By the sound of it, you might think that an aircheck is similar to a raincheck. Perhaps it’s some sort of ticket given out to event attendees when the winds are too strong? Or maybe it’s a coupon of some sort that a store hands out when the packaging of a certain food product or item is opened up? In reality, though, the actual definition couldn’t be further from these funny-sounding possibilities.
An aircheck is actually an integral part in the way radio stations, newscasts, radio programs, and radio shows, and podcasts operate. No matter if it’s a local radio station in rural America or a nationally-syndicated radio broadcast out of Los Angeles, an aircheck is something that everyone from the announcer to the program director to a prospective employer knows about. Still, the question remains: What is an aircheck?
Simply put, a radio personality or podcast host’s aircheck is a demonstration recording made up of clips from an announcer or host’s radio broadcast. It can be a recording of an advertisement, a section of a show or broadcast, or similar to an actor or musician’s demo tape. There are multiple different uses for an aircheck, but each one is just as important as the last — From performance reviews to job interviews to legal archiving purposes, the aircheck is as important to radio programs and podcasts as the microphone itself.
History of the Aircheck
To understand the history of the aircheck, let’s go back to one of the oldest surviving airchecks: a 15-minute radio broadcast from Los Angeles’ local CBS affiliate station KHJ (930 AM) featuring none other than Bing Crosby. Recorded in September of 1931 and preserved by the National Archives, the aircheck was crudely created by LA’s rival NBC station by placing a microphone in front of a radio. They hoped to assess and monitor the up-and-coming (and soon to be nationally recognized) singer-actor-comedian’s broadcast, which had become a real stand out among the other radio shows on the air. With this simple action, their jealousy-fueled radio aircheck created a concept that would shape the radio industry.
From there, the aircheck transitioned from something a rival station recorded of their competitor’s radio programs to something the radio stations themselves recorded. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, announcers would use a tape recorder: They’d hit record when they went on the air and hit stop when their microphone turned off, holding onto the tape to essentially use as their calling card. From there, the cassette recorder became the norm. Now, in today’s day and age, an announcer would just use their computer to record an MP3 or WAV file.
These days, older listeners and collectors alike are in pursuit of airchecks from the newscasts and radio programs of their youth. Some are willing to pay top dollar for historical broadcasts for archiving purposes, while others just want to get ahold of their local radio station’s old broadcasts for nostalgic reasons.
Purpose of a Radio Aircheck
Now that the history of the aircheck has been made clear, you might be wondering what the exact purpose of a radio aircheck is and why these different kinds of airchecks are necessary. For starters, there are two different kinds of airchecks in radio: the scoped aircheck and the unscoped aircheck. These terms — scoped and unscoped — are an analogy for a telescope. With this in mind, a scoped aircheck consists exclusively of the parts of the newscasts or radio shows where the announcer is speaking, typically with a little bit of the music or commercial on either side of the clip for contextualization purposes. Alternatively, an unscoped aircheck consists of an entire unedited broadcast, with music, news breaks, commercials, jingles, and all other segments left untouched.
The purpose of a radio aircheck — whether scoped or unscoped — is ultimately for reviewing. This could be a performance review with the program director or producer where they sit you down and go over the strengths and weaknesses of the broadcast (similar to an athlete reviewing gameplay footage with their coach), or it could be sent to a prospective employer and used for a job interview to show off the talent of an announcer. Either way, the aircheck will be used to help the announcer do better.
Purpose of an Audio Aircheck
With the advent of podcasting and the rise of these digital broadcasts in recent years, it’s no surprise that airchecks are just as important to internet broadcasts as they are to radio. If you think about it, podcasts are really just unscoped airchecks that the announcers record, release, and archive themselves. As such, the purpose of an audio aircheck is not that different from a radio aircheck — podcasts and podcasters need performance reviews just like radio personalities do. However, there is a key difference in how those performance reviews are conducted.
As discussed earlier, a radio aircheck is done with a program director or prospective employer. Podcasts are, by and large, done way more casually than a legitimate radio station’s broadcast would be done — Oftentimes, it’s just one or two people recording out of their apartment. For this reason, audio airchecks of podcasts or internet radio shows are much more of an individual act. It’s up to the podcast host to take a look at their own audio and review the strengths and weaknesses if they want to better themselves and their show. The big podcasting networks are surely doing a process that’s nearly identical to the radio aircheck, so small-time podcasters should be doing it, too.
No matter if you’re on a morning show in New York, an announcer who does music programming in Los Angeles, or a podcaster from the Midwest, airchecks are woven into the fabric of your broadcasting career (whether you’re aware of it or not). From performance reviews to job interviews to legal archiving purposes, your collection of airchecks is like an artist’s portfolio or a writer’s packet: Not only will these recordings of your past work help to improve your future endeavors, but they will also be a way for you to prove yourself to others.