The Producer: Tinker, tailor…

I was once asked by a controller and trainee producer to describe what was expected of him as ‘radio producer’. I then delivered a 10 minute explanation that, I fear, provided very little explanation. I had failed to properly summarise what a producer was supposed to do; and so I was forced to re-evaluate my answer and provide a clearer, more succinct explanation. In the process, two words emerged that, in my opinion, perfectly explain just what a radio producer’s role and responsibilities are. And where better to present this than here, on The Edge.

‘Radio Producer’ is a title that has, unfortunately, suffered many misinterpretations and, as a result has led to the suffering of many carrying that mantle. I know senior hosts that look upon their radio producer as a glorified PA who answers phones, fetches coffee and even picks up dry cleaning. This is wrong. A radio producer is not a PA. If you are a host and you want someone to run around after you, get a Jack Russell.

The fact is, being the producer of, especially, a drive show on a major radio station is a highly prized position for a number of reasons; most notably it gives the person the opportunity to work with and learn from an experienced radio professional, as well as the fact that it then provides a significant stepping stone to other positions within the industry. I am proud to say that every producer I have worked is in now highly successful in their chosen direction – most of them are now heading up radio stations or divisions of TV stations. They have each been different in style and character but they have all shared the one characteristic that put them on the right path: passion. It’s also important to remember many PDs in radio around the world were formerly leading producers.

When I look for a producer  I look for the fire in their eyes. If they have that, then they will succeed, because they will have the drive to keep them learning and the tenacity to stay the distance; because being a  producer is a lot of very hard work. So if you don’t have the passion, you’re not willing to learn and you think that hard work is what other people do, then become a car guard, but don’t entertain taking on the responsibilities of a radio producer.

So what are these responsibilities?

First of all let me suggest an alternative title to ‘radio producer. It’s those two words I mentioned earlier that, in my opionion clarify his or her necessary role and responibilities: creative partner. Because that is exactly what a producer should be – the host’s creative partner. He or she is involved in every facet of the show’s design, planning and execution; the only difference being that when the host is on air, the producer is doing what the host physically cannot, such as set up calls, record and edit calls, meet, greet and prep guests and nip off to co-ordinate/clarify something with the news/sales/marketing team. In every respect the producer should be regarded as an extension of the host. This means that if the host is unable to attend a meeting, the producer is the show’s official representative, complete with voting/decision-making powers.

More importantly the ideal radio producer must be imbued with the necessary confidence and authority to direct the host and constantly provide honest and uninhibited feedback. This provides the necessary critical appraisal to encourage the host’s continual creativity, keep them on their toes, and to possibly prevent them putting their foot in it. The producer’s first responsibility is always to the integrity of the show. If this mean’s being brutally honest with the host and not kowtowing to their vanity or pride, then that’s what’s needed.

And this is where the problem often creeps in. Many hosts I know don’t take criticism well – their ego gets in the way. It’s understandable that if a producer is new to the game they may come from a position of ignorance, so this should be understood and a host should take the time to explain the reason for their decision/action in order to contextualise it.

However, there is nothing but value to be taken from a different perspective. The secret is to put that perspective into perspective and not to dismiss it simply because it differs from your own.

If there were any such thing as a typical producer’s day it would look a little like this:

  • Get in at least an hour before the show starts to look through the necessary spot (ad) and music schedules and check latest correspondence from management with respect to the show or the station in general;
  • Check the show’s Twitter, Facebook and other social media profiles, for useful comments from followers that can be used for the show;
  • Check the papers and on-line media for any last minute stories/news that could be included in the show;
  • Print copies of the show prep for the on-air team, ensuring that everyone is aware of any changes/updates to their expected input;
  • Phone guests and ensure they will be arriving on time and that they are well aware of factors such as the station’s address, any parking requirements, who they have to ask for at reception, what they need to bring with them if necessary, etc;
  • Sit with the show’s host and discuss the show’s running schedule and prep, highlighting any last minute changes;
  • Introduce and suggest any new angles that may have become current with respect to the news/stories etc gathered since arriving at the station;
  • Ensure the host has all the necessary prep, schedules, documents and information (copies of which should be with the producer) and that the host goes through it before they go on air;
  • Once the show has started, continually monitor the flow of the show in terms of all the schedules including promos, spots, music, mentions etc;
  • Answer calls and, if necessary, record and edit them;
  • Prep callers before putting them through to the host – this includes telling the caller to be brief, not to ask the host how they are, speak up, turn their radio down etc;
  • Prep the host before putting a call through to them – this includes the name of the caller, where they’re phoning from, why they’re phoning etc;
  • Capturing essential data on competition winners, such as names, addresses and contact details;
  • Meet and greet guests, ensuring they have been properly prepped and provided with, say, water or anything else they need;
  • Continually check on the host that they have stuck to the schedules and then execute any additional programming content that the host physically cannot do because of time constraints (such as locating and loading any extra music);
  • After the show is finished, meet with the host and the rest of the team and co-odinate a critical analysis of the show, identifying and noting highlights and places that need extra work and following up on;
  • Co-ordinate the prep for the next/future shows. This will require sitting down with the host and together planning what needs to be done in terms of research and preparation. This will include creating and writing copy for, say, comedy inserts; determining what topics to discuss, who should be contacted and for when; where to source contestants/questions for competitions, etc;
  • Record and edit any programme inserts – such as interviews – together with the host, suggesting possible questions, topics and directions;
  • Share with the host the responsibility of contacting future guests;
  • Arrange and co-ordinate meetings with show stakeholders;
  • Meet with representatives from marketing, sales and programming regarding competitions and promotions on the show.

This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But it must be remembered that, outside of the time when the host is actually on air, most of it is shared with the host. In a way, for the host, having a producer should be like having an extra one of themselves who can then do additional work while they’re on air, thereby effectively doubling the host’s productivity. This is why, in my opinion, a really good producer is more valuable than a good on-air host.

Ideally, a host and his or her producer are partners, continually encouraging each other, creatively feeding off each other and watching each other’s backs; all for the benefit of their show. Because it is their show. Although the host’s name may be attached to the show, it was the two of them who made it possible and therefore they should both share in the fruits of its successes and the responsibilities of its failures.

Every host has the responsibility to develop their producer’s talents, and similarly every producer has the responsibility to learn from the host and hone his or her talents. Because a double-‘edged’ sword is always better than a single-edged one.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

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