Five Things I’ve Learned Doing a College Radio Show

By Dave Sarkies

I was recently offered the chance to host a show on a local college radio station. As an avid music listener and college radio fan, I was excited for the opportunity; doing my own radio show is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Having worked in radio previously (albeit some time ago), I had some familiarity with how things were done, and radio’s rules of the road, as it were. But it’s been a while, and a lot has changed.

In the short time I’ve been doing my show, learning new things has been essential. In the process, I’ve learned a little about my work habits as well. From that experience, I’ve compiled a list of five lessons that might be useful to others interested in doing a college radio show. Your experience may be different, but these points apply universally.

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The main studio at Lakeland’s Lake Effect Radio Station

1 – Expect a learning curve

When I started my show, I figured my experience in radio would be a plus. On some level, it has been. But the station where I’m doing my show is an internet station. I’m showing my age here but, when I was last on the air, internet broadcasting was fledgling technology. This was something new to learn.

While a learning curve is expected when working with new tech, this is particularly true when you’re live streaming from home. It’s really a whole different animal. There’s no studio – the studio is whatever space you use for production and broadcast – no audio console, not necessarily even a microphone, other than a computer’s built-in mic. It’s pretty much just software.

After a couple crash courses via Zoom with the station manager, I felt confident enough – sort of – to give things a whirl and produce my first show.

If you aren’t streaming, your situation may be different. But suffice it to say, whether it’s in the studio or at your home computer, expect a learning curve. The ins and outs of the tools of the trade may take some time to learn.

2 – Don’t expect a perfect broadcast every time (and plan for problems)

Along the lines of that last point, whether adjusting to technology, honing on-air skills, or a case of the jitters, it’s perfectly normal to experience some issues when you’re new to broadcasting. Don’t sweat it. It happens to inexperienced and veteran broadcasters alike. The key is how you respond. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Having said that, it’s a good idea to plan for when these broadcast-bumps-in-the-road occur. For example, one night my show wrapped up and the station manager was briefly unavailable to switch back to the studio. So, I prepared a few extra songs and stayed on the air, avoiding the cardinal sin of broadcast radio – dead air.

Mistakes will happen. Hey, it’s college radio – it’s almost expected! Take advantage of that and have fun. But learn from the mistakes and plan for things occasionally go awry.

3 – Expect a time commitment

Parts of my show are pre-recorded each week. It’s helpful to have that option, but the drawback is the time commitment. Good time management skills will come in handy.

It can take a good amount of time to jot down show notes, record myself, and do any necessary editing of audio files. Depending on your content – and the setup you’re working with (live streaming vs. in the studio) – you may not have some of these concerns. Keep in mind though that doing a live show still requires preparation. Planning your content can take time. Plan accordingly so it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Whether you’re pre-recording or doing it live, your show will likely have its own unique aspects that require a commitment of time.

4 – Have fun!

If you’re like me, you’re excited about your show each week. Apply that enthusiasm to the show’s production so your listeners also come away with an appreciation of the content being presented. Make it clear it’s something you enjoy.

As an example, I tend to feature music of specific genres and eras on my show, often revolving around a particular theme. Researching the songs and artists on my playlists can be fun. I often mention the enjoyment I get out of these tasks on the show – as well as interesting trivia – as they demonstrate my love of music.

I suggest you do the same. Whatever it is that makes you want to do your show – that gets you excited about the content – express that to your audience. They’ll feel your excitement and appreciate the effort you put into producing a quality program.

5 – Reap the rewards!

Admittedly, it’s nice to receive positive responses from listeners. It’s encouraging to know they’re interested in what you’re producing. On my show, the mix of music can sometimes be a bit eclectic, but when listeners respond that they enjoyed the show and they can tell I enjoy what I’m doing, it’s a nice endorsement.

If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll experience the same. It’s motivation to continue and improve – particularly when you’ve done a show that maybe didn’t go so well. Because it will happen. But don’t fret. If the enthusiasm is there, the audience will follow, and so will the rewards – personal satisfaction and an appreciative audience.

If you’re interested in doing a show on your college radio station, go for it! Give it the old college try (it is college radio, after all). Learn from your mistakes, gain from the experience, and reap the rewards. The experience will be invaluable!

The author – Dave Sarkies

PS: For those interested, tune in to Lake Effect Radio at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio, every Friday night from 9-11 ET. Listen here!