On the radio
February 11, 2018 7:47 AM   Subscribe

As a young adult (high school/ college/ recent grad) did you or your kid ever have a steady job or unpaid internship with a college, community or other alternative-focused radio station, especially one where you were allowed to experience some air time?

I would like to investigate this kind of thing.
To head off the obvious: I am aware that the vast majority of all paid and unpaid internships, and entry level jobs, are mostly about making coffee, filing papers and delivering messages etc.
That said, if you (or someone you know) had an internship (paid or unpaid) / entry level job at a community/college radio station that was gratifying and interesting I would like to know how you heard about it, how you got it, what it entailed, where the station was if possible (memail is fine).
posted by flourpot to Work & Money (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
To be clear, does working at your own college radio station count?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:01 AM on February 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I was in high school me and a couple friends got a show in the early morning on Sundays at the local college radio station. The radio station did not have enough live DJs so they pretty much just gave us a slot when we asked for it. Went straight to hosting, no internships or anything. We would come in, power on the antenna and start broadcasting. Had to keep records of what we played and do station IDs on the hour I believe. This was 2003 or so.

Edit: and to be clear, we were unpaid, I’m pretty positive all the DJs were.
posted by cyphill at 8:03 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

To be clear, does working at your own college radio station count?

Definitely! All the better. The main thing is that it was a steady position for a while, with definite expectations and responsibilities, not just volunteer hosting a couple of times.
posted by flourpot at 8:07 AM on February 11, 2018

The highschool I attended has it's own radio station, including student DJs.
posted by fings at 8:08 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Great, yes, my wee 10-watt college station signed up DJs for slots one semester at a time. If you were new, it was likely to be in the middle of the night on a weeknight. You were also responsible for participating in various cleanup/fundraiser/fixing things type activities, but “intern” wasn’t really a thing. You also didn’t have to be a student, as long as you weren’t there to creep on the college kids.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:10 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was an on-air DJ in both high school and college radio. This was back in the mid-'90s, but how it worked at my high school was you had to take a one-trimester course on the regulations you had to follow, how the various machines worked (8-tracks for community service announcements and promoting each others' shows, CDs and tapes for the music, dunno what it's likely to be now), and get X hours of airtime before they would let you sign up for a permanent 2-hour show (no overnights because high school). In college, it was basically a 2 hour training even if you had previous experience and then your first couple of semesters you had the crappy 2-5 am weeknight slots.

In both cases, you were responsible for your timeslot for the semester/trimester. My junior year in high school, I was the Traffic Director, responsible for coordinating the schedules, making sure people showed up for the slots they said they were going to show up for - if you didn't and you were still in the class, it affected your grade. If you didn't and you had completed the class, you were at risk of losing your timeslot and being bumped to the bottom of the list for signups the next trimester.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:13 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, it was a high school class, much like auto shop or office skills. This was 25 years ago but my high school offered different "professional" type classes, where you could get education in something that you could maybe do as a part time job during school or get a head start in additional training after high school. Radio was one such class, well more like 2 since it was a 4-hour block. The school district had their own radio station, shared between 2 high schools so if you wanted to take the class, you had to go to one of them. You also had to have teacher approval (not that hard) and be an upper classman.

It was amateur radio, like other community supported stations. We recorded our own "ads" for local non-profits, fundraisers, or other shows, write the news we did on the hour, do the station IDs, play music, pick stuff to buy, answer the phone and say we're not playing Scritti Politti, stop calling. Usually it was just 2 or 3 kids plus the teacher hanging around during our 4 hour segment. The other high school took a 4 hour section as well and then either paid staff or community volunteers took the rest of the hours.

It was taught by the history teacher, who worked as a DJ prior to being a teacher and still did a weekend gig at the local country station. We got school credit for it, most of us were honors students, I was the only girl for 2 trimesters (which is what made me join in the first place, didn't seem right there were no girls) until some other honors students heard about it and joined.

Shout out to KRVM, 91.9.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:14 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yep, show up before air time, go in the back to the _giant walls filled with records_, pick out some (even though I knew _nothing_ about any of them), then go wait for the other person to finish. I was 17 and just started at Ga. Tech. There was a brief workshop about how to work the emergency broadcasting system in order to get me the official license I needed, but it was practically no training.

There might or might not still be a lot of vinyl there waiting for another youngster.
posted by amtho at 8:49 AM on February 11, 2018

My mom and dad were both radio DJs at their college station, but this would have been circa 1973. As I understand it, they were able to be on the air frequently, as a lot of people would call out sick or just not show up and they couldn't have dead air-- everyone who wanted one had a time slot, but some people were unreliable.

They found it fulfilling and interesting but had very little training (just some policy stuff like when to announce the call sign, what buttons to push, not to say curse words, and to use "Imagine" as a distress beacon in case something was wrong and they needed someone else to rush over and help out.) Memail me if you want me to ask any specific questions.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:56 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was in college (1989) I worked at the local college radio station in Mankato, MN. It was housed in the basement of my dorm tower, and when I first moved in as a freshman there were a couple signs in our building advertising DJ openings. I thought it would be fun, so I stopped by, they gave me a quick 5 minute audition after showing me what buttons to push on the board, and that was that. It wasn't part of any curriculum (I was a CS major), they just signed me up.

It wasn't any kind of internship as there were no classes or advisors or anything, but I do remember getting paid around $30/week if I signed up for at least one or two DJ shifts.

It was fun. Another DJ and I created a 'morning zoo'-style program for a little while which I still have a tape of somewhere. There was no set schedule, you just signed up for blocks of airtime on a piece of paper. The only paperwork was entering in your playlist into the computer after your shift. There were some fringe benefits too. We would get a lot of CDs from local and regional bands looking for airtime and there was some good music there. We were one of the first stations in the country to play Soul Asylum's Clam Dip and Other Delights album, so that was cool. Every once in a while we would get tickets to shows at First Avenue, and for whatever reason one time we were able to take one of the university's cars up to Minneapolis to see the show. (Sugar Cubes, anyone? I really don't like lobster! obscure dated pre-solo Bjork reference I'm so oooold) I also landed a part time weekend gig at a Twin Cities AM station when their GM came down for a visit.

My favorite part of the experience was when we aired the Dr. Demento show for a time, and I was lucky enough to spin a lot of those shows. In fact somewhere in the basement I have a box of several week's worth of Dr. Demento station LPs that we used to air the show, complete with commercials and all. Sadly I don't have anything to play them on anymore.
posted by SquidLips at 8:58 AM on February 11, 2018

I had a radio internship at a local commercial radio station in high school, and was later on college radio. While I had a regular schedule and resposibilities during the high school internship, I wasn't live on the air; I was making carts and promos, typing up playlists, that sort of thing. It was part of a senior-year internship program coordinated by my high school, I was more than happy to be doing some audio production rather than standing at filing cabinets which seemed to be a major part of other students' internships.

In college, I had two shows each week for a couple of years on the college radio station, regular shifts on the air, and lots more freedom since it was college radio. I don't remember the exact process, but I just went to the station office, talked to people, signed up, and got on the air. A particularly surreal moment in my life was seeing some very nice posters promoting one of my shows go up around campus that I had absolutely nothing to do with making.

Both were good, formative experiences, and were a helpful way for me to establish work experience in a fairly fun (albeit unpaid) way. Definitely a great opportunity if you can make it happen.
posted by eschatfische at 9:04 AM on February 11, 2018

There are also Youth Radio programs springing up all over the country.
posted by lunasol at 9:36 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some folks setup a community radio station in my small town, and as a kid in my late 40's I had my own radio show for 3 hours, once a week. I'm sure they would easily allow even younger kids to participate in the same way.

I hope that helps. It isn't exactly clear from your question what your end-game is here.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:38 AM on February 11, 2018

I currently have a show that runs every Sunday morning on a community radio station. I got it by answering a post in the Maine Punk Facebook group. I record it at home and upload the show in mp3 format for the scheduler to slot into the broadcast software. The call for volunteers was not directed at any particular age group. From my experience you just need to show a bit of commitment.
posted by merocet at 9:55 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

My experience sounds eerily like chesty_a_arthur's: 10-watt college station, newbies had crummy slots. We also had a requirement that a certain portion of our airtime had to come from a designated "new release" selection. I forget the criteria exactly, but there was a small CD rack on the wall of the on-air studio that had a few tens of newer stuff my on-air partners and I would pull from.

We also had an obligation to read or play a recorded PSA one every hour or half-hour. There was a binder with items we could read, and a few on carts that we could plug in and let run while we stepped out for the toilet or a cigarette. The studio space was a thoroughly grotty little place - in the basement of a building used for both classrooms and offices, with broken-down second-hand couches, ashtrays everywhere and a room full of vinyl on whatever hand-cobbled wooden shelves were available. The on-air studio had enough space for two people to share one mic and a 70s-vintage analog board. We had the NAB, two or three CD players, two turntables, and (I think) at least one dual cassette deck at our disposal for broadcast. Most of the time, most of it worked.

KWUR: 10,000 milliwatts of raw power.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:57 AM on February 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

In around 2000, in suburban UK, I volunteered with two different hospital radio stations while I was at journalism school (I was training to be a print journo but it seemed like a good thing to do).

The two of them couldn't have been more different. The first place I went, before you were allowed to read the news, you had to spend weeks helping out with the request show (their flagship show) - going round the wards, collecting requests, finding the records, helping read the requests on air etc., though not allowed anywhere near the controls, which were very much the preserve of the heavily-entrenched people who'd been there for years and obviously wished they were on 'real' radio. Then, eventually, they introduced me to the guy in charge of news, who was clearly unhappy to have anyone else wanting to encroach on his territory. He made disparaging remarks about the (perfectly good) course I was doing, and did everything he could to give me the minimal possible air time, insisting I listen to him read the news for several weeks before he'd consider allowing me to do it, etc.

Fortunately there was another hospital radio in the next big town, so at this stage, I thought I'd try them. The first night I arrived, they were so pleased to see me. One person was already there and scheduled to do the news, who had done it before. They thrust a copy of the evening paper into our hands and we had to rewrite the main stories so they were suitable for reading aloud. Then we went on air, alternated reading the stories - so I was live and reading the news within an hour of arriving for the first time. I went back the next week and I was the only news person there, so I did the whole thing myself and loved it. The whole gang of people working there were lovely, and delighted to have me in their gang, and by the end of the first night were trying to persuade me to go to a gig with them all etc.

So, radio experience aside, it was a great lesson in how different ostensibly similar organisations can be, just as a result of the culture and people who work there.
posted by penguin pie at 10:08 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had an internship my freshman year in college at KSJN working with Tom Keith on "A Prairie Home Morning Show" back in 1973. He taught me a bunch about audio production and radio station operations. I liked it so much I went to technical school for radio and audio production that summer, then had a variety of jobs with radio stations, touring bands and dance companies, which paid my way through undergrad and continued after that. I've been volunteering at WORT in Madison WI since 1980, and still play a small part in a show I helped found, which is still on the air after 30+ years.
posted by Floydd at 10:18 AM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

After being a volunteer for several years at my campus/community radio station, I was hired to manage the talk show department (it was posted, I applied and got it). I was responsible for training volunteers and managing the talk component of the station. It was one of the best jobs I've ever had -- I loved it, worked with people from all walks of life and made great radio.

Unfortunately, it paid minimum wage and I couldn't live off that or pay off my student loans -- other, better opportunities opened up and I pursued those instead. But I still look back on those days fondly and I miss them very much.

If you love something -- go for it, work hard and eventually you'll find a way to support yourself by being creative. Or another door will open. Working at a radio station is great fun and worth pursuing.
posted by Pademelon at 11:07 AM on February 11, 2018

Blunt Youth Radio
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on February 11, 2018

I'd re-iterate all of the above. It's not unusual to get an on-air slot programming & hosting for a college station with minimal experience, if you're willing to take a late night weekday slot.

penguin pie mentioned management styles for different stations, and that reflects my experiences. One station was kinda uptight, with gate-keeping and hoop-jumping for new volunteers, but another station was fairly laid back and just handed me the controls when I first walked in. That was more fun.

Some college station DJs would go on to careers in public or commercial radio, but these individuals were highly motivated, and often in journalism courses. For the most part it doesn't really pay anything.
posted by ovvl at 4:36 PM on February 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I DJ'd at KZUU in Pullman, WA from 2010-12ish. I was unpaid, as were all the management etc since we were the hip, non-broadcast-majors station (they had their own with classes and stuff). Timeslot were based on the type of music you played, so the metalheads were after 10pm so we could play swears. I was snuggled in between indie pop and metal because EBM/aggro/goth/death rock was confusing and strange.
We had to say the call sign on the top of the hour and play at least 2 public service announcements? I think. Training was shadowing a dj the day before your timeslot to make sure you weren't a total fuckup and understood classy stuff like fadeins.
I got a free hoodie with our logo that I literally never wear but can't give away. So much fun, Monday nights from 8-10, or 9-11 or oops dude got too drunk to come in to whenever! People calling in at exactly 10pm to request the swearingest songs they knew, searching the CD racks and internet for that kick ass bumper...good times:)
posted by zinful at 3:21 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

At my college radio station, DJ's would sign up, pitch a weekly show, and then if they got approved they would run their show. Usually 1 - 2 hours per week for a full semester, plus station meetings once every 5 - 6 weeks. I heard about it because I google'd if my school had a radio station, then I went to talk to them at one of those events where the school clubs have tables and pass out flyers. I had been involved with friends' college radio stations and I LOVED it.

Our pitches were usually pretty simple. We explained what type of show (music, talk, comedy, sports, etc) and our creative ideas for the show (name, schticks, etc) and pretty much every one would get approved if they went through the application process and there was a time slot. Then the program manager programmed all the time slots.

I loved my time slots - I had evening shows (that my college-age friends listened to) and lunch time shows (that my friends with office jobs listened to). The station never had an overarching theme. You could do whatever you wanted.

We got a bunch of free stuff from local promoters (thanks to our promotions director) and got to do ticket giveaways. We built some relationships with indie labels, and sometimes musicians on tour would come through. They really nice to us and often grateful for opportunities to play a show on campus or record a set in the studio. Lots of unique personalities on the air, and a couple super niche shows with great music.

We were mostly online but trying to get a legit FM or AM station, so we started following FCC rules during my tenure. It was lame to follow rules but kind of fun to joke about how we had to follow the rules, and fun to manually censor songs with weird sound effects.

There were some middle-aged dudes who hung out at the radio station who had been doing shows for a long time. Basically they were TV show characters.

- Hella fun & special
- Met lots of great friends & musicians
- Loved going live in the booth
- Discovered tons of cool music
posted by sweetjane at 2:46 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

There were some middle-aged dudes who hung out at the radio station who had been doing shows for a long time. Basically they were TV show characters.

Ah those dudes! It was like being in a real-life live version of WKRP. They were hilarious.
posted by ovvl at 6:28 PM on February 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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