Learn the Lingo of Radio Broadcasting

Terms to know if you're getting into the business

dj working at radio station
Inti St Clair/Getty Images

The radio broadcasting industry is as vibrant as ever, with new elements such as Internet radio and podcasting keeping the business fresh. If you're interested in radio as a career, get familiar with these common industry terms.

Glossary of Radio Terminology


An aircheck is a demonstration recording by an announcer to showcase their talent. It is also used to refer to off-the-air recordings of broadcasts.

AM: Amplitude Modulation

This broadcast signal varies the amplitude of the carrier wave. It is used by AM broadcast stations and requires an AM receiver. The AM frequency range is 530 to 1710 kHz.

Analog Transmission

An analog transmission is a continuous signal that varies in amplitude (AM) or frequency (FM), as opposed to a digital signal.


A bumper is a song, music, or another element that signals a transition to or from commercial breaks. Bumper music is an example.

Call Sign/Call Letters

This is the unique designation of transmitter broadcast stations. In the United States, they generally start with the first letter K west of the Mississippi River and W east of the Mississippi. Older stations may have only a three-letter designation, while newer ones have four letters. Stations must announce their call sign on the top of each hour, and when signing on or off the air for stations that don't broadcast 24 hours per day.

Dead Air

Dead air is on-air silence when there is an error made by the staff or due to equipment failure. It is avoided, as listeners may think the station has gone off the air.

DJ or Disk Jockey

A DJ, or disk jockey, is a radio announcer who plays music on air.

Drive Time

Drive time is the rush-hour commuter periods, such as early mornings and late afternoons, when radio stations usually have their largest audience. Ad rates are highest for drive time.

FM: Frequency Modulation

A broadcast that varies the frequency of the carrier wave and requires an FM receiver. The FM frequency range is 88 to 108 MHz.

High Definition Radio (HD) Radio

High-definition radio refers to a technology that transmits digital audio and data alongside existing AM and FM analog signals.

Hit the Post

"Hit the post" is an expression deejays use to describe talking up to the point when the lyrics of a song begin without "stepping" on the beginning of the vocals.


Payola is the illegal practice of taking payment or other benefits to play certain songs on the radio without identifying the sponsorship. Payola scandals have been common in the radio broadcast industry from the 1950s to the early 2000s. As playlists are now rarely chosen by the DJs themselves and are delivered pre-recorded by companies, there is less opportunity for payola.


A playlist is the list of songs that a station will play. It is often programmed by a company and even pre-recorded to run in a certain order, with slots for commercial breaks and talk. It is rarely chosen by the DJ as it was in older times.

PSA (Public Service Announcement)

A PSA is an ad that is run in the public interest rather than for a commercial product or service. No ad revenue is gained from a PSA.

Radio Format

A radio's format is the type of music and programming broadcast by a radio station. Formats can include news, talk, sports, country, contemporary, rock, alternative, urban, classical, religious, or college. The ratings of a station as published by Arbitron, a media marketing research firm, will designate a format as a guide for advertisers.


A spot is a commercial advertisment.

Stop Set

This refers to the slots for commercials during the broadcast hour. They may be recurring and of the same length. They may be filled by paid advertising spots or by public service announcements. Stop-set length can vary greatly between local stations and even network programming.