I have been on both sides of the host/producer relationship. Before making the switch to talk formats in 2012, I spent 6 years doing a rock morning show, where hosts are usually required to be their own producers.
These experiences have taught me a lot about not only what makes me a good producer, but what qualities I look for in the person that is producing a show I host. Look, many hosts and PDs have different ideas about what they are looking for in the guy behind the glass, but there are three qualities that every great producer must have.
It’s usually only the hosts’ names that appear in the title of the show, but as a producer, it is your show too. You need to be able to walk in each day believing that you’re a vital part of the team. You need to know that the hosts on the other side of the glass are your equals, not your bosses. They may have a certain sound in mind or an idea of how they want a conversation to flow, but you have to be able to say “let’s tweak this and the bit will sound better” or “this topic isn’t working, we need to flesh it out more before it goes on air.” Think of yourself as the show’s personal program director.
You’re aware of what P1s are right? You should be. In radio, P1s are the ones who pay the bills. Well, remember that you are the ultimate P1. Your host may be the show’s voice, but you are the show’s ears. And if your ears are bored after a topic has entered its 10th minute of conversation, you need to be able to tell the host it’s time to pull the plug. Be reasonable, of course. If you’re bored because you don’t like golf and your host is spending 10 minutes on an amazing Masters finish, that’s on you. You want to jump in when it has become clear the host has said all he has to say on a topic and is now just going in circles.
Repeat after me.
“There’s no guest I can’t book.”
“There’s no topic that is off limits.”
“It’s not my job to be a yes man.”
Every good producer needs to bring topics to show prep sessions. Every good producer needs to feel free to add to the show’s daily rundown.
Is your rolodex lacking the big names you might find in Todd Fritz’s or Ray Necci’s cell phone? Well, do you think those numbers came with their phones?
Of course not. Those guys had to work to establish the kinds of relationships that allow them to book whoever they want for Dan Patrick or the Mikes. And if you work in a station with multiple local shows, there are plenty of people (other producers, your PD, the various hosts) that have contacts that you don’t. Just ask for their help. Even if you’re shy by nature or worried that someone gave you a number they shouldn’t have, the worst the person on the other end of the phone can do is hang up.
The single most important thing about drive is to remember that your job never stops. That doesn’t mean you don’t get a personal life. It means the show prep for tomorrow starts the second today’s show is over.
What can we bring back with a new twist for tomorrow? Is there a good evergreen topic we didn’t get to today that we should hang on to? Who is playing tonight? Who can we get on to talk about what the outcome will mean? Answering those questions early gives you the chance to make contingency plans and avoid having to scramble at the last minute if everything doesn’t go as planned.
There is no quality more important in a good producer than creativity. If your host looks at you and says “what do you think we should do with (insert topic here)” and you respond with “I don’t know,” then you’re just a button pusher. I can teach a chimp to push buttons. Hell, they make toy birds that can push buttons. It’s what got Homer Simpson in trouble.
Being creative means knowing how to do two things very well. First, it means you possess the ability to make a topic that has drug on for three or four days feel fresh each day. That may mean one day you have a guest and the next day you take calls, but better than that would be to say to yourself “We’ve been talking about (insert topic here) for three days now. What would I do with this story if I were on a wacky morning zoo show?”
Laugh or sneer all you want. The fact is if you can write a genuinely funny bit or find someone that can perform a quality parody song, that stuff has a place on sports radio. Funny is funny and funny is welcomed everywhere.
The other thing creative producers do well is contribute to the conversation. That may mean an on-air pop-in with a relevant stat that can take the conversation in an interesting new direction or a snide comment. But consider that there are ways to contribute to the conversation without cracking a mic. What audio is at your disposal? What can you do with that sound? Playing the call of the buzzer-beater that clinched a big upset is one thing, but if you plan ahead and put a montage together that shows the home crowd’s enthusiasm slowly fading as the road team pulls closer and closer and then hits that shot, that shuts them up completely.
There are people who will say that “You’re either creative or you’re not.” “You’re either motivated or you’re not.” “You either have confidence or you don’t.” And those people will follow up these sentences with “I can’t just give those qualities to you.”
They’re right about not being able to hand those qualities to you, but you can learn self-confidence. You can challenge yourself to be more driven. You are creative. You just have to make yourself more comfortable with pitching the unexpected.
I will always encourage sports radio programmers to look to the world of rock or pop radio for a good producer, because those guys tend to come in not expecting to just be button pushers. Anyone can grow their list of contacts. If you want to find someone that can help your host and show grow, look for someone who is fearless, and not afraid of a stern talking to. Those people are who they are because they possess self-confidence, drive and creativity and they let those qualities guide their work.
Demetri Ravanos has worked as a Host and Executive Producer for a number of stations including 620 The Buzz, SB Nation Radio, 96 Rock, 106.9 The Point, Radio 96.1 and ESPN Columbia. You can follow him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos. To reach him by email click here.