Archive for the ‘Soundbyte’ Category

The Producer Game Is Changing

An open letter to producers from host Bob Lonsberry (WHAM, Rochester /WYSR, Syracuse) on 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.


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.


“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


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.


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.


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.

Every Moment Matters

Arbitron will tell you, in general, there are listeners coming and going from your radio station every minute. Listeners are dipping in and out of stations searching for a comfortable place to rest. This is either terrific or terrifying news if you are host, producer or programmer. It means you have opportunities to snag new listeners every minute. It also means if you are off topic, too sloppy or boring – you’re going lose some too. 

Here’s the truth about these non-P1 listeners:

  • These listeners do not know who you are.
  • These listeners do not know your show.
  • These listeners do not know what your station is all about.
  • These listeners do not know your inside jokes.
  • These listeners want to be included.
  • These listeners want to like you.
  • These listeners want you to be relatable.
  • These listeners want you to be local.

In order to take full advantage of this opportunity, it’s important that you pay attention to all the details. Every moment counts. Are the hosts resetting who they are, what they’re doing and what station they are on often enough? Are bench mark segments being explained and sold to the listener as a benefit? Are you saying the web address, phone number, text, and twitter accounts slowly and clearly so new listeners can play along? Is your board operator paying attention, running a tight board and hitting all the correct audio? Are sound bites edited properly? Are producers carefully screening callers? Are hosts prepared for interviews? Are you playing the hits uniquely  or are you covering the story the same way everyone else is? Are you providing social currency or are you wasting time? Are you letting new listeners play along or are your jokes and references too inside?

 In a PPM world every moment, every word, every piece of audio, every phone call, every interview, everything you do – counts. Make sure everything you do on your station is best serving the fans in your city in that moment or the listeners will keep searching until they find the station that does.

Want more on PPM? Listen to this Larry Gifford Media podcast with Charlie Sislen from Research Director Inc.  Charlie Sislen Interview Podcast

Oops. Uh, Wrong Audio.

I live in Los Angeles. There are great radio station here with remarkable talent. There are also bad radio stations and forgettable talent. What drives me crazy when I listen to the radio – regardless of the market size – regardless of talent ability – is when audio mis-fires.

In the past two days I have heard two newscasts; one on KFI and one on KABC. In one case the wrong sound bite played twice in a row and in another there was dead air and the announcer uncomfortably asked out loud, “can you say that again?” In both cases, the talent was awkward and uncertain. It made me question the credibility of them and the stations they work on. I hear this happen at least once a day in this market on a variety of stations (and embarrassing as it is, it happened at KSPN while I was PD). 

What is so frustrating is that it is preventable. Do yourself a favor. Before going on the air; double and triple check your audio, put it in the correct order, make sure it’s cued, be sure the pot is keyed into program and the levels are set. This is radio 101, yet everyday in every market in America these types of mistakes are made. Audio is our life-blood. It’s how we tell stories. It’s supposedly what we do best, though when I hear mistakes like these in a major market like Los Angeles I begin to wonder if we are truly audio experts or if that’s just we have told ourselves.

Video Blog: Interviewing 101 – Why This Guest?

Conducting a great interview is difficult. Generally there are no bad guests only bad interviewers. What I will attempt to do over the course of time is impart some wisdom that I’ve acquired over the course of time to help make all talent, in any format better interviewers. The first lesson revolves around the question – “Why?” Why is this person a guest on your show?

Look Who’s Talking: Colin Cowherd

January 14, 2011 1 comment
by Larry Gifford for “Let’s Talk About It’ Newsletter (sign up for free at and based on an interview with Colin Cowherd (Colin Cowherd Interview Podcast)

Two hours and fifteen minutes. That’s how long ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd says it takes him to actively prep for his show. “I go into a show ready with eight different ways to approach four topics.” 

Cowherd talked exclusively with about how he prepares each day for his show “The Herd.” His active prep time estimate does not include watching games at night, catching up with SportsCenter in the morning, or all the work that his team puts into the show before he arrives and after he leaves each day. 

Colin says he leans on three guys: board operator “Fish” is the ears of the show and in charge of audio; associate producer Tom finds stats, stories and support information; producer Vince is helping Colin with creative writing and content development.

Out of the two hours and fifteen minutes, about twenty minutes is used to write the opening rant. He also previews the available audio and works with his team to develop multiple angles to the big stories of the day.

“You’re writing a sitcom. Everyone is throwing out ideas, and I’m editing saying, ‘Yes! That’s good. Vince that’s a good line.’ We just keep building,” Colin says, describing his 7:15 am meetings. So, when the dust clears and the ‘on air’ light turns red, what’s the goal? “I do believe, going into most segments, you have to take the audience somewhere. Take them somewhere emotionally. I say this often, ‘Make them ‘blank.’ Make them laugh, make them mad, make them annoyed, make them think, make them cry. Make people ‘blank.’ Take them somewhere.”

Armed with the same information about the same teams and games that everybody watched, the same stats and the same audio as every other host in the nation, how does Colin create something new and different that takes his audience somewhere?

Colin explains one of his strategies: “It’s not about the team, it’s about the star player. People like Kobe, not the Lakers. It’s not about the Giants, it’s about Eli. It’s not about the Packers it’s about Aaron Rogers. I get criticized for it and get a lot of attention for it. I take on the athlete. So, I will find a player and I’m with him or against him. I’m on his side or I’m not. It gets really personal. I think everybody in this business talks about the team, but research shows people buy the jersey of the player. I find, the more you talk about a player it’s much more interesting radio. People take sides, there are lines in the sand, it’s a verbal tug-o-war and it’s very compelling.”

He also says he creates a theory or strong opinion for each branch of each topic and writes it down. He refers to this during breaks and then has it in front of him while he’s talking about it so he can refer back to it periodically during the segment and stay on topic.

Colin stresses the importance of playing the hits. “ESPN is very much like the weather channel. When a hurricane hits we all go to the weather channel. When Michael Vick’s in trouble we all go to ESPN. In my business, I’m rooting for dumpster fires. I’m rooting for messes. I’m rooting for controversy, because that’s what my audience loves.”

 The Herd with Colin Cowherd weekdays 10a-1p ET/7a-10a PT on ESPN Radio and  

 Listen to the full interview here, including Colin’s revelations on PPM, how personal you should get on the air and how he judges his own shows.

End of the Year!

What are you doing for the end of the year?

As the boss, you can call a staff meeting and celebrate all the great things that happened over the year. Have fun with it. Put together a power point with pictures from station events. Let staffers submit the greatest moments at the radio station for 2010 and then rank them. Give fun awards for staffers (ie. The 2010 free stuff king/queen, the 2010 funniest person in the office, 2010 most resourceful employee, etc…) Radio stations often forget to take time out to thank the staff and celebrate accomplishments. This goes a long way towards morale.

As a host this is a gold mine. Pull all the great highlights, sound clips, and moments from your show. You can use these to count down great moments, quotes and moments with audio support. You can even pre-record and play it back over the holiday. This is also a great way to engage the listeners through the web for voting and ranking. Celebrate the year that was. You can also hand awards (Best male athlete, biggest loser, worst play, best play, team of the year, etc.) You can also make your predictions for the coming year.

Regardless of your position, take a moment to look back on goals you set for 2010. How did you do? What do you want to accomplish in 2011? Write them down and keep them someplace safe.

Um, Uh, I Mean… Is This Great Audio?

Over the years, I’ve worked with producers, programmers and top production folks in the biz. Based on our insights and opinions I present some of the qualities of a great soundbyte Please feel free to add to this list.

  • Adds emotion, color, reaction, humor, or shock to a story or topic
  • Audio quality is clear and crisp  
  • Gets right to the point
  • Tells us something we don’t already know; incites or informs
  • Should be a strong, succinct opinion that feels exclusive to radio (Though clichés are the norm amongst athletes, it is our duty to ask questions that elicit responses that educates the listener)
  • Is compelling, interesting
  • Should support or advance a story or topic
  • Is between :05 and :15 though can be shorter or longer on occasion. (if longer… shorter versions should be made to accommodate sports updates)
  • It should end when the subject begins to change.
  • Start the byte at the point where whoever is talking starts speaking without the saying “um, uh, oh, etc.”
  • Any ums, ahhs, or oh’s in the byte should be cut out, as long as it still sounds natural, also any gaps where the speaker is gathering their thoughts should be cut out as well as long as it doesn’t change context
  • The end of the byte should come right after the point is established