On Air

So You Want Your Own Show: 5 Tips for a Great Application

Blog/FavouritesSeptember 10th 2019
Olivia Fava

This guide is part of our new Navigating CFMU series, explaining in brief blog format some of the ins-and-outs of volunteering and life with CFMU. If you are a current or potential volunteer with a suggestion for this series, please contact the Community Outreach Coordinator at cfmucom@msu.mcmaster.ca.

So! You're interested in hosting a show at CFMU.

Maybe you saw our Volunteering @ CFMU series and were inspired by our talented student hosts. Maybe you met me or one of our other staff members at Clubsfest, and took home a new show application. Maybe you're just hearing about this opportunity now. Either way, cue the fanfare! We're so glad you're here.

There’s lots of things you could do here, from music writing to audio production, but your heart truly lies in the on-air booth. You want to turn up the main mic and let your voice grace the airwaves while you bask in the glow of the iconic red on-air light. You want to share your ideas in the CFMU way, a format that lets you have the best of both broadcast and podcast.

You want your own show. But how, you may ask, do you go about getting it?

CFMU receives many new show applications all throughout the year, but especially come September. So if you’re a student/community member looking to start your show this fall, how do you make your application stand out?

Read on for some tips!

1. Choose your format

The first thing you want to do is decide if your show will be music, spoken word, or multicultural. If it’s music, it’s primarily, well, music – and any talking that you do is mostly about the music that you are playing. For example, we have: In Tha Kut (hip-hop), Wallpaper Music (ambient), and Rainbow Radio (LGBTQ+ music), among others.

If it’s spoken word, you’re mostly talking, with only a little music mixed in. This is more like a podcast; we have shows with topics ranging from video games to the world of work; even haunted houses and the supernatural!

Multicultural shows can be music or spoken word, but are generally centered around a specific culture, and are often broadcast in that culture's primary language. Some examples are Twoje Radio (Polish) and Let's Talk (Arabic).

Choosing your format and building the rest of your pitch with that in mind is important because it will give you a much clearer idea of what you'll be doing as a host (talking or playing music, etc.). This will, in turn, make your written voice much more consistent and confident on the application.

2. Have a clear theme

The one thing people love about community radio is the chance to hear unique, interesting programming on topics that don’t get covered on commercial airtime.

For you, this means: make sure your idea is specific with a clear goal or audience in mind. Don’t just think about playing music or talking about life in general – think about what you want to talk about. What is the goal of your show, and who is your intended audience? You should be able to answer these things clearly before you fill out your application. Take one of our shows, for example:

Show: Purposely Offside

Goal/message: To provide updates, opinions, and analysis on McMaster, Hamilton, and Toronto sports, including interviews with athletes.

Intended Audience: Fans of local/GTA sports, including (but not limited to) McMaster sports.

Where there’s a clear message to the show, there’s generally a well-defined audience. So, make sure your message is solid, and you’re set. Please avoid vague themes, though, especially for spoken word shows. We are much less likely to accept applications with a broad premise, such as “talking about day-to-day topics”. It’s difficult to be engaging to a wider audience without a clear purpose, so always think about how your idea will translate in broadcast form.

And, of course, make sure your topic is one you're passionate about. You'll have to talk about it every week, and you'll likely have to do at least some research, so you'll enjoy yourself a lot more if you love what you're discussing!

When it comes time to write the application, it might help to practice writing a short show description like the ones you see on our show pages, or to use the goal/audience model I've used here. As they say, the best ideas can be explained simply!

3. Make it last

Following up from #2, make sure that your message is not only specific and interesting, but sustainable.

This means that you will reliably have enough content to stick to your message for 30-60 minutes per week, every week, without recycling the same content. If your show is music, this means having enough tracks/artists that fit your theme to not play the exact same playlist every week. If your show is spoken word, this means having enough material to regularly bring up new topics that fit your theme, and not rotate between the same three or four. If you can't initially come up with enough material, don't be discouraged; do some research and see what you can find!

Essential takeaway: Pick a show idea that can last, and make sure your application shows it, too. Not only will this make your pitch stronger, but it will also make hosting your show much less stressful for you if your application is accepted.

4. Fill a new niche

Do something new! When developing your show idea, look at what we have to see if you can come up with something we DON’T have. If your show idea is very similar or identical to one we already have on-air, try to think of a way you can separate your show and our existing show.

The separation doesn’t need to be drastic, just clearly distinctive. For example, Science Sucks and SciSection are both spoken word shows about science-related topics. That doesn’t mean that these two shows are exactly the same!

You can make a show application that will be different from the rest. Familiarize yourself with our other shows in your format or genre and see how you can set yourself apart.

5. Stay indie

Here at CFMU, we try to support what commercial radio doesn’t. If your show is focused on highly commercialized, mainstream music or news, try to focus more on the independent side of the same topic. That’s what we’re here for – giving non-commercial voices and artists a chance to shine. In fact, our radio license actually dissuades us from playing hits.

Because of our mandate, we're extremely unlikely to accept a program with a playlist that includes big commercial names like Ed Sheeran, Drake, and Ariana Grande. They don’t need our help! If you have your heart set on a show focused around a certain genre, try to think of indie or local alternatives to commercial artists within the genre you want.

So that’s that! Follow these 5 tips, and you’ll be well on your way to a much stronger application. Take a deep breath, clear your mind, and…

…Fill out your new show application. You can fill it out digitally and email it to us, or you can print it out and either a) scan it or b) hand it in physically to our office. However you get it back to us, know that we will always be happy to receive it. 

While you're writing, remember, most of all, to be genuine. Stay true to yourself and what matters to you. Bring us your boldest and most unique podcast ideas. This is a special opportunity to make your true voice heard, so go forth without fear!

I believe in you, potential volunteers. Best of luck!

Olivia Fava is a 2019 McMaster linguistics graduate, the current Community Outreach Coordinator at CFMU, and the host(ess) of MorningFile. Contact her through email at cfmucom@msu.mcmaster.ca - and don't ever hesitate to ask her any questions about volunteer or show applications!