Part-Time Radio Guy

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“You might not ever get rich / But lemme tell ya it’s better than diggin’ a ditch”

The position of part-time radio jock is not a prestigious one. You work weekend shifts and holidays that are by definition not as important as the weekdays, and you usually do it for very little money.

I got my first part-time radio job when I was 19. Training then was a lot like training now: you watch another, more experienced jock while they explain what they’re doing, and you ask questions. After a few sessions, the roles change: you do the job while the more experienced person watches. After a few sessions of this, you’re left on your own. This kind of training is almost never enough, though. Sooner or later, something will happen that you will have to figure out on the fly. This happened to me on my first job and on my current one. It’s nobody’s fault. A veteran jock figures it out; a green young dipshit figures it out after a little longer.

How part-time jocks are treated depends on the culture of the company. We’re treated very well at the place I work now, but that hasn’t always been my experience. At a different company, when the Christmas party invitation was posted on the bulletin board, it explicitly invited “all staffers working more than 15 hours per week.” (I think it was probably my idea to post an announcement for an alternate Christmas party from which those working more than 15 hours a week were explicitly excluded.) After somebody dumped a cup of coffee into a control board, jocks were forbidden to bring beverages into the studio. I dutifully complied with this regulation until I discovered that my station’s morning guys were exempt from it. I decided that I wasn’t going to be treated any differently than they were, and it wasn’t long before the rule was rescinded.

That’s me, the Rosa Parks of part-time jocks.

When I was a program director and had part-time jocks to hire and train, I tried to remember what it had been like to be in their shoes. I thought about what they needed to know, but also what they would want to know. My goal was that they be well-prepared to handle the inevitable weirdness that goes with the job. My record was hit-and-miss, which is mostly on me as a manager, although in a business where a degree of natural talent is necessary above and beyond the skills training can nurture, the successes and/or failures of these people weren’t entirely on me.

Some of my part-timers aspired to full-time careers in radio; some of them simply thought working in radio would be more fun than clerking in a hardware store or making pizzas. The ones that stick in my memory tend to be the ones who fked up in some spectacular way (the guy we fired after we discovered he was selling station CDs to the local used record store, and whose resume, we later learned, was largely fictitious; the college student/automation-tender who kept all the monitors turned down because the music interfered with the studying he wanted to do), but I had some good ones, too: people I could stick into any shift and get a reasonably decent performance; people I could depend on to understand their jobs on a relatively deep level so they could diagnose and handle the inevitable weirdness on their own; people who were simply fun to be around and always willing to pitch in and do more: Allison, Kurt, Dave, I salute you, wherever you are, all these years later.

I got back into full-time radio for a while a few years ago, but being a part-timer better suits the geezer I have become. What it lacks in prestige (and occasionally in appreciation, and every so rarely in respect, and usually in money, because this is radio we’re talking about) is made up for by the fact that I get to do it because I want to, and not because I have to.

4 responses

  1. Part-time radio these days is non existent, unless you’re a board op for a live sporting event, but computers can be programmed to do that too.

    I was lucky, I had a full-time job a couple months out of high school. 2 years later, at a different station in another market, I drove an hour each way just to work an 8 hour shift once a week on a 250 w AM. 4 hours as a jock, 4 hours as a board op for AT40.

    1. There aren’t as many part-time gigs as there used to be, but they’re still out there. At least three stations in my building have ’em, but our company is still a believer in live radio.

  2. Not sure where you are, John Gallagher, but in Wisconsin there are plenty of part-time jobs in radio. If you look at our state broadcasters association job board, you’ll find a lot of them. The stations want jocks, etc. with experience, who don’t need health insurance from the broadcasting company.

  3. Timothy,
    I’m in Erie, PA. 20 years ago, plenty of live part-timers. Now, hardly any.

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