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Graveyard success for radio DJs

Posted by radio On August - 3 - 2012

By Helen Phushela

Those ungodly hours of the night spent studying for my Matric exams were comforted by the sounds of late night radio floating in the background. Soft tunes of familiar soul ballads lulled me to a good place where I could keep the midnight oil burning. Suddenly, there was dead air; I cringed at the thought that the DJ had fallen asleep.  Maybe he had for a couple of seconds and I didn’t blame him; truth is, unless it’s a late night weekend shift, there is nothing to be excited about at 2am on a Tuesday morning interacting with all of 20 listeners.


If you’re not hosting a breakfast or drive time show then get off radio. Is this true? Most radio DJs spend their entire careers crossing rivers and oceans to get to what is known as radio’s ultimate.  While industry veterans move from one popular slot to the next, aspiring DJs have to hack their way into the circles of influence. So where do they start? – the grave yard shift.


Every person with a drive to pursue a career in any sphere should understand the principle of small beginnings. A small start in the right direction forms a firm foundation for better and bigger opportunities. Ironically, a start at the graveyard for a radio career is a start to life and is not a dead end zone.


Graveyard shifts offer opportunity to learn and make mistakes. They teach the basics of holding down the ford during times when listenership is close to non-existent. At 3am people are either still partying hard in clubs or catching up on some sleep; the temptation to catch a quick nap during a show must be hard to resist.  However, radio hosts today have learnt to overcome these challenges through using tools such as social media networks, and create content that will encourage listeners to engage in conversations even at 2’oclock in the morning.


Many successful DJs today rose from late night radio to well-liked day time shows. Bryce Clarke also known as Ankle Tap is a DJ at Yfm who found his footing in radio while hosting graveyard shows. While studying at the University of Johannesburg he joined the institution’s radio station, UJFM.  Starting out on the graveyard shift, he quickly worked his way up, and within a year he was the host of the “Urban Brunch” show from 9-12pm.  He joined the Yfm team to host the 12-3am weekday show called Strictly Tap Nights.

Yfm’s DJ Ankle Tap


“My first real graveyard experience was after joining Yfm,” he says, “hosting Tap Nights made me fall more in love with radio.”


“It was an amazing experience and I would not have it any other way, it’s the best platform to learn your trade,” he adds.


DJ Ankle Tap admits that hosting a graveyard show is a challenge. “You never know if anyone is listening and there is less interaction with the listeners,” he says.


He recently moved to midday 12pm-3pm and is the host of the Tap Mansion and can also be found every Saturday between 3pm-6pm on The Warehouse on Yfm.


“This proves that an opportunity only presents itself once and in radio one has to start somewhere.  I live for radio and have always had fun presenting my shows, both on grave yard and daytime shifts.”


Students will always have studying vigils, ravers will always need a voice to keep them company on their drive back after a wild night out and there will always be some insomniacs in need of a tune to lull them to sleep. Point is, with radio, someone will always be listening.  A graveyard shift is no dead end instead it is a good starting base for those DJs in pursuit of success.


Are graveyard shifts a dead end zone or platform for grooming successful radio DJs? Share your views.

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