On The Air: Insider Secrets for Starting Radio Careers

on the air radio careers

When her classmates were enjoying spring break, Tamika Smith spent extra time learning and networking which made the difference in her radio career

The college life presents a multitude of options.

Go to class… or sleep in. Stay up late and party… or go to the library and study. Set up a summer internship… or go live at the beach with friends.

While arguments can be made for any of the above options, the choices you make will impact your future.

For Radio One national news anchor and multimedia journalist Tamika Smith, the choices she made as a broadcast journalism major in college led to her first on the air job after graduation.

“As a student, your first exposure to the media industry comes through your professors and the connections that they have,” says the Howard University graduate.  “Instead of going away on Spring Break, I used the time that my classmates were away to meet with my professors and talk to them about my goals in media. This is how I was able to get referrals to lead new media school projects, internships, and eventually my first on-air job.”

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Smith took advantage of the opportunities in front of her and used all the tools available at her university.

The results are undeniable.

While attending Howard University, Smith interned with National Public Radio and Fox 5 TV in Washington D.C., learning the media ropes while building a network of contacts and mentors that would help her find employment after graduation.

To learn more about the secrets Smith has learned for starting radio careers, here’s more with the talented journalist:

Let’s talk about your college experience at Howard – radio careers can be difficult to start, but being right in Washington D.C. had to be a great location for someone who wanted to pursue a career in news radio – what type of experiences did you get while at Howard?

Smith: Howard University (HU) was a great place to continue my studies in broadcast journalism. I must admit that I did start my career before that when I was very young living in Florida at the age of 14. I participated in the NBC 6 Junior Broadcasting Program.

HU gave me the chance to get more professional instruction, internships, and writing for the school’s publication—The HillTop.

While in school you interned at National Public Radio (NPR), which is the perfect internship for starting radio careers. It must have been a competitive internship to land – how did you get it?

radio careers interning at npr

A key to Tamika Smith’s success – doing internships while in college with reputable networks like National Public Radio

Smith: Interning at National Public Radio for the Tell Me More with Michel Martin Show was the best foundation I received as a cub reporter right out of college.  The team was three months into launching the show and the pace was remarkably fast as you could imagine.

As an intern, I was able to help with everything from producing to editing the show.

The most memorable story I produced while working there was Behind Closed Doors: Internet Sex Predators. Parental restrictions weren’t as common online as they are now. This story challenged what I thought I knew about the power of the internet and how people were using it in their homes back in 2007.

What was the interview like for NPR – what did they want to know about you and did they throw any questions you didn’t see coming?

Smith: Interviewing for National Public Radio wasn’t easy to say the least.

It took three applications before I finally got the internship in my senior year at Howard, but I actually appreciated it very much. You have to be very focused and serious about getting an internship at NPR.

I was asked about my goals for the future, technical skills, and I definitely had to be up-to-date on current affairs.

I love NPR – they are one of the last bastions of journalistic integrity – what was that experience like? What were the main things you learned about the industry while there?

Smith: The best part of interning at NPR was being mentored by very talented people to include Doug Mitchell, Teshima Walker, Michel Martin, Michele Norris, and Lee Hill. They showed me how to analyze the news, pay attention to detail, and not just accept the story for face value.

What are the main skills you use on the job every day in your radio career?

Smith:  As an on air reporter I have to be focused and use multiple resources. I generally hit the web late at night and again very early in the morning to find out what is going on in the world. I really got a lot of experience digging for stories being a local editor with AOL’s Patch.com for a few years.

radio careers multimedia journalist

Confidence on camera is something gained after much practice

I find that communication and relationship building with people who are regional ‘gatekeepers’ for information is very important.

Many in radio “rip and read” meaning they get something off the AP wires, and just read it on air – to be a real reporter takes much more – what is your approach to reporting/storytelling?

Smith: I have learned to build relationships with those who have the inside track on current events. White House officials, local government officials, and community action members are all in my ‘Rolodex’.

Wire services like the AP are certainly valuable resources, but they don’t stand alone. Investigative and field journalism are all part of what I did for AOL’s Patch.com. I’ve covered stories for Radio One focused on local charities and the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti that included interview components based on relationship building.

People interested in radio careers are often surprised by the level of work that goes into every production day – can you explain what your normal day is like at Radio One?

Smith: I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the news. This involves monitoring a variety of outlets, including social media.

I try to put any personal bias aside and delve into conservative territory, liberal territory, and everything in between. There are numerous perspectives in receiving the news in this country, and as a generator of the news I feel like I am obligated to try and look at news with an anthropological perspective.

I go into the station with an open mind and submit the news stories that I feel will appeal the most to our audience while at the same time hopefully expanding their horizons a little.

I think we should all learn something when we listen to the news.

At Radio One there are a wide variety of radio personalities and visitors. You never know what to expect when you walk in the studio.

In a city like D.C. there must be so many stories to cover – how do you know what makes a good story? Is it instincts or from experience?

Smith: I’d say it’s a combination of both.

radio careers on the air careers

Learning from the greats that have come before her is something Tamika Smith finds important for her own growth

Over the years I’ve sort of developed a feel for the fluxes of the news world. Social media and the web have put a new twist on news as it has evolved into a living breathing thing that is seamless. It never sleeps, and stories come in waves.

Catching on to or anticipating the trends in these stories is something that I have spent years getting the hang of and still finding ways to improve on it.

When I look back at my college years I wish there were many things I did differently to prepare myself for my TV career – what about you, as you look back knowing what you know now – what do you wish you would have done differently or spent more time learning?

Smith: I probably would have spent even more time in newsrooms and broadened my perceptions of what works and what doesn’t.

I also think I would have given more credence to the ‘greats’ in journalism. I’m very fortunate to be so close to the National Press Club and New York City. The walls in the press club are covered with pictures of men (and women!) that forged the way in this profession. It’s great to be forward thinking and progressive, but there is so much to be learned from the greats. They already did it and paved the way.

We shouldn’t forget about or ignore their legacies.

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.


  1. Great interview! Tamika an inspiration!

    • Couldn’t agree more Brian – Tamika has wonderful insight and is a great role model to those who follow. She talked about learning from those who came before her, well, those who come after her would be smart to learn a little something from her too. – Brian

  2. Michael Burris says:

    Nice interview. But I would have liked to have heard some tips and pointers about people who are not in college, but would like to enter the radio business. I’m 54, and would like to discover opportunities for mid-career people too.


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