Day in the Life: WSUM Radio Host

As a WSUM DJ who has hosted three different talk shows, I wanted to write an article dedicated to giving those interested in radio programming an inside look as to what it’s like being a radio host. As a result, please enjoy this interview-style posting in which I break down the highs and lows of being WSUM talk show host.

*Please note that the daily duties of a radio host differ depending on what type of program (music, sports, talk) is being produced. This article is written from the perspective of a talk show host with a weekly live program.*

by Darion Allen, WSUM Talk Director

What does a typical recording day for a radio host consist of?

In my eyes, if you are an efficient radio host, the actual day of your weekly show should not as hectic as one may first assume. Before arriving to the radio station, I have my outline of the show with the topics to be discussed and some initial questions arranged, along with some songs that fit the theme of the show. In addition to that, an hour or two before the show, I always like to confirm with my co-host and any possible guests to ensure everyone will be on time and ready to go.

Once I have arrived to the station, I like to take a few minutes before my program begins to review the outline I have prepared and get myself in the mindset of a radio host. By this, I mean getting myself ready to provide energy and attention at a higher level than I usually have while carrying out other tasks throughout the day. At the point in which the show is about to start, I will queue the songs, public service announcements, and under-writings I am required to play during my show.

Focusing on microphones, audio levels, music, interviews, and everything else in the studio is a lot to handle!

After my show has ended there is not much that has to be done. Besides thanking my guests and leaving the studio just as I found it, I will save a recording of the show so I can keep the program for later use or upload. In the days following my weekly program, I will begin confirming guests for the next week and drafting an outline.

What is the most difficult aspect of being a radio host?

In my opinion, the most difficult aspect of being a radio host is preparing for the unknown, or essentially everything that is not under my immediate control. There are so many variables that affect a live radio program, but the most unpredictable and the one that requires the most preparation to get around, is people.

As a talk show host, you must understand that people can and will be incredibly unpredictable and unreliable. If you know this, you can plan around it so it won’t affect your show.

For example, I once had a show planned where I would be joined in the studio by four guests. As such, I created an outline that could sustain an hour worth of conversation for five people, or in other words… I wrote down three questions. The day of this show, I got three cancellations, leaving only myself and one guest to carry the entire show. At the time, I was fairly new to radio hosting but somehow I managed to maintain meaningful and engaging conversation with my one guest. Now I know that to be best prepared, I should plan every show as if I will only be joined by one other person, regardless of how many I actually have planned.

What is the most simple aspect?

The most simple aspect of radio hosting is having fun!

Going into a professional-grade radio station and conducting an on-air talk program with friends is probably one of the most fun things I get to do while at UW-Madison. Once I got the hang of the technicalities of hosting, like managing the audio levels and queuing up songs, I was able to fully immerse myself in my programs and enjoy the conversations that came from them. As a result, the entire process of creating a radio show, from writing the outline to leaving the studio, became a truly fun and enjoyable experience I look forward to.

What is the best experience you have had as a radio host?

One of the best experiences I have with WSUM as a talk show host was my first time ever on-air. I had just completed training and it was open schedule (meaning anyone could sign up for a time slot). I went into the studio with two of my close friends at midnight on a Thursday night and we just played music we love for an hour. There was no-one else at the studio and I wouldn’t be surprised if no-one was listening since it was right before finals but it was awesome.

The reality of being on-air is a surreal feeling you only experience once. That was the best experience I have had.

What makes it all worth it?

Those special moments when you run through a radio show and realize that it was a great one.

Radio hosts put a ton of time and energy into making good shows

Radio hosts put a ton of effort and time into constructing shows that they hope will be entertaining and received well. As mentioned before, there are a plethora of variables that go into live radio programming and, as such, it is difficult to coordinate and control all those things. That in mind, a radio host can usually leave the studio with a few technical mishaps or awkward points in the conversation in the back of their head. However, every now and then, you have a show with great people, great conversation, and genuine good vibes. Those moments make it all worth it for me when I can walk out of the studio and think of myself as a true radio talk show host.

All in all, becoming a talk show host with WSUM was the best decision I could have made my freshman year at UW-Madison. Even now, I know that having pursued this path will reward me long after I have graduated and exited the context of Madison. If becoming a radio host sounds interesting to you, please pursue training offered at WSUM to become a radio host of your own music, sports, talk, or podcast program!