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2.1 Talking on-air

Using the Mics: Talking on the Air

Adapted from:

The Microphones are one of the simplest pieces of equipment to learn the basics of how to use but also one of the most challenging to master. In theory all you need to do to use the Mic is turn it on and talk, but the reality of learning how to properly use the microphones to produce high quality live content is more complicated.

All good DJs wear headphones when talking on air. Turning on a microphone in the on-air studio mutes the speakers, which means the only way you can hear what is happening during a talk break is to listen through your headphones. This is especially important when there is more than one person in the studio, as the person running the audio board needs to ensure each voice is talking at the same level, adjusting fader levels as necessary. 

Your headphones will need to have a 1/4” plug for the audio board. 

Most headphones are 1/8” and will require an adapter.

Before you turn on the mic…

  • Have a good idea of what you plan to say.
  • Have your headphones on and are ready in front of the audio board. 
  • Have your microphone moved into proper position. 
  • If you are using a CD or other player, make sure it is either in single mode or be prepared to fade down the channel before the next song begins. 
  • Make sure that anyone in the studio with you has been notified that you are going on air and that they need to keep quiet. Close the studio door if needed.
  • Make sure all cell phones have been silenced.
  • Have the next element cued and ready to start when you are done talking.

Listeners appreciate it when you announce the names of the songs and artists you play. List the song you played ‘backwards’ starting with the song that just finished playing. For example, “New music from The Decemberists, it’s ‘Down by the Water.’ We also heard from Rilo Kiley with ‘Silver Lining,’ Bombadil’s ‘Honeymoon’ and a request for Max Indian’s ‘Now I Know.’” There is no need to announce more than four songs at a time, as your audience may not have been listening that far back. You can also add additional information about a song or artist from the liner notes or your own personal knowledge.

Personality: It would be easy to have a computer pick and play music all day, but without the voice of the DJ, the station has no personality. Make sure that you sound like a real person on the radio but don’t confuse this with being unprofessional. Having a catch-phrase, repeating elements on your show or a planned intro to start off your show can be a great way to build your radio personality—just don’t overdo it. Don’t feel like you need to put on an act but do have fun and try to keep things entertaining.

What NOT to do:

  • Don’t move your microphone while it is on—touching the mic can make loud noises so be sure to position your mics correctly before you go live.
  • Don’t ramble—Have a plan of what you want to say and get off the mic once you have said your piece. If you are interviewing someone and they lose their train of thought, have another topic or question ready to keep things moving.
  • Don’t change how you talk or put on a ‘radio announcer voice’—speak in your normal tone and cadence as though you are talking one on one with a friend.
  • Don’t breathe too close to the mic—if you are waiting for your turn to talk, move back a bit or or turn your head away from the mic so you aren’t breathing directly onto it. If you have to cough or clear your throat, move away from the mic and cover your mouth.
  • Don’t have dead-air. It’s okay to take a brief pause to take a breath or think through what you are about to say but there should not be silence for more than a few seconds at a time. Always have music or other content or topics lined up to switch to when you’re done talking.
  • Don’t draw attention to mistakes. Start a song with the fader turned down? Didn’t have your guest’s mic on? Stumble over your words or say pronounce something wrong? Pretend it didn’t happen. Maybe the audience didn’t notice.

Ways to improve your on-air talking skills:

  • Start small. Most show formats only require you to talk during the Station ID and when making Public Service Announcements. All other talk is optional so don’t feel pressured to do more talking than you feel comfortable doing starting out. As you get more confident you can gradually work more talk breaks into your show. 
  • Practice, practice, practice! Like anything else the only way to get better is to keep doing it so you can gain experience and confidence.
  • Listen to recordings of yourself. You can use the show archive on the website ( to listen to past shows and evaluate what you did right and where you can improve. Don’t be too hard on yourself—often we are our own worst critics so try not to focus on feeling bad about your mistakes and instead use them as learning opportunities. You can also have friends listen and give you advice.
  • Listen to other DJs to learn from how they do things. Think about how you can apply those techniques and approaches to your own show—just be careful not to pick up another DJ’s bad habits along the way.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Even the most experienced announcers will occasionally mispronounce a word, stumble over a name or get tongue-tied. Learn to correct your mistake and move on without getting discouraged or distracted by it.

On-Air Guests:

Remember that all station policies regarding content and what you can and cannot say apply to any guest, co-host, caller, or interview subject you put on the air. As the DJ you will be held responsible for any rule violations that happen on your watch. Make sure guest understand ALL applicable rules and requirements before allowing them to speak on the air.

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