hour as you can. If you find yourself going into your 20-minute break more than five minutes early or late, denote so on the program log. You can load your breaks by moving carts over to the AudioVault decks directly from the Music Log. If you ever find that the breaks in the Music Log don’t follow what is scheduled in the Program Log, make sure you are looking at the right page of the Program Log. If they still don’t match, contact the program director immediately. When it doubt, it is always best to play a donor announcement when you didn’t need to then not play one when you did. 

Requests (Or, “I’ll see what I can do”)

WKNC is one of the few stations in the area where listeners can get their requests played. It is important to remember that you are not obligated to answer the request lines if you are busy. Also, you don’t have to play a song just because it is requested. Never promise a caller you will play their request, in case you can’t work the song in or decide you don’t want to play it. You should never play a requested song without listening to it first because it might not be in our format. Always be courteous and respectful to our callers. They are our most dedicated listeners. Don’t take what callers say to be representative of how all the listeners feel. Only certain personality types will actually call a radio station; some people listen all day without ever thinking of calling. If you want people to call you, make sure you announce the request line phone numbers often.

Studio Crowds

People love to hang out in the on-air studio. Sometimes you want to do a break with some other people in the room, but in general it makes for a poor sound on the air. The DJ on duty is in charge of the on-air studio. If you’re on duty, you can and should ask any extra people to leave the room, even if it’s the GM or PD. The only exception to this rule is that from time to time the engineering department will have to work in the on-air studio, but they will be as considerate to you as possible. Anyone in the studio with you should be completely silent whenever your microphone is on.

How To Talk On The Air

No matter how cool you think you are, remember your audience is listening to the radio to hear music, not to hear you talk. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to do a good job on your air breaks; it just means say what you need to say and then play more music.

Identify the Radio station

Every air break should include at least one reference to our call letter and frequency – WKNC 88.1 FM. You don’t need to identify yourself as the DJ each time, but you should do so at least once an hour.

Be Succinct

Always remember: shorter is better. Listeners don’t want to hear a DJ ramble on for two minutes about nothing. Say what you have to say as quickly as you can. Eliminate useless words and don’t ramble. Always know what you plan to say before you go on the air, or the listener will know you don’t know what you are talking about. There isn’t time to think about new ideas while you are on the air. If your air breaks last longer than 40 seconds, they are probably too long.

Back Sell / Front Sell

After the front page of the, the most visited section of the Website is our online playlist. People want to know what they are hearing! Back selling refers to playing a set of music and then announcing the titles. When you do this, try your best to avoid the “before that” syndrome in which you announce a song “and before that” a second song “and before that” a third song “and before that” a fourth song. A good DJ has a bigger vocabulary. For example, “New music from The Decemberists on WKNC 88.1, it’s ‘Down by the Water.’ We also heard from Rilo Kiley with ‘Silver Lining,’ Bombadil’s ‘Honeymoon’ and a request for Max Indian’s ‘Now I Know.’” There is no need to announce more than four songs at a time, as your audience may not have been listening that far back. Instead, refer listeners to the complete playlist on

Front selling is telling the audience what is to come. Doing this can create an anticipation that will cause a listener to keep the radio on WKNC. For example, “I have music from Miniature Tigers and Avett Brothers coming up, but first here’s Prabir and the Substitutes with ‘Everybody’s Got Somebody’ on WKNC 88.1.”

Promote the Next DJ

Don’t promote the end of your shift; instead promote the beginning of the next DJ’s shift. It does the same thing in a much more effective way.

Time Checks and Weather 

A time check is when you announce the time to your listeners. Time checks are especially important in the morning (7-10 a.m.) when people are going to work. The AudioVault computer displays the time in the upper-right corner. If you want to give a brief weather report and temperature check, use the National Weather Service at

Never Draw Attention to a Mistake

Start a song with the fader turned down? Pretend it didn’t happen. Didn’t have your guest’s mic on? Pretend it didn’t happen. Say you are going to play one song but actually play another? Pretend it didn’t happen. Maybe the audience didn’t notice your mistake.

Using the Intros/Background Music 

Each song in AudioVault should have an intro time, meaning the number of seconds between when a song begins and when the vocals begin. DJs can use this time, displayed as a countdown in the box in the upper-right corner on the AudioVault computer, as a tool to help them talk over the instrumental introduction of a song, ending their air break before the vocals begin. You can do this for very short air breaks that begin when the previous song starts to fade out and end before the vocals begin on the next song. DJs can also start a song right before the end of their air breaks, finishing up over the instrumental beginning of a song. Just remember to keep an eye on the countdown so you will stop talking before the vocals start.

The BED category in AudioVault has a number of instrumental music beds that you can use during air breaks. Using music beds, when done correctly, sounds great and keeps your air breaks shorter because you will want to stop before the music bed runs out. Just remember to keep the music bed at a volume lower than your voice and fade it out when you are done.

Moving the Microphone 

Do not move your microphone when it is on, whether you are talking into it or not. Doing so causes a low rumbling sound known as “mic handling noise.” This sounds horrible on the air and should be avoided. Part of planning for your breaks includes positioning your microphone properly. Have any on-air guests do so as well.

How to Tell if you are Doing it Wrong 

You could be doing a better job if:

  • A friend asks you to say something “in your radio voice.”
  • You meet a listener who says you sound a lot different in person than you do on the air. 
  • If you emphasize little words like “and,” “the,” “is,” “can,” or “will.” 
  • If you sound like you are reading. 
  • If you apologize every time you stumble on a word or stop to correct yourself. Just forget it and move on. 

Having Others On The Air

Whether the people with you are fellow DJs or guests, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the person running the audio board is the person in control. If someone walks into the studio and sits down during your air break and wants to talk, it is up to you to turn his or her microphone on. You also have the ability to turn it off.

A real conversation between two or three people can be interesting, but a lot of DJs will overdo it. Here are some guidelines for these kinds of situations:

  1. Think before you talk, and talk with a purpose. You don’t want your break to sound rehearsed, but you should always let your guest know what you will be talking about so you both can be prepared.
  2. Keep it brief. Just because more people are talking doesn’t mean you have more time to talk! In fact, you must be that much more conscious of the clock. It becomes easy to get distracted with the other person speaking. Don’t ramble.
  3. Limit the number of people in the conversation. Having more than three voices can be confusing for the listener. Two people should never share one microphone; it sounds horrible.
  4. Everyone in the conversation needs a microphone and needs to use it properly. While you may be able to hear someone standing in the studio doorway, your audience cannot. Therefore If someone is not on mic, they do not exist to the listener and shouldn’t exist in your conversation. If your guest is behind a microphone but is too far away from it, non-verbally cue him or her to get closer. Multiple times, if necessary.
  5. No inside jokes! They alienate anyone not in on the joke, in this case your entire audience.