What Are the Unwritten Rules for Radio Disc Jockeys?

Here’s a dirty secret. Most of the rules for radio DJs are unwritten. This is why DJs get fired all the time.

January 29, 2019

For Lin's Bin, Timothy Woods asks

What are the unwritten rules for a radio DJ?


Here’s a dirty secret. Most of the rules for radio DJs are unwritten. This is why DJs get fired all the time.

When it comes to profanity, one of your bosses will tell you to your face that you cannot use certain language. It may actually be a written rule, but no one trusts a DJ to actually read something.

To complicate matters the limits of inappropriate language often change so that a mild-mannered DJ could be spinning a brand new song and all of sudden hear Nathaniel Ratliffe shout “SONOVABITCH”

And even though it’s a well-regarded hit song, his heart will stop because he remembers a more innocent time.

I mean Dr. Johnny Fever was launched for saying “Booger.”

In 1978, there was no written rule that my friend Dick from Detroit should not refer to a sponsor’s hamburger as a “gutbomber” or that he shouldn’t play combat sound effects behind a military enlistment commercial.

I know what you’re thinking. What about common sense?

Common sense? DJ’s?


Some unwritten rules.

Don’t pop your P's. Even if you’re paraphrasing a part of Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

Watch out for the uptempo numbers around a dead dog dedication.

Do not chew food on the air. Not even if a sponsor brings chips and guacamole.

If you leave a cup of coffee next to the console, you will eventually spill it and knock the station off the air.

Don’t do anything to knock the station off the air.

I knew a guy who ate two qualudes before his radio show and he managed to knock the station off the air when he staggered and fell into the transmitter. Yes. He still works in radio.

Still want to suggest common sense?

Here’s some common sense. Don’t do any drugs before a radio show. Most people will think you’re stoned anyway.

Remember how a song starts. If you try to talk over the first few seconds of “Paperback Writer” by the Fab Four, you will want to stab yourself in the head.

Double check all information. WXRT had a news service that referred to The Beatles as the Fab Five. We were pretty sure it was just four of them.

Don’t give a 10 day extended weather forecast when you live in a region where 30 minute extended forecasts are unreliable.

Never trash a band that you play on the air.

You may have to interview them in the next hour.

“Well, look who dropped by the radio station. It’s my old friends Toto.”

Radio is not an invitation to wear whatever you want to work.

When luminous actress Andie McDowell surprised me with a live interview, I was wearing ill-fitting gym shorts and a white t-shirt with a few too many food stains. And I could only think of her reciting these lines from Groundhog Day.

“I like to see a man of advancing years throwing caution to the wind. It's inspiring in a way.”

A six minute song is not long enough for a bathroom emergency.

And for a 9 minute song like “Free Bird,” an emergency is your only excuse.

As a radio professional, you will be required to beg. ”Please try this” or “Go here” or “Register to win.”

Try not to sound too needy.

On a National Lampoon album, Bill Murray played a DJ who hollered

“CALL UP! GIVE A COUPLA BUCKS. DO YOU WANNA HEAR RADIO AGAIN? Ya know, what if you woke up one morning and there was no radio. It sounds like the beginning of a short story, ya know, but, uh, 1984 is not that far away.”


And if I’ve learned anything as an over the hill DJ it’s this. 1984 is always closer than you think.