Summer is finally here. In sports radio, summer means lots of fill-in hosts as regular talent uses their vacation time ahead of the ever important Fall Ratings Book (and Football Season!) Fill-in hosts provide their own challenges and opportunities. I’m going to look at these through the roles of a PD, a producer and a fill-in host.
As a PD, there are many factors that go into choosing fill-in hosts:
- Budget-Where does the programming department stand almost mid-way through the year? This is an area where the station can save money by using a Full-Time Anchor, Reporter, or Producer to fill-in.
- Sizzle-Here’s the opportunity to bring someone in for a show or two and make a splash or get a PR hit. Is there a local NFL, NBA, or NHL player who would be interested in doing a fill-in spot? Maybe a local actor or musician or even a former local host of note. For example, The Score in Chicago is bringing in former host Terry Boers for some work over the All-Star Break.
- Continuity-What fill-in host keeps the show sounding the most like it does with the regular host? They are familiar with the show’s regular segments and can execute them. Think of this type of host like a solid back-up quarterback.
- On-Air Audition-This is a great time to try someone out. Whether they be internal, a local media member, a former pro athlete of note, or just an interesting person, this summer is the time to hear how they would sound. Can they keep their energy going for the entire show? Do they ask smart questions during interviews and do they have smart, original takes? Worth a shot!
From a Producer’s standpoint, a week of a different host each day can provide serious challenges:
- Guest booking-It’s a nightmare from a booking standpoint because sometimes you can’t control which day a guest is available. Somebody your Monday host wants could be somebody your Tuesday host has no interest in talking to. The producer is hamstrung booking five completely unique shows. Additionally, guests are WAY MORE important when you have a guest host. Since most of your listeners are fans of the daily show, strong guest bookings are needed to keep that audience when a fill-in host is on.
- Communication-The Producer and daily hosts have a regular means of communication. When I was a producer (before the internet and smart phones), I was in constant communication with my hosts about everything as it was happening. Often times 7/8/9pm were the times the best ideas for the next day’s show. With a fill-in host, they may have other things going on at night or another job that they work, so it’s incumbent on the producer to figure out the best times and ways (text, twitter DM, FB Chat, or phone) to communicate and prepare for the show.
Unfortunately, sometimes despite the producer’s best effort, a fill-in host isn’t as engaged as the daily host and won’t want to prepare for the show until the day of. It’s frustrating for the producer but an adjustment that has to be made. Here the producer has to move forward and plan the show without coordinating with the host.
- Music/Imaging—What kind of music will fire up the fill-in host? Find it, use it!! Also, make the fill-in host feel like more than a fill in with specific imaging for their show(s).
- Be a great audience-As with most radio shows, the only instant feedback a host gets about the show is the reaction of the Producer and AP in the control room. Listen intently when you can and encourage and coach the host through the show.
- Accept the challenge-Sometimes it’s human nature for the producer to not bring his A-game when the main host(s) are on vacation. But as I wrote above, there is a different challenge. Accept the challenge, produce the shows, and make them sound great. It’s the sign of a great producer.
For the host the question is what motivates them? Are they interested in becoming a full time host? Do they just want to make the money for the day? Is there something they’re really passionate about?
- Full Time Wannabe-This can cut both ways. On the positive side, you should be really prepared and in constant communication with the producer in preparing the show. The key is to not try to do too much. You can try too hard and not let the show breathe, or just overwhelm the guests and the callers. I always tell Fill-ins to hit “Singles and Doubles” as opposed to trying to hit a Grand Slam every segment.
- Radio Amateur-This is for any “star” or first time hosts. The simplest advice I give is to have fun, engage, and be you. I also warn them that it is a challenge to keep your energy high for the entire show, no matter how short or long it is.
- Anchor or Producer: Important to be themselves and especially to avoid too much “inside baseball” during the show. This can easily happen with people who are immersed in the show. They need to embrace the different role for a day.
Summer fill-in hosts provide significant challenges and opportunities. With some forethought, planning, communication, and execution you can not only fill a slot, but create some interesting and entertaining programming. Heck, you may even find a future host for your station.