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.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.