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What is a Disc Jockey?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 23, 2024
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Most DJs, or disc jockeys, are radio announcers who broadcast music. A DJ has a variety of duties, both on-air and off, including talking about the music being played, making promotional appearances, talking to guests and listeners on-air, and reading commercials. They may also be referred to as radio or on-air personalities.

DJs read prepared scripts and commercials, and also chat with listeners. They often take listener requests, interview guests, and announce musical selections. As a part of their duties, some comment on the weather, traffic, or other topics, and may make public service announcements. Other tasks often performed by DJs include coordinating listener contests, making promotional appearances on behalf of the radio station, and broadcasting at a remote location. Most do not select the music that is played on the radio, because that function is now computerized and is usually determined by station management.

A radio disc jockey is usually hired based on a pleasant voice, musical knowledge, and prior experience. Organization is a skill critical to the position. Many DJs work their way up the ladder into larger markets by starting at a college radio station or as an intern at a radio station. The position requires the ability to use technical equipment and to speak comfortably and casually. One goal that most have is to build a loyal group of listeners that tune in regularly because they like the DJ's style.

A disc jockey can also work in a nightclub. Club DJs, of course, work night hours, and they are responsible for maintaining the mood of a club by mixing music, sound effects, and special effects. Because the goal is to keep people dancing, this person should be familiar with many music styles that appeal to a variety of people.

Many DJs work part-time hours and might initially work for free to establish a following. Those who work on the radio create tapes of their shows and use them, similar to a how other jobseekers would use a resume, when looking for a new position. Pay at small stations is relatively low, and as a career, competition for jobs is intense and shifts can be long. Most DJs cite isolation as the biggest career drawback.

Other disc jockeys work for entertainment companies and staff private parties or events. Some decide to start a mobile or special event DJ business, although it can be an expensive proposition. The basic required equipment includes an amplifier, a speaker, a mixer, and an audio source.

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Discussion Comments

By Saraq90 — On Sep 30, 2011

When I was a Freshman in college I took a journalism class, and we got the opportunity to go down to a local radio station and hang out with the disc jockey and even had like a minute each to be a disc jockey! That was a fun and scary experience!

I give disc jockey’s a lot of credit for being able to put up with so many people, especially drunk and mean people, and still normally have a good attitude. I have heard that many disc jockey’s work late hours and it is a lot less glamorous than most people think. Unless they become a well-known disc jockey they do not get much credit for what they do.

It seems like it would be difficult to be a disc jockey, because you end up talking to yourself and hearing the same songs over and over. Not to mention, they have repeat themselves most of the day and/or night. That seems like that would be annoying. But at least they have a chance to meet some nice, sometimes famous people!

By Tomislav — On Sep 29, 2011

I think that there is at least some natural ability needed to be a disk jockey. There are some disc jockey's that I have heard at clubs and on the radio who are phenomenal, and others, not so much.

I remember going to dances in high school and there would be a disc jockey to play the songs there. I thought they did a good job back then, but that was probably because it was a social gathering, so I wasn't really paying close attention to the songs.

Recently I went to a nightclub and I thought the disc jockey was okay, nothing extraordinary. That could have been because I got there the last hour of the night and because I do not like recent popular dance songs much.

I like most of the disc jockey's I have heard on my favorite radio stations. If they have a good on-air personality, I enjoy listening to their conversations. I remember when I was younger I used to love hearing people call in the radio stations and talk to the disc jockey's.

By jmc88 — On Sep 29, 2011

If you wanted to be a disc jockey, is there any special college major you can take that will help you out in the long run? I was wondering if there are majors like mass media or something. What are the majors of the students who are on the air for college radio stations?

Can you still get a job as a DJ if you don't have a special degree or experience? This seems like one of those careers that some people are just naturally gifted at. I think if I was running a radio station, I'd try to give a lot of different types of people a chance.

By titans62 — On Sep 28, 2011

I really like listening to some of the DJs on college radio stations. I've lived quite a few places with college stations, and the college radio shows are always interesting.

When I was a student, they would always talk about different things on campus and get a lot of different opinions about some of the more controversial things going on.

As far as music went, it can be hit or miss. Usually the disc jockey gets to pick what they want to play, and each person has their own likes. One hour you might be hearing smooth jazz and the next is heavy metal. Even if you don't always like the music, it's fun listening to them and feeling embarrassed for them if they get flustered on the air.

By Emilski — On Sep 27, 2011

I think working for parties would be nice, but what I would really like to do if I were a disc jockey is be one of the people that works for a sports team playing music during the game.

I was reading something in Sports Illustrated about it, and there is actually a lot involved with it. They have to keep up to date on the popular music and what people like. The DJs also have to be able to mix different songs. There is even a whole industry devoted to figuring out which songs get people more excited about a game or what songs are best in what situations.

By cardsfan27 — On Sep 26, 2011

I always thought it would be a lot of fun to be a disc jockey. If I was doing it, though, I don't know if I would want to be a DJ at a radio station. I don't like the fact that you wouldn't get to pick your own music, plus now I don't like a lot of the music that gets played on the radio anyway.

I think if I was doing it, I would try to start my own business like being a disc jockey for weddings or other events. That way you get to pick your own music and interact with the people that are at the event or party. It probably wouldn't be the most secure job, but it would be a nice side venture.

By Moldova — On Sep 26, 2011

@Icecream17 - I remember when I grew up in the New York City area one of the top disc jockeys in town was John “Jellybean” Benetiz. He was a club DJ that was also a DJ on a radio station that at the time was called 92WKTU.

It has since changed names. Anyway this guy was also a DJ at the famed Studio 54 in New York City, and later mixed tapes and collaborated with artists like Madonna. He mixed a song called, “Sidewalk Talk” that was great.

He also created another song called, “The Mexican” which if that didn’t get you dancing nothing would. I think that some people just have a natural knack for this sort of business.

By icecream17 — On Sep 25, 2011

My nephew was a disc jockey, and he owned a small disc jockey service. His disc jockey equipment was about $10,000 and he did a number of parties and weddings. He also performed at many night clubs and earned a good amount of money for part time work.

He also mixed tapes which he sold as well. It was a nice business that really seemed to be a lot of fun for him, but he gave it up after he graduated from college. It is really a shame because he had a nice following and he was already performing at some of the top clubs in South Beach. He made an average of $100 to $150 per hour on the weekends.

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