Think Being a Radio DJ is Easy? Think Again.

“You’re on the radio? People tell me I should be, too, because I’m a good talker.”

Oh, really? You think that’s all it takes to be a radio announcer? Hah!

When I coach people on the finer points of being a DJ, I offer this analogy: Imagine you’re in a football stadium. There are 80,000 people in the stands and another 40,000 sitting on the field. At centre field is a microphone hooked up to the stadium’s PA system. You’re then told to go out there and speak to the crowd.

What are you going to do? Walk out there and wing it? Or prepare something in advance?

Talking on the radio is exactly the same thing except that you can’t see the people. Sure you could try to improvise, but the chances of failing are exponentially greater.

This brings me to a recent article in the Guardian entitled “DJ Patter is Hard.” Yes. Yes, it is.

When Jerry Wexler first coined the words “rhythm and blues” back in 1949, his intention was to elevate the genre above the pejorative term “race music” and also to citify a form of music which seemed to have rural, not to say agricultural, roots. Older readers may recall that the perfume favoured by Alvin Robinson’s Down Home Girl, which was covered by the Rolling Stones when they too called themselves a rhythm and blues group, smelled like turnip greens. By the time the genre has been bent this way and that and we arrive at Will Young’s Essential 90s R&B (Thursday, 10pm, Radio 2), it’s more penthouse than hen house. Here we are in the world of Mark Morrison, Coolio and Mariah Carey. It’s shagpile music, which sounds above all expensive. Young is a genial host. We must hope that, as he gets more confident, his patter will grow more personal and we’ll feel he’s playing the records rather than reading their names off a sheet.

Oddly enough, musicians aren’t really sure that what they have to say between records is valid, which is why they so often reel off discographical information. They’re at great pains to say that this is only their own personal opinion, as if we didn’t know that.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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