How do I get a job in public radio?
May 16, 2009 12:36 PM   Subscribe

How can I go about getting a job in public radio?

I'd really like to work in a production capacity for public radio - either as a producer of a news program (or similar show such as Fresh Air or This American Life) or as a producer of music. Outside of listening to copious amounts of NPR (my home station is OPB), I don't really have any radio experience. I'm going to volunteer training this week to start volunteering at my local community radio station (of which I am a member). After volunteering for awhile, I'll be able to take some basic intro classes at the community station on radio production basics. How can I best utilize this resource to launch a career for myself in public radio? What other things can I do to get my foot in the door? I would be willing to relocate for the job.

I'm 24, degree in philosophy from a good school (i know, I know...), and am currently working as a grant writer for a museum.

Thanks in advance everyone.
posted by Lutoslawski to Work & Money (11 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Previously, sort of.
posted by AnimalKing at 12:43 PM on May 16, 2009

sorry I missed the previous post (I search for public radio, and not NPR...silly me). More suggestions still welcome! I'm not trying to secure and amazing staff job at NPR next week, just trying to get into a radio station somewhere where I can get some experience.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:51 PM on May 16, 2009

You may want to start locally. My uncle works for our local NPR- most play the same programs all over, but have a local person who will say "You're listening to This American Life on Your NPR ABCD 900 AM. It's two thirty in the afternoon, stay tuned for BBC News next at three" or whatever.

However, he didn't just go right into there- he worked for a country station for YEARS before. And we're not in some NPR flagship area, it's just dinky little Buffalo, NY. I don't even know if any of our local programs are ever broadcast elsewhere- most are strictly local history and interest. But- we do produce local programs, and I bet most other stations do as well.

I don't know if you can necessarily get on the air without having any prior experience, NPR is something a LOT of people dream of working for and spend years getting there. Is there a local radio station you can go volunteer for? In my area one of the big college stations is open to non-students as well. Maybe look for something like that, just to get some hands-on experience with the equipment. With that under your belt you'd be better prepared to go to them with something on your resume that relates.
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:53 PM on May 16, 2009

Hi me! Here's my two cents, from a year of doing internships. (I decided I missed academia more, so I can't help on the "getting a job" front, so you should take this with a grain of salt)

1) Start by figuring out what programs you like, and what you enjoy listening to. If you live somplace with a vibrant local public station, contact them directly and see if they have any positions open. Most programs (and definitely any nationally syndicated programs) are going to be used to working with interns -- the two that I worked at took them on a rotating schedule.

2) Prepare to be unpaid for grunt labor. This includes filling glasses for guests, going through mail, running to get videos, greeting people at the door -- as well as the marginally more fun grunt labor of editing clips, transcribing tapes -- and if you're lucky, the actually fun grunt labor of going out and collecting clips. From what I've seen, it's pretty much standard for public radio stations (like anywhere else) to use interns as a source of menial unpaid labor.

3) The exception to this is NPR's internship program, which IS paid, and which I would recommend to anyone interested in doing public radio. I don't know if they're still doing the Intern Edition program (an opportunity for interns to actually write and produce content), but the main internship is basically structured as job training, and is a fabulous way to see a lot of different aspects of radio production (plus, you get to work with other interns, which is awesome and fun and collaborative -- a definite plus!)

4) Be aware of what you want out of the internship. Most radio programs are thrilled to take unpaid labor -- but there are scant positions open, and it's easy to fall into an indefinite trap of being "the intern" without ever outlining an end-point or goal. If you can, start pitching ideas for stories (if this is an option) -- or talk to your boss, whoever you're working under, to see if there's a specific project you can work on. There will likely be a lot of downtime -- and people are busy, so it's easy to fall through the cracks. The upside to this is that most radio programs are really small -- so you'll be getting water, but you'll also probably be in studio, editing tape, and have a lot of exposure to the weekly labor that goes into the show. Ask lots of questions, and if there isn't a lot of structure, think of independent things you can do that will be useful or helpful.

5) Is your volunteering on the production end, or is it solicitation / fundraising? If it's the latter, I would definitely see about getting yourself hooked up directly with a program (rather than just working for the station). Preferably one you like, where you have an interest in the content they're producing.

I did three internships over the course of a year, and it was fantastic. People who work in public radio are awesome, and truly seem to love their jobs. Three years on, I STILL talk to lots of people from the D.C. internship -- a little mini-cohort of radio nerds.

Career-wise, it's a hard market. Internships are only part of it -- you need a lot of experience and a great portfolio, so you should also be developing stories (and if possible, pitching them) wherever you wind up working. It takes awhile -- a good friend of mine did the NPR internship with me, two, three years ago? and just this year got her first paying gig, after LOTS of writing, prestigious internships, and many years of not being paid.

On the plus side, now she cuts tape for Storycorps and is living out her dream job. So it can definitely be done.
posted by puckish at 1:25 PM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I guess I'm at four cents now, but, just wanted to add...

Seconding the suggestion to check out your local affiliate. That's definitely the place to start. Contact them directly, and pitch yourself professionally, with whatever radio experience you have. Treat it is a job, and go through all the steps you would for a job interview. (this in response to the other post -- I did this at WNYC, and got lucky.

The producers I've met have all been insanely busy, and they definitely treat their interns as job applicants -- so do approach it like a job, be professional, and don't take it personally if people don't get back to you. Like I said, it's a hard market.

But yeah - starting local is the way to go.
posted by puckish at 1:32 PM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know if they're still doing the Intern Edition program

They are.

And they're on Twitter.
posted by LinnTate at 2:05 PM on May 16, 2009

I'm 24, degree in philosophy from a good school (i know, I know...), and am currently working as a grant writer for a museum.

Why the self-deprecation? You have a good education and a good job. That's a pretty darn good start.

You're doing the right thing. You'll learn a lot from community radio. I used to volunteer DJ for my campus radio station and I know quite a few people who used that experience to get their foot in the door at local radio stations, and plenty more who have gone on to work for CBC/Radio Canada. Internships are also an excellent suggestion. Good luck!
posted by futureisunwritten at 3:49 PM on May 16, 2009

Puckish is pretty much completely right.

I would add that in 2009, the internet and podcasting allow you to be very entrepreneurial about the whole thing as well. When I couldn't get a job, that's what I did, and it worked out great.
posted by YoungAmerican at 4:49 PM on May 16, 2009

Oh, and consider joining AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio.
posted by YoungAmerican at 4:52 PM on May 16, 2009

1. get yourself some recording gear and start. Seriously. Check out for gear recommendations and all things radio.

2. Consider going to a workshop at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies for a short taste of radio makin'. But, if you know that this is what you want to do, get yourself to the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. They have a semester-long program in radio documentary production that is the only one of its kind in the US. Many people go from no radio experience to incredible jobs out of that program.

3. Find radio people and make friends with them. Community radio station is a good place to start. Also look for conferences to attend. Transom and AIR would be good resources for this.

The suggestion for AIR was very good and should give you places to pitch and how to pitch stories. Radio is like writing in that you have to just do it. And that's how you become a radio producer.
posted by munichmaiden at 5:16 AM on May 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I volunteered at an NPR station - they put me, like they did all their volunteers, on envelope stuffing duties. I'd haunt the halls though - and at some point I noticed one of the production people were using Cool Edit Pro, which I knew all about from making tracks at home. I struck up a conversation, showed her I knew some stuff, next thing you know I was mixing promos and doing audio fun :)
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 12:22 PM on May 18, 2009

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