Internet Radio DJs: What To Look For in a Controller

There are a number of ways to run an Internet radio station, and as such, every DJ’s needs will vary.  That being said, you will likely want something to have some tactile control over your tracks.  You will find that you will be more comfortable with a DJ controller, not least because it’ll allow you to use headphone monitoring.

This is why many DJs will want to consider getting an all-in-one DJ controller (also known as a MIDI controller, though that’s not always 100% true).  Lucky for you, many of these units can be had on a reasonable budget.

I recommend a 4-deck controller if you’re using standard DJ performance software such as Virtual DJ or Traktor.  This allows you to have two decks for music tracks, and two decks for samples, jingles, drops, or whatever else you want to plop over your music tracks.  (Note – that means that something with sampler pads can be useful!)

You may want jog wheels if you’re going to do club-style gapless mixing, but if you’re going the more traditional radio route, this may not be necessary for you.  Something like the Novation Twitch becomes more appealing if you’re not looking for a “turntables” feel.

Most controllers these days come with audio interfaces (sound cards) built in, but you should make sure that the microphone input actually routes through your software and doesn’t just go straight through your main output.  This is because you will likely be broadcasting digitally via your computer, and you don’t want your voiceovers to go to your main outs instead of your computer!

There is no clear cut answer on which is the best DJ controller for you, as it depends on your own style and how you want to play. The beauty of the market as it stands currently is that there are a lot of options! DJs can finally choose how they want to perform without being wedded to a single “industry standard” and creatively express themselves through whatever interfaces they want.

The Different “Types” of Radio DJs

A radio show is a great way to become known and get your name out there, or be the start to a great new career.  It’s also a great way to learn how to discover new music (curation), programming, and how to build an audience.

But, not all radio gigs are created equal!  In fact, there are several types of radio DJs.  And each type of gig requires a different approach.

The first thing that comes to most people’s minds is the Commercial Radio DJ.  Take note that getting a show on a big commercial/national radio station is not a hobby or past-time… it’s a career, and it takes a lot of work to establish yourself in this market.  A friend of mine has been in this market for years, and he’s pretty good at it… but it’s been a never-ending struggle for him to maintain steady work!  Just fair warning.

These types of stations are largely owned by large media congolmerates these days, which means there is typically a lot of red tape and restriction as far as any kind of creative license goes.  Popularity and the advertising dollar rules, here.  The best way to get an initial “in” here is to shoot for a night and/or weekend show, which is sometimes a little more lenient and specialist-oriented.

There is also Satellite Radio, such as XM and Sirius.  This typically works in a similar way as cable TV, in that it is subscription-based and each channel has its own unique programming.  This is nearly as hard as landing a gig on national broadcast radio, though there might be a little more wiggle room for the creative curator types.

Persistence is key in this situation, and probably the best approach would be to attempt to get a guest mix/show on an established niche show… assuming it fits your particular sound and interests.

We start approaching an area of increased leniency when we talk about Community Radio.  I have a group of friends who do this as a side-gig (they all have day jobs) running an oldies station, and they all seem to really enjoy it.  These stations often have a very local feel and flavor to them, which means that actually being a local will probably go a long way.  If you already have a name established for yourself (by having a successful club night, DJ business, etc.) you have the advantage, here.

Non-profit & College Radio is another avenue worth exploring… especially if your primary interest is having complete control over your program and playlists.  These are sometimes done on a volunteer basis, but can be great stepping stones if you’re interested in learning how to become a DJ or you want somewhere to “flex” your musical know-how.  If you’re interested in educating an audience, this is a good place to do it… all the while, enjoying the sense of community that comes with this type of gig.

And finally, the most easily-accessible format for getting your feet wet in the world of DJing is Internet Radio.  There are many types of programs that fall under that umbrella: 24/7 streaming stations, the “one-off show” stations (a friend of mine runs a Friday night streaming show with great success!), or podcasts, for example.

The nice thing about Internet Radio is that it opens up a whole new world of programming and smaller, more segmented audiences in order to find your place in the radio DJ world.  Simply listen in to appropriate stations, find a hole, and ask!  And if all else fails, start your own station or podcast.  This is how a lot of people get started these days, and it costs little to nothing!

So, there you have it… five different types of Radio DJ (in approximate decreasing difficulty of landing a gig).  And if all else fails… just ask!