I have heard many times in different circles about the need not only for producers but good producers in the South African radio industry. At the same time, there seems to be a perception among some that anyone can become a radio producer just by teaching them how to prepare and run a show, writes Kabelo Mekoa.
I disagree with the latter immensely and I support my argument by the fact that there is this demand for producers yet there are so few out there and even less who are really good at what they do.
I had a long conversation with a producer friend of mine who worked at two major commercial radio stations and she highlighted so many challenges facing radio producers in the industry but most of all. she reinforced the notion that producers are generally poorly treated and paid because of the assumption that almost anyone can do it. She highlighted challenges like having a limited career due to being offered an independent contract, having little room to negotiate remuneration because you can easily be replaced and the inevitable challenges of difficult on air talent who at times have unreasonable demands and expectations of the producer. Like any other job, producing, has its challenges but because those who do it have such great passion for creating content they put up with a lot. But it would be false to generalise that all producers face similar challenges but it can be said that all at one point or the other faced any one of these challenges.
The key to the challenge in my view is the lack of skills development for young and upcoming producers in the community radio sector as well as the public and commercial radio sector. Having been a programme manager of a campus radio station myself I attest to the fact that we produced far more on air talent than producers; in fact there was no concerted effort to train producers. But this is only part of the problem – even if community radio in particular was to train producers, do they have the necessary skills and experienced staff to train future producers? I found this to be a challenge at some of the community radio stations were I worked – were the radio station management is generally made up of previous community radio presenters or members of the community who have not had adequate experience in the public or in the commercial broadcasting space.
I have great respect for all producers especially those producing very demanding radio programmes. A producer in my view is the one who holds the show together, who must make things happen against all odds and ensure a good product comes out on air every day without fail. Producers today are multimedia content providers who have to be content, online, videographers, graphic designers and much more due to the changing landscape of the trade today.
Do you think Gareth Cliff would have done as well as he did without the popular producer Thabo Modisane? Or DJ Fresh without Catherine Grenfell or Bonang without the Naked DJ? I doubt it. My first ever opinion piece for The Media Online was the argument that community radio in South Africa can be more organised and that we don’t need hundreds of community radio stations – what we need is a more organised structure. Being organised would allow for an association of sorts that could serve as a mother body to ensure equitable representation and opportunities for various community radio stations. For so long there is a radio station in the deep Northern Cape were probably few or none of the management team have any public or commercial radio experience, we will continue on the same path we are travelling at the moment.
Secondly, although there are various radio workshops that take place throughout the country they serve more as a short-term solution to a long term problem. What we need is for community radio stations to open their doors to more long term training opportunities with experienced media professionals and for the MDDA (Media Diversity and Development Agency) to recognise that funding for community media should also include such training.
We need to find young talented producers out there not just to produce the next big breakfast show but also for the survival of radio that is continuously under pressure to provide better and exciting fresh content you wouldn’t find on any other medium. The mystique of radio is part of why the industry is still surviving today. People are still fascinated by the idea of just working in radio no matter what they hired to do. It is still a great privilege to be a broadcaster and even a greater privilege to direct the conversation in the minds of South Africans – something not to be taken lightly as it takes a special person to work very long hours, understand that you cannot leave work until everything is done for the next show and still rock up every day to steer the ship according to the vision and still give it your all.
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