(Beta version)

copyright © Frog February 2005


'In an ideal world we would all get to use exactly the equipment we wanted to use all the time. It doesn't work like that. I think that one of the reasons I remain employed is I can deal with the unexpected or perhaps the unfamiliar.'Roger Lindsay, freelance concert sound engineer

Just because you're not being paid, doesn't mean you shouldn't be professional.' Student radio mission statement

'If it looks like you're working hard, you ain't working hard enough.' Gene Kelly, dancer

'They always know when you're listening.' The DJ who popularised rock and roll, Alan Freed, to his engineer when asked why he played the music so loud in the studio

'If you want to be a good DJ, learn the rules. If you want to be a successful one, start breaking them.' Frog, enthusiast and closet geek


Television - although you don’t normally see it – comes to us with the help of dozens of people. You only have to look at the credits of even a simple programme. A music-based radio programme thanks to the availability of music on vinyl, CDs, MP3s etc, can be brought to you by one slightly skilled but fully committed person – able to engage the imagination via the ears.

Unfortunately, many radio stations have found via ‘demographic research’ (giving the people what they think they want) that it is possible to return good profits with a bland or undemanding playlist and adolescent smutty links. This site, as you may have gathered, thinks there is another way.

OK. So you’re sitting (or perhaps standing – but that’s another, perhaps more urban, style) at this desk. Your mouth opening and closing like a landed fish, with no sound coming out. (Although my nightmare is running out of music …) You know the mechanics. What happens next?

I suppose the first thing to consider is – why are you here? What inspired you to want to shut yourself in a small room and talk to the wall?

Ego? Just want to have my voice on the radio? OK, there’s not much I can say. There are already too many of those.

Love of music and a desire to share it? Tricky, but better. In this case, do the preparation thoroughly. As with writing what you say should hint at the amount that you know but don’t say. It may be necessary actually to script what you say (in which case, write it as you would say it – quite a skill in itself) or at least do a guide for yourself so you don’t miss out something vital. (There’s nothing like opening the microphone to close the brain.)

Don’t try to imitate anyone else, however much you may admire them. If you’re here because (insert DJ of your choice) inspired you, then pay them the compliment of being yourself – only slightly more so. And hope to inspire someone in your turn.

You can get by with the most basic of skill. Prefade, set level, re-cue, fader up, talk, press go – is about all you need to know. After all, a computer can do all that, except talk. It’s the desire to communicate that’s so important. Listening to radio is usually a solitary act. Radio presentation is a conversation with only one half actually heard. So you have to provide both sides.


Having been taught the mechanics, you now have to learn how to be a broadcaster

As a 'self-op DJ' you do everything - as a voice you present, as a TO you drive the desk, as a producer you are responsible for choosing music and directing the course of the whole programme, and as the production assistant (PA) you file the records and do the playlist. Don't however assume that when you are doing all this you know it all. It is all under your control, so you have only yourself to blame, but you also have only yourself to answer to.

You are there so your listener does not have to turn their volume up and down all the time. You are there to play the music and for your listener to be able to trust that you know what you are doing and that, if there are any gaps, you meant them to be there. When you stop talking there is normally only a slight gap before music takes over. When the music ends all your listener cares about is that you are there and listening and know when the music is supposed to end. It is not essential to have jingle/music/advert all together tighter than a gnat’s chuff. You are not trying to impress other presenters.



You must expect to spend at least as much time preparing the programme as you spend on air. This applies even more if you are working to a playlist and have little or no say in the music you play – you will need to prepare links unless you are truly gifted. Many of the network presenters have production meetings the day before their programme to map out what they’re going to do the next day.


Structure of programme

Decide whether you want just music and speech, or music and features and competitions.

A listener can derive comfort from regular features, and having the same things at the same time can make your preparation a lot easier.

Content and style can depend on the time of day that your programme goes out. For instance during the day you may need to woo your listener but at night you can treat them as an equal. ‘Daytime for ratings; night-time for reputation.’ (Radio One)


How do you want to sound?


Cue music 4-5, cue speech 5-6 – ie music is 1-1½ units lower than your voice. This is because music is compressed (loud bits evened out) so the average volume is louder. (I’ll do a link about this in due course.) The level of voices can be driven out hard. There are limiters on the two mics in studio one.

Mic technique

The mic is very sensitive but is fitted with a gauze 'pop' guard so you can be quite close to it if you want to.

However you decide to use a microphone, whether close up (for intimacy) or further back (which sounds more dynamic), be sure to be consistent. But bear in mind that if you are too far back other noises may intrude.

Remember, if you turn your head to one side to look at something your voice will sound very much quieter. One way round this is to swivel your head round the mic whilst talking and remain facing it and the same distance away from it.

Also, remember the mic is optimised for a voice very close to it and is mainly sensitive to sound in front of it, so don't expect it to pick up clearly sounds some distance away, eg another person in the studio; if you must have a conversation, make sure the other person is on a mic of their own.

Do not touch the mic when live. The noise is irritating for your listener.

Keep back from the capacitor mics - they are very sensitive and may 'pop' if you get too close. Point them at your nose or chin.

Levels - a parable

I said volumes should be consistent. Let me quote an example of a glaring exception. ITV is funded by adverts. The advertiser wants their advert to stand out. TV companies want to keep their advertisers happy. There should be consistency of sound level from programme to advert break. To keep within the rules in for example ‘Coronation Street’, the sound of the main programme is at a certain level but when the 5-second programme fanfare is played out at the end of part 1 this is at a much higher level and this is the level of the adverts. This justifies the reserve of headroom for the rest of the programme and enables the adverts to sound much louder than the programme without technically breaching code of practice although this would be strenuously denied by the TV companies. Clever, huh.


Show changeover (during news)

Sit at the desk (in a position you can maintain for a couple of hours).

When you take over the desk you usually have two minutes to get yourself ready – this is common in nearly all radio stations, even those with the statutory two studios. It is called ‘hot-seating’. (The second studio is used for advert making, usually referred to as ‘com prod’.) One of the most important things you do is set the volume of your monitor speakers (‘control speakers’). From now on, this is your reference point – if it sounds too quiet to hear properly, it is too quiet. If you find you need to turn up the speaker volume at any time, don’t. Turn up the source.

The only reason for wearing headphones is to hear what’s happening when the mic is live and speakers are muted. Be wary of having headphones too loud. It can make you think you are being heard more clearly than you actually are. It can also be inhibiting (although some people like to have headphones high) and remember that too much volume on headphones for extended periods leads to hearing damage.

The first priority is to get your first piece of music lined up, then sort out your voice level. There is much confusion over this – probably due to me as much as anything.


Starting your show – the first 30 seconds

It is reckoned that listeners tune in for the news so your first goal is to hold on to them. So start strong. Give most thought to this part of your programme. For example:

a crisply presented, short weather (whether they should take a raincoat or an umbrella or not is all they really want to know)
your second best piece of music, with
the briefest possible intro just to establish that a new person has taken over

Keep the first couple of links pithy just to settle in.



If you are compiling an album you have your strongest tracks at the beginning, middle and end. With a programme have your strongest pieces of music at the beginning and at the end so that they’ll want to come back.

Listeners are quite likely to come and go during the programme so make sure that at least every third or fourth piece of music you play is strong.

People may tune into you cold so stand by everything you play. Beware of playing things ironically or as ‘cheese’.

You are not the victim of any music you play. You work on a radio station. If an intro, for example, is 30 seconds of very quiet sound, then gets louder, you are entitled (and in such an instance, should) start your music when it gets louder (or boost it if it’s worth it).

Be wary of spending hours on a little insert for use in your programme. Many stations don’t allow inserts. They mess up station identity and unless you are going to use your insert a lot it should not be regarded as part of your programme preparation time and of course it may make the rest of your programme sound worse.


How to address the listener

As previously mentioned, listening to radio tends to be a solitary act. So, to establish your relationship with your singular listener, remember you always should be thinking of addressing one person.

You probably think in terms of this person being a student but, with low-power FM, you must be prepared for this listener to be any member of the public. By licence we cater for a student audience but we have to be aware that non-students might be listening, including younger members of the public because we’re playing popular music. Under the terms of our licence we have to adhere to rules of decency and taste. Their standards may not be the same as yours. We are not an American ‘shock-jock’ station. And remember, there is no watershed on radio – anyone could be listening at any time - although after midnight is possibly a bit freer. (Incidentally, Radio 4 for example is regarded as an adult station and does things in the daytime other stations can’t – you should listen.)

Remember also that you are no better than your listener just because you’re on radio. Confidence not arrogance.


What sources of music can I use?

On radio you are allowed to play normal commercial records – vinyl and CDs – but not domestic video and DVD soundtracks.

All music is copyright - someone owns the right to it and is entitled to payment if it is played on the radio. At present we don’t log music used in adverts and promos although this is subject to the normal copyright terms. In addition you are not automatically allowed to use music on adverts without permission of the publisher. There are special CDs available with music that can be used, eg Carlin etc.

MP3s – to be confirmed. I have a feeling we may not be allowed to use them.


Adverts – the rules

IBA rules state that advertisements must be separated from the programme around them. You can do this by voice or by jingle. One of the neatest ways is: after a link give a station 'ident' and time check, play the ads, play a station ident, go into music. Never go straight from record to ad, or vice versa. It is permissible to have the presenter read an ad live on air so long as it is obviously part of an ad break, separated as above, but preferably with a jingle either side.



A bed is a piece of nondescript music played underneath speech to indicate that the speech is still part of a music-based programme. The crucial ingredient is the end of the music that wraps up the bed. The only feature on Xpression at present that has the correct ingredients of a working bed is ‘The Pulse’.

A bed doesn’t make any speech any more interesting. There is a terrible tendence to use a bed to cover up weak links. A bed doesn’t make a link any more interesting.


Zoo (can I have my friend/s in with me?)

Beware of having two (or more) presenters. If they’re not actually mates of the listener it can be alienating not including.

You need to be experienced to do it but you don’t gain experience from doing it.



At the end of your programme, it isn’t the end of transmissions so it is not necessary to do a big ‘goodbye’. Just say that after you is someone else.

Backtiming to news

To make your programme sound polished and structured it is best to get into the news without fading the music early. This is not too complex if you give the last 10 minutes or so of your programme a little thought. Know the exact duration of the two pieces of music you intend finishing with. Add the these two times together, add ten seconds for the news jingle and subtract this from 60 minutes. This will give you the latest time at which you must start the penultimate piece of music. No one will notice if you fade a tune early if it’s two from the end. You can then ensure the last two tracks fit in properly. If you suddenly think, Oh news in 1 minute, and fade a track early everybody knows you cocked up. If your final piece of music has a hard ending and is backtimed hard to the news intro it can sound most impressive. If finishing with a track that fades, then outro (speak) over the fade.