What Comes First? Radio Job or College Degree?

The reason I write my blog is to stimulate discussion about what radio needs to be doing to not just survive, but thrive in the 21st Century. If things weren’t hot enough after I published last week’s blog article, “No College Degree Required,” they got even hotter after Fred Jacobs expanded on my thoughts in his Monday blog article titled: “Want To Succeed In Radio? Get That Degree.” Let’s hope all the discussion that occurred on both of our blogs and on social media leads our industry’s leaders to make some meaningful changes.

How I Got Into Professional Radio

Just about everyone my age (69) who got into the radio business, did so while still in high school. For me, the entrance door was via Junior Achievement. JA was just beginning to experiment with the idea of having service companies. The Junior Achievement program was created to help high school students understand the principles of running a business by selling stock ($1), forming a company, deciding on what product to make, making that product, selling that product and then liquidating the company and returning (hopefully) a monetary value greater than the $1 invested by the stockholders; all during a single school year.

One of the local radio stations in my town, came to my 10th grade high school assembly and made a presentation about forming a JA Radio Company. I set my sights on being in it, and made the cut. One of my best friends also made the cut and has retired from a very successful radio and voice-over career of 50 years.

My College Years

I was the GM of my college’s carrier current AM radio station and worked to secure an educational FM license before graduating. WJJW remains on the air to this day at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

I was a commuter student with no student loans, but back in 1970, such a thing was more the norm than the exception. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1970-71 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees for one year at a public non-profit university was $394. By the 2020-21 academic year, that amount jumped to $10,560, an increase of 2,580%.

How Other Industries Treat College & Their Best Employees

In other industries, it’s not uncommon for companies to actually pay for their best employees to earn their college degrees in order to further their advancement. I know a person that learned his computer skills in the military and works for a military contractor in DC. He’s been working with the highest level of military leaders at the Pentagon as well as with members of Congress. After 17 years of constant achievement, his company is paying for him to complete his college degree. He currently maintains a 4.0 GPA.

His degree, ironically, won’t even be in the area that he works in, but in an area that gives him passion outside of his job.


The point of my article wasn’t to dis getting a college education, but for our radio industry to begin recruitment and training at the high school level. Radio needs to be a way for talented individuals to be exposed to what a wonderful business radio is, and have a way to enter without being screened out by a computer algorithm looking for a college degree. (You can’t see talent on a spreadsheet.)

Clear Channel used to run a wonderful training program called Clear Channel University. It succumbed to one of the many rounds of budget cuts.

The RAB’s Radio Talent Institute is an excellent program and my point was it should be run in the high schools across America.

Companies interested in retaining and growing their best employees should be making higher education opportunities a company benefit, what I like to call “just-in-time-learning.”

When the NAB offered a Sales Management Program through the Wharton School, I paid my own way and went. I already had an undergraduate degree from a four year college and a master’s degree from a university, but I never had the specific training that this program offered for the job I had been promoted into.

The owner of the radio stations I worked for at the time, provided a lot of training for its people. We attended the annual Managing Sales Conference hosted by the RAB. I earned my CRMC, Diamond CRMC and CDMC from the Radio Advertising Bureau.

I always told my college students that their degree wasn’t the end of their learning, but the launchpad to a life of learning. Every year of your life, learn something new, experience something new, grow your knowledge in life.

Think about what you can add to your resume that will make you a more valuable person to your company, your family and yourself.

Not Every Job Is For Every Person, Regardless of Their College Degrees

A comment made by Tom Langmyer said it best; that at the core, it all comes down to the person. Having a PhD doesn’t equal a great air personality or salesperson.

The hardest part is expecting the same result when sending 10 people to university for Broadcasting/Media. So much is about the person.

Success on the content and sales side relies so much more upon the candidate’s personality, makeup, drive, ambition, chemistry, life experiences, ability to engage and activate people, etc.

Those are attributes which additional education can enhance, but if one does’t have those natural abilities, anything including a PhD in broadcast media, is worthless.

-Tom Langmyer

My success as a GM in hiring was to first hire for attitude and then train the person for the job that needs to be done.

When the raw talent at affordable prices is sitting in high school classrooms today, why is the radio industry waiting till college to begin recruiting?


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

16 responses to “What Comes First? Radio Job or College Degree?

  1. Dick, what a great story about education and getting into and succeeding in radio As you mentioned, many of us got our first job while in high school – I was a junior and worked part time through 4yr of college (250w FM\FM in the 70th market). Any education helps you become an interesting person. And even pursuing a dense engineering curriculum, any room for a variety of electives prepare you better for almost any job, from sales to a radio personality.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I still question the whole idea of a “radio industry” where people move to Fargo to play the hits on the all-night show, then move to Green Bay and Milwaukee to play the hits. Even the idea of recruiting high schoolers to be DJs or sports talk hosts is a sis-service. Radio companies large and small are starting their own digital agencies. Companies might be looking for the teen who has built a huge following on TikTok more than someone to voicetrack the hits. Our opinion collective for radio seems to be old white guys who remember radio in the 60s and 70s. Where are the younger folks in radio talking?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a different road for different people, Dick. Proof positive is Tom Langmyer. While at WGR in Buffalo, our news director Don Dussias recommended a voice he’d heard on one of the suburban stations. I met with a very enthusiastic, extremely inquisitive young Mr. Langmyer and hired him immediately based on his attitude and the enthusiasm he had for the industry. He’s proved over the years that -along with his college education-the best teacher is experience. He’s been kind enough (as you are) to share his experiences with others and inspire. Radio is filled with people from various backgrounds and whether you get your foot in the door as a high school junior (like me) or a degree carrying scholar, the wisdom you share can be invaluable. Radio needs more like you and Tom -those whose practical experience is filled with common sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We all travel different paths, that’s so very true Dave.

      I’ve never met Tom Langmyer, but respect all that I’ve read he has done and is still doing in the radio broadcast business.

      Thanks for weighing in with your perspective.


  4. Eric Pedersen

    I just turned 67 and I, also, had my first direct exposure to radio in Junior Achievement. Later I got my college degree and went on to a career as a DJ, commercial talent and an award winning sportscaster. I still maintain a one to two day a week part time commitment to that area, but primarily I produce informercials for independent financial planners – one of which is going national in scope and debuts next Sunday on WLS, Chicago. It is an honor to have something I am involved placed on such a legacy station. Unfortunately the radio business has gone completely to the bottom line and doesn’t seem to be interested in developing talent, so the passion lies in small town communications and stations and online niche areas, especially for sports. I don’t see any improvement coming to our industry any time soon, especially as the same investment banks are involved in the finances of all the major consolidators. Thank you for your always interesting comments, Mr. Taylor, and best to you and yours this Father’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You for all that you shared Eric.

      JA was a great way to get our start in radio.

      Congratulations on your latest venture, doing an infomercial that will air on the Big 89.

      I have deep concerns about the radio industry and how the major players so undervalue the need for developing future talent.

      I appreciate your kind words about my blog and hope you will contribute to future blogs in the comments section.


  5. Bill Sepmeier

    Another old white guy here, who started learning electronics at age 8, worked in a TV repair shop the summer I was 10, took a sixth grade field trip to the local radio station at 12 and knew – absolutely knew – I’d found my future. M
    3rd Class Radio at 14, and part time work till I was 16, when I dropped out of school, took the GED, studied for six months, drove myself to Miami and passed the first class exam. Came back and went to work full time as an announcer and the “chief engineer” of a 1kw 1340 class D – the same one I’d fallen in love with radio on a field trip three years before. College? I’d moved away from home, worked at a 5kw DA and class B FM, been transferred to another market to engineer and announce at z a a 10kw DA and class A combo and spent another year doing afternoon drive on yet another 5kw DA – and then, finally decided to go to college. While working at a local class D AM, of course. As a salesman and announcer. C Transferred to the state U two years later, worked full time as a TV MCR op/engineer and accumulated 5 contract radio engineering jobs.

    Can you do that now? No. WOULD anyone? I don’t know.

    I majored in physics, psych and statistics – not engineering – I was and remain self taught there – but college was cheap, fun, and in the ROI world I entered later, useless. But – cheap. It’s not, now.

    Over the years I trained all my staff – some had degrees, most were unrelated to satellite work, though I had one BSEE who could engineer like a rock star when we needed a custom designs set to board and real world … my ops manager was a former SEAL with no engineering background but nearly upernatural people and organizational talent – he runs NPR transmission now.

    Radio is simplex. It broadcasts. There’s no interaction that todays audience expects. If it’s going to draw a crowd, it’s going to do it with outrageous good audio content … I’ve proposed Live high school radio drama programming, in partnership with schools, which was done here during covid and pulled big numbers. Audio anime genre z asqw series’ might be fun, especially the dubs that make no sense but are hilarious!

    Theatre of the Mind is still a valid human capability – storytelling is the foundation of learning. Local live music – my son’s bluegrass jam jazz band streamed a show Friday and had 4,000 viewers plus a packed club.
    I say get the kids in young. Take risks. It’s suooosed to be fun, dammit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Bill for all you shared.

      The world we grew up is now a different place. Only people like us still speak the language, but we don’t live there anymore.

      The future media world belongs to the next generations.


  6. Really enjoyed this story. It’s so true and we’ve been talking about this since voicetracking began. Where will the next generation of radio broadcasters come from? I was always the designated person newbies would train with I loved that aspect of my job and many went on to far surpass the teacher. I like the idea of hiring in H.S. I attended school year round for 2 years to graduate early and head down to Knoxville for my first radio job at 16. I think your idea is a win/win for so many reasons

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gene Vallee

    Great Blog my friend, and you’ve gotten some real excellent input from the readers as well. Keep up your great works my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for thoughtful questions and to your readers for thoughtful answers. My background: 40 years in classical radio – 20 full-time in morning drive. Classical is a different animal. You must speak well without being stuffy or affected. We are trying to attract new audiences, too.

    You use the foreign languages you studied in high school. You must announce titles, performers,and composers, all frequently in foreign languages, as easily as you would say “Frank Sinatra.” Breaks must be kept short while working in all the elements. Economy of phrasing – meaning, shaving seconds to keep the break short – is a constant.

    On the rare occasions when I meet DJs from other stations, they always say with trepidation in their voices, “You have to pronounce all those WORDS.” True, and we also write our own newscasts, deliver traffic reports, prepare quizzes, take calls from listeners, deal with computer calamities, program music for our shifts, conduct interviews, post on social media, attend meetings (virtual and otherwise) for which we have no time, and through all of it, we make the listener think that nothing is more important than to announce music for them from what they perceive is the comfort of our studio while we read the newspaper and drink coffee and tell them in very few words what is going on in the world.

    I can’t think of a better job. Before, during and after the pandemic, we have been the listener link to whatever culture exists in the outside world. During lockdown, members of our small on-air crew were at our posts as usual, broadcasting. I called radio at that time the original “social distancer.” I am in the studio – and you are “out there.” And during the depths of covid I was never so grateful to be in a profession where I worked by myself.

    Thank you for providing a forum for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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