TJ O'Halloran started small, dreamt big and found on-air success at 21

thumbnailWatching 21-year-old TJ O'Halloran sit and operate thousands of dollars worth of broadcasting equipment is a thing of beauty. Effortlessly, he cues songs, edits clips and talks to listeners on the phone. It's easy to see how much he enjoys his job as he jokes comfortably on the air.

"Looks like Justin Bieber is in so much hot water, he may be deported back to Canada," O'Halloran says during one of his Saturday afternoon shows. "So if you were having a good day, that may bring your spirits down."

But like most people, he struggled to discover what he wanted to do with his future.

"I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, until about a week before the deadline for applying to colleges came," O'Halloran says. "I knew I didn't want to do a nine to five job where I would actually have to work and wear a suit or whatever, because I wasn't that kind of guy."

Becoming a radio personality is no easy feat, especially in a big market like Calgary's, where radio stations have the money to find the best talent in the country. To be successful in this business, one needs to be patient enough to start small, and be willing to move around the country when opportunities arise.

O'Halloran broke into the Calgary radio scene in 2013, and now works for Virgin Radio Calgary. He is a busy guy, covering the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift Monday to Friday, and hosting every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Watching him work is like watching a squirrel look for nuts – he moves quickly, and is constantly multitasking. He talks to callers on the phone, asking them a quirky question or convincing them to tell an embarrassing story., and then quickly re-cuts the conversation into hilarious bits for his listeners.

O'Halloran says he credits a Toronto radio jockey named Fearless Fred for helping him realize his passion. He describes hearing Fearless Fred on the radio one day during his lunch; he laughed at something stupid Fred had said and thought to himself, "Wow, that must be the best job in the world."

He applied to a broadcasting program at Humber College in Toronto, and was accepted in 2010.

"Since my first day of radio school, I fell in love with it," O'Halloran says. "It has really just absorbed my entire life since I was about 17."

O'Halloran says there were about 35 people to graduate with him, and out of those 35, only three are working in the industry.

"A lot of people think it's easy, and it's really not," he says. "Radio is probably one of the most underrated and difficult things you could ever do with your life."

He explains that every time you speak into a microphone, you have to engage the audience and get them to care about what you have to say.

"A lot of people think you can just walk in and talk about Miley Cyrus's tongue and it's easy, but very few people can talk about Miley Cyrus constantly and make her entertaining, for example," he says.

O'Halloran says that it's very rare to get a job in a bustling market like Calgary, Edmonton or Toronto. Often times broadcasters have to start off in smaller places like Drumheller, Alta. instead.

It's typical to start small
O'Halloran's started off his career in Prince Rupert, B.C. as a morning announcer for 99.1 EZ Rock, and was then offered a job in Prince George, B.C. co-hosting a morning show for 94X Rock Radio Rules before he was offered his current position in Calgary.

Officially, O'Halloran is a swing announcer, which means on top of his hosting duties, he is also required to show up at events that range from eating contests to movie premieres.mingling-with-the-starsWorking for a big radio station has its perks… like mingling with the stars.

Photo by Colin Mchattie

Although swing announcing might not seem as prestigious as hosting, being a radio personality is all about exposure.

Looking back to when O'Halloran hosted the morning show in Prince George, the city itself only has a total population of 71,973, according to Statistics Canada. Now he is employed by Virgin Radio Calgary, which boasts on their website that they reach over 950,000 listeners per week.

"I would say [it's a rarity.] At 21, I think I was on probation in economics at the University of Alberta," says Brad Clark, acting chair of the broadcasting program at Mount Royal University. Clark is a veteran of the radio industry, and worked at CBC for over 16 years. "To hit a market [like Calgary] at 21 speaks to a lot of things he's got going for him."

Other young radio jocks

While O'Halloran might be the youngest DJ at Virgin Radio, another popular Calgary station, AMP Radio, isn't exactly employing the elderly. AMP Radio, which broadcasts from the same building as Virgin, features both Amit Sharma and Katie Summers, two 26-year-olds making their names in Calgary radio.

"I grew up part of the MTV/MuchMusic generation and was absolutely obsessed with it. Straight out of high school, I started interning at a radio station that was under the MuchMusic/CHUM umbrella, which was a dream come true for me. At the same time, I pursued my radio and television diploma at NAIT. Six years later, here I am at 90.3 AMP Radio as part of the best young radio team in the country!"
– Amit Sharma with Hey! I'm Amit

"I graduated from the SAIT Radio Broadcasting program in 2009, and got my first job at a little station in Airdrie. From there I moved to 660News in Calgary for an anchoring job before I started working weekends for AMP Radio. Now, I work super early as one half of Ryan & Katie in the Morning."
­— Katie Summers with Ryan & Katie in the Morning

Clark also says there are a lot of misconceptions about what radio hosts do. He says it takes a lot more than a love for music or even an understanding of music, to be successful on the air. Things like understanding your audience, communication planning, and holding your listeners attention long enough to pique their interest, are all things a host has to be mindful of.

On top of these key factors, part of being successful in radio may mean having the ability to be mobile.

JD Lewis, who does Middays with JD at CJAY 92 in Calgary, says he agrees that relocation and starting off in small markets could have been the key to O'Halloran's success.

"You can make mistakes that you can't make in a city this big in markets that are much smaller," Lewis says. Starting out in Drumheller, Lewis recalls a time where he accidentally shut down the entire radio station for over an hour – no music, no nothing.

When asked how O'Halloran was able to pull it off at such a young age, Lewis says, "I think he is a pretty talented dude. It's a talent-based industry – you either got it or your don't to some degree, and TJ's got it."

Talent in radio is a hard thing to describe because it's not tangible. Lewis says that it's O'Halloran's ability to endear his listeners, encouraging them to listen to whatever he wants to talk about, that makes him so good.

"A lot of it is in the voice too," Lewis adds. "Some people can tune in and just hate the sound of your voice. If they hate your voice on the radio, then they hate you. TJ has got himself a great voice."

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