The Producer Game Is Changing

An open letter to producers from host Bob Lonsberry (WHAM, Rochester /WYSR, Syracuse) on Talkers.com has inspired me to respond and write a P.S.

Bob LonsberryGranted, Bob is advising producers on how to produce his show so it’s hard for me to say he’s wrong, he just may not be offering the most comprehensive advice to all producers.

In a nutshell, here’s what he says…

  • Listen to the show
  • Be a broadcaster
  • Handle callers well
  • Think like a reporter

So far so good. But, as I read through Bob’s open letter, I began to realize how much the producer position has changed evolved since my first gig 20+ years ago when I screened calls, pulled commercial carts each hour and drove down to the Sunoco gas station to buy the hosts a six-pack with my fake ID.

The producer is more than a phone screener, a guest booker, and a lesser-than-member of the team to be seen, but not heard — unless spoken to. Real, honest-to-God, hard-core, successful producers have careers and are often times as important to a show as the host.

And yes, they should be better compensated by stations and better treated by hosts.

LISTEN UP!

In his letter, Bob explains, “A radio show is a dynamic, vital thing, and the mood and circumstance are constantly changing. You’ve got to be following it if you hope to contribute to it.” He’s right.

Listen to the show you’re doing. A host should never have to call your name out on the air to get your attention. Listen for all the things he mentions and also listen for; ways to evolve the topic, possible guests you could book, promo material, listen for news and interviews that can be used to forward stories in sports updates or recycled later in the show, listen for tweetable quotes or passionate entertaining chunks that could go viral, listen for good sales material, listen for inaccuracies, listen to production elements before they air, listen to the show after it airs to find ways to improve it. Listen before, during and after the show.

DON’T JUST TALK, SAY SOMETHING

“Be a broadcaster.” Bob says, “…when I speak to you, when I call for you to speak on the air, you have to deliver.” He’s right – sort of. Producers aren’t hired to be on the air. If the PD wanted a co-host, he would hire one. When it comes to a producer talking on-air – less is more. I’ve told any producer who’ll listen, the less you talk the more impact you make when you speak on air and the more home runs you can hit. If you’re constantly swinging and missing – you’ll be annoying. So, if your host calls on you to chime in each segment (and I’m not accusing Bob of doing that) – it’s a host problem, not a producer issue.

Simple guidelines for producers who chime in

  • add to the conversation
  • advance the conversation forward
  • set up the host
  • don’t try to one-up the host
  • let funny happen naturally – don’t force it
  • remember “yes, and…” rule of improvisation

HERE’S WHERE WE START TO DISAGREE

Bob wants his producer to “handle callers well.” He explains, “Resist the simplistic but common belief that you are supposed to screen out people who are old or off topic or who you don’t personally understand. That practice castrates and lobotomizes talk radio. It throws away countless callers who I could use to advance the show. You are not the gatekeeper, I am.”

I disagree.

2010 -- Mike ThompsonThere are callers who won’t make good radio or who are off topic who should be screened out. The great Mike Thompson, operations manager of 710 ESPN LA, is one of the best resources on call screening I know. From a packet he put together for producers and shared with me a while ago, Mike makes these points about screening calls.

Screening telephone calls for talk radio shows is perhaps the most ignored and misunderstood art in the talk radio business.  Most stations do not screen properly.

  • First and foremost – our raison d’être is not processing calls like picking grapes and putting them in a bushel.  Callers are nice folks and can add to a show – BUT they are not the end all be all.
  • Each caller needs to have something to say with passion and conviction.
  • Shows must FOCUS ON THE LISTENER – NOT THE CALLER.  There is a difference.  Less than 1% of stations listeners actually call.
  • We are human. We react to stimuli. However, the lack of calls or abundance of them cannot be viewed as a gauge of a good or bad show.
  • Calls are a production element — calls, music, drops, sound bites and newsmakers all add to the production – which must be centered upon the hosts opinion, information, credibility, personality, humor and style.
  • No one has the right to speak on our air.  Don’t surrender your show by letting a bad caller on who has nothing to say.  When in doubt – screen ‘em out.  Be friendly, but firm.
  • Have pride in the calls that you put on the air. Bad callers create even more bad callers jamming the lines.  Conversely, when you put great calls on the air you will notice over time that intelligent and witty callers will join the party.

I believe Bob’s resistance to call screening originates from the general lack of trust and communication between him and his producer. He says in his letter that he won’t be meeting with the producer unless the boss calls one, he doesn’t want to talk to the producer during the show, and coordination before the show shouldn’t take more than a minute.

Bob, that’s not a producer – it’s an errand boy.

Great producers and great hosts have a chemistry and connection. The producer gets to know the host in a way the listener doesn’t so he/she can better support the host and think like they would think. A great producer makes a host better, adds to the show and focuses the host before and during the show on the things that matter most.

How do you expect the producer to support you, your show and the things you want if the only communication you have is through an open letter on the internet?

To Bob’s credit, he says in a perfect World, “we each trust each other to our jobs.” That’s great, but pre-planning, preparation, curating stories, topic development, and constant communication – are all part of a producer’s job. And I believe those meetings and discussions are key to building the trust Bob desires.

BE CURIOUS

Bob finally encourages producers to “think like a reporter.” He focuses his comments on building and maintaining a list of contacts and sources. I’d say that’s more a reporter thinking like a producer. Thinking like a reporter means being curious, asking questions, and finding the stories and angles not being talked about. It means helping listeners to connect the dots or help make sense of a story or series of stories, knowing why you’re interested in a particular story, finding audio to support your POV and telling the story the most compelling way possible.

20 TipsTHE TAKEAWAY: 20 TIPS for EFFECTIVE PRODUCING

These are some of my thoughts on producing, based on my own experience as a producer, host, PD and consultant.

SERVE STEAK – Make sure the host is playing the hit stories various ways throughout your show.

ADD SIZZLE – Look for ways before and during the show to enhance the on-air presentation.

WORRY ABOUT DETAILS – There’s no detail too small to consider.

THINK LIKE A P.D. – From topic selection and guest booking to what’s being played and how it’s being presented during commercial breaks, oversee all content during your show. Be concerned with how your entire show sounds, not just the talk segments.

BE AN EDITOR – Know how to listen to audio, identify a sound-byte and edit it for air quickly.

CREATE AN EXPERIENCE not a SHOW – Help make the show a 24/7 experience through social media, podcasting, blogging, vlogging, and show appearances. Have conversations with your fans, don’t just tweet links at them.

BE IN THE MOMENT – Anticipate the needs of the talent.

CONTEXTUALIZE STORIES –Tell listeners why the big story matters to them now and consider archived audio to help tell a story or put it in context.

TEASE – Help your host prepare or write teases for each segment.

FINISH BIG – Plan for a big final segment – don’t throw it away.

OWN BIG MOMENTS – Be prepared to ditch all your plans for breaking news. Have a plan.

COMMUNICATE – Verbal and written communication is key with your team – board op, anchor, host, PD, reporters, and others. Assume nothing.

BE AN AMBASSADOR – Represent the best of interest of your host and show internally and externally. Help mend fences, build bridges and create fans inside and outside your radio station: co-workers, contributors, listeners, and clients.

DON’T BE A JERK – Your host may have personality issues and is prickly to others in the building (for shame), but that doesn’t give you license to adopt that same attitude. Be a positive force, a leader and problem solver.

EARN TRUST & RESPECT –  Work hard, communicate, be proactive and find ways to showcase your host and the show in the best possible light.

BE ORGANIZED You’re juggling information and obligations from the PD, promotions team, sales team and your host. Create systems that work for you.

BE CREATIVE – Find unique angles to big stories and think outside the box on slower than normal days. Have a future file. Notice what you notice.

BE NEW MEDIA/SOCIAL MEDIA/TECH SAVVY – The more you know, the more you can do, the more you can help the show and station and yourself.

REMEMBER WHO YOU’RE SERVING – With all due respect to talk hosts who believe producers are only there to serve them, the reality is ratings and revenue drive the bus.  That means listeners and clients always come first. The live commercial read for the auto dealer IS more important than your hosts story about bumping into a B-list celebrity at a golf outing.

KNOW THE CLOCK  PDs create clocks with precision to maximize possible listening opportunities in a PPM world. There are reasons why spots and promos and traffic reports are placed where they are. There are reasons why segments are designed for a certain length of time. These should be followed as closely as possible and not considered optional.

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  1. December 23, 2013 at 8:20 AM

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