No College Degree Required

The other day when I went to my mailbox, I noticed a rather large piece of “junk mail” from a local HVAC company.

It said:

We’re Hiring!

Start a Rewarding Career with [business name]

Attention: High School Grads

HVAC is a Great Career Option! No Student Debt!

Great pay, hours and benefits!

Which got me to thinking about all the radio help wanted ads saying you need to have a college degree to apply. Why does the radio industry list having a college degree as a requirement, when the truth is, great radio broadcasters haven’t had one, nor did they need one.

Cost of a College Degree in 2022

According to Educational Data, when you consider student loan interest and loss of income, the cost of a four-year college degree can exceed $400,000.

It’s not unusual for a college grad to learn the starting pay in radio is often as low as $19,500/year ($9.36/hour) for on-air positions and sales positions are 100% commission based.

Start a job with Walmart with no college degree and you’ll make $12/hour. Get that same job at Target and you’ll start at $15/hour. At McDonalds the starting pay range at company owned stores is between $11 and $17/hour.

Virtually every job in today’s world will pay you more than most radio positions, and yet radio ads always require you to have a college degree while those other companies don’t.

Radio Talent Institute

I worked with Dan Vallie and his Radio Talent Institute at Western Kentucky University. It’s an excellent program, now operated by the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB). Sadly, it’s offered as a summer program to students in colleges across America. I contend that the RAB should be offering this program in the high schools.

For all of the same reasons, one of my local HVAC companies is appealing to high school grads, this also makes sense for the radio industry.

Famous Broadcasters

Oprah Winfrey didn’t need to have a college degree to become one of the most successful women in broadcasting. She dropped out of college after only one semester to pursue a career in broadcasting.

In 2015, Forbes published the salaries of the top five radio broadcasters in America.

Glenn Beck earned $16.5 Million in 2015. Not bad for a Sehome High School graduate with no college experience.

Sean Hannity earned $29 Million and never obtained a college degree, even though he attended four different colleges.

Ryan Seacrest earned $65 Million. Like me, Ryan started his radio career at 16 while still in high school. Unlike me, who went to college and graduate school earning two degrees, Ryan dropped out of college to devote all of his energies to broadcasting. Needless to say, he’s really famous and I write this blog.

Rush Limbaugh earned $77 Million and dropped out of college after only two semesters. His mother said at the time that Rush “flunked everything…he just didn’t seem interested in anything except radio.”

The top earning radio personality was Howard Stern. Howard IS a college graduate, with a 3.8 Grade Point Average (GPA) from Boston University, earning $95 Million in 2015.

Now, if I was trying to sell you on the value of a college degree in broadcasting and compared Howard Stern to the other four on Forbes 2015 list, I would say that having a college degree can earn you 23% to 76% more money than not having that piece of paper.

College Degrees

Please don’t think I’m dissing the college experience, I’m not. What I am taking issue with is the hiring practices of the radio industry that make having a college degree a requirement. Radio is better positioned as a trade, one best learned by doing.

The radio industry should be presenting a broadcast career as an opportunity for students graduating from high school.

I treasure my four decade radio broadcasting career, but having my Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science college degrees never played a role.

It wasn’t until I pursued my second career in life, that of a college broadcast professor, that I would need those two pieces of paper to be hired at The School of Broadcasting and Journalism at Western Kentucky University.

Colleges sell pieces of paper representing knowledge learned. You can’t be part of the faculty unless you have also earned these benchmarks in higher education.

Finally, just as adamant as I am about the radio industry starting its outreach at the high school level, I am just as determined to see colleges hiring broadcast professionals based on their broadcast careers, knowledge that has been earned through years of on-the-job experience that no college curriculum can duplicate. Sadly, most colleges screen out any applicant that doesn’t have the required terminal degrees.

“Difficulties come into our lives to develop us.

Every storm is a school.

Every trial is a teacher.

Every experience is an education.”

— Nicky Gumbel.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

20 responses to “No College Degree Required

  1. Chuck Ingersoll

    Which careers cannot be digitized? We know radio has been, journalism too. Plumbers. HVAC techs. Cops. Electricians. There are careers, many not needing college, that are (at least for the foreseeable future) future-proofed and unlikely to become obsolete. Toll taker used to be a good state job, but not so more. Foresight can be a helpful thing in the long run.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Other than a resume credit that maybe got me in the door, I don’t really think my college degree played a part in my 44 years in NY Radio. Of course, my time at the college radio station did a very good job preparing me with many skills I used in my daily radio life. One could also argue that the classes I took, and the people I interacted with on the way to my BA in Music made me a more rounded person. Back in the early 70s when I graduated from college, there were no such things as Internships, but I would argue that my son learned more about the real world in his 2 internships at Fox News than he did getting his degree from the Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. So, I think in our case at least, the degree might not have been a necessary, but I’d argue that the general college experience was a factor in our future life. I’ve often thought that Broadcasting would be better served by some kind of a industry sponsored apprentice program, where candidates learned their craft with real world experience rather than being “taught” in a classroom setting by someone with a PhD in Broadcasting, but no real world experience! It’s time to reevaluate the weight employers place on a college degree when the only requirement is that piece of paper, whatever the school or the degree IMHO.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great thoughts here (as usual). My real life experience in broadcasting started at age 11 with a visit to a local station. Luckily we lived within 4 radio station transmitter sites (2 with studios right there). I spent weekends sitting in the control room watching, asking questions, trying to figure out how it all worked. Fast forward to a non-radio “MOS” in The Army. We spent 16 weeks “learning” and then the next 12 months (in a war zone) “doing”. What we “did” was rarely covered in the “learning”. On the job training is seemingly the best way to learn any craft, and while the basics can be taught in a classroom, the essentials and the chance to blaze your own trails can only be learned in the heat of the battle. My radio career has taken me through more than 55 years of actual “doing” and I wouldn’t change one step taken. I believe Howard’s success comes from his ability to communicate, more than the way he operates the board or watches his levels. You can’t learn to he Howard in a classroom. Some people thrive in the classroom setting, but it’s what happens when the bullets are flying that really makes a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Walter Luffman

    Should radio stations require a college degree for employment (on-air or in sales)? No, i don’t think a degree is necessary.

    But many of the things learned in the course of obtaining a college education are valuable, and some of them are useful in broadcasting. I think for any young person who is seriously considering a career in broadcasting, the best route would be to work toward a degree in something job-related (history, political science or criminal justice for news wannabes, marketing for sales aspirants, etc.) while adding courses in journalism, creative writing and other useful electives. And, of course, either work at the campus radio station (if there is one) or get a weekend gig or internship at a local commercial station. If the college or university offers a “serious” course in music appreciation, take that too.

    I’d also recommend a couple of psychology courses. 🙂


    • Walter, that sounds like a good idea, until you realize how poorly radio pays, plus the lack of job security it offers today.

      According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for the 1970-71 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees for one year at a public non-profit university was $394.
      Today, expect that same education to cost over $10,000.

      So, minimum wage has gone up since 1970 400% and college tuition has gone up 2,438%. See the problem?


  5. Pingback: Want To Succeed In Radio? Get That Degree.

  6. Excellent article! You’re right — to get started in radio you need skills more than a degree. When I started in radio I had finished my college degree and it helped considerably to move to other careers after radio, but a degree is not necessary to start in radio. However, I’d disagree only on one point. The cost of a college degree does not have to be so high. It’s much more cost efficient to start at a local community college and transfer to an in-state university, if possible within driving distance of home. Too many people have been duped into thinking you have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a college education and end up with a lifetime of debt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Ms. Kelly (I hope I got that right)

      We are in complete agreement about controlling the costs of higher education. I also agree that community college is the best place to start a degree program, as well as seek out state schools for completing a four year degree. I lived at home and commuted for both my bachelors and masters degrees.

      The costs I cited were based on national averages for four year, instate tuition comparing 1970 (the year I started college) and 2022.

      It’s amazing how much less a college education costs at an institution without a football team.

      I’m grateful for you taking the time to read my thoughts and for sharing yours.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dikelly22

        “Diana” is fine! I also lived at home while going to community college and CSU. Later, while working full-time, I earned my Ph.D. at a private university within commuting distance, but paid full tuition each semester – no student loans, no debt!
        I also taught radio broadcasting at Fullerton College for 13 years (after working on the air for several years). We always encouraged our radio students to start working weekends in radio while they were still in college. Many of our students drove from Orange County, California out to Palm Springs or Blythe or Atascadero just to have a chance to be on the air. That’s the best way to combine a college education with practical experience in broadcasting!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I totally agree with everything you wrote.

        Thank You again, Diana.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Steve Kindred

    Unless you’re one of the few lucky ones, a job in most of local radio will keep you out of the middle class. Salaries for board ops and other off-air people are brutally low. One local talk show host I won’t name makes his board op part of his program by making light of the fact that he works two other jobs to get by. SagAftra keeps allowing lower benefits. That’s a disincentive for the best and brightest to stay in the business.


  8. Arnold Podair

    At most of the stations I worked I was the only college graduate.The degree did help me become a Program Director at only my second job in radio.The firms I worked for saw me as a smart person who could really help them.However,talent not a degree is the most important thing in the radio business.Get a degree in case your radio plan does not work out..

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Charles Geer

    Truth is, I learned more in my first year of real-world broadcasting experience than I did in two years of junior college and college combined (not to mention a crash course in getting a first phone at the old Bryan Institute).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the very reason students are always encouraged, if not required, to do internships in broadcast facilities. It’s that hands on experience in a real-world broadcasting environment that causes real growth to occur.

      The future, I believe, is “just-in-time-education,” where people go back to learn valuable knowledge and skills that they need to continue growing beyond their current area of the business.

      Thank You Charles for sharing your perspective.


  10. Pingback: What Comes First? Radio Job or College Degree? | DickTaylorBlog

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