Michael Bratt speaks to the four producers behind your favourite radio shows and explores exactly what they do to keep their listeners tuned in.
It may seem natural, off the cuff and uncontrived but a radio show doesn’t just happen magically on its own. It isn’t just about a presenter hopping in front of a microphone and going on air. Nope, there is a team of people and usually one person in particular who is behind the scenes, someone that you do not see and whose name you do not know. The radio producers. They make sure that everything runs smoothly and according to plan – or ensure that there is a plan. These are the integral people who oversee content and at times, keep the larger than life personalities of the radio presenters in check.
As the producer of the most popular show on KwaZulu-Natal’s East Coast Stereo, East Coast Breakfast with Darren Maule (about 391 000 listeners per day), Jason McCall’s day begins at 4am. He’s only been a part of the morning team for two months, but he’s definitely no stranger to radio or to the station – he has been working there for five years. Previously, he produced the afternoon drive show and then the evening talk show. But, he says the morning team has welcomed him with open arms and that “It comes down to a real sense of teamwork, teamwork and more teamwork.”
As a producer, McCall is responsible for content creation, show fluidity, getting the team to work together as a unit, organising meetings and interviews, prepping the show’s structure and devising plans to incorporate the breakfast show into the station’s plans. He balances this with creating and amplifying the mandates given to him by programming manager, Zane Derbyshire, and ensuring that each member of the team is maintaining a high standard of delivery. “I strive to make sure that the team goes on-air each morning to deliver the best radio they can as individual players and as a team,” says McCall.
Content generation doesn’t rest entirely on his shoulders, he explains, “We have a strong team of unique talents and multiple skill sets. The best idea is supported – a decision based on entertainment value and relatability to our audience.” He adds that he aims to be friends with the presenters, learning their likes, dislikes and boundaries so he can find content that suits their personalities. “The team is given unbridled freedom in terms of creative conceptualisation but when the discussion includes our programming manager, processes in terms of planning, intent, and execution need to be followed,” he explains. Nothing keeps McCall up at night as meticulous planning answers all the questions and puts to bed any concerns. His only fear is that his alarm won’t wake him up on time the next day.
Just like McCall, Prudence Mathebula’s job is also to oversee a show. She has been responsible for The Touchdown, Metro FM’s afternoon drive show (about 966,000 listeners each weekday) for the past four years. However, unlike McCall, Mathebula says that she alone comes up with the entire show, from the content to interviews and topics, which allows her “to go wild but still always put the listeners first.”
Each day of the week has a set theme which helps her plan from one week to the next. Then, she needs to ensure the content is executed as she envisioned it. This is done by her having created an environment of understanding and respect with the presenters, who she says, “Also have creative freedom in terms of execution or any other contributions, but it’s of the utmost importance that we both agree on it. It’s all about having fun within the set boundaries.” She also looks for breaking news or daily content to add to the 2pm show.
Mathebula approaches each day’s show with the determination to challenge herself to stay on top of her game. She says, “My biggest competition is my previous best.” She also believes that, “It’s important not to take yourself too seriously in radio.” When asked how she deals with situations which may get hairy she replies, “The trick is never to panic – if you remain calm, you can easily resolve anything before it gets out of hand.”
Lebogang Seboka has the unenviable task of keeping control over Darren Whackhead Simpson (known for his on-air craziness) and the rest of the team on 94.7’s Breakfast Xpress show (daily average listenership over a week is 736 000). But she says that it’s not as difficult as it may seem. “Darren is actually completely down to earth and he treats everyone the same way. He understands the role of each person in his team and leads by example – he’s extremely hard working. The other team members are easy going and fun to work with. There are no divas in our team,” she says.
Seboka works alongside content producer Brad O’Regan. Together with producer Brad Simpson, best known for his parody songs and innovative segments, she’s responsible for developing content for each day’s show. Seboka explains that her job is very much about process saying, “It’s to do with the business side of things – making sure that whatever we plan is implemented, and that everything we need to do from a commercial side, is delivered on air.”
She sets up and follows up with guests, screens many of the listener calls and ties together all of the loose ends. Screening calls is something that sometimes leads to a lot of anxiety. “It’s nerve-wracking when a caller indicates that they want to talk about one thing when I speak to them, and then goes on air with another story that’s offensive or unpleasant,” she explains.
Seboka has been producing the Breakfast Xpress show for three years and says, “Everyone respects that it’s a team effort and each member works hard to make the show great.” Plus, with Simpson being such a prankster, there are lots of light-hearted and funny moments.
Quentin Pavitt, otherwise known as Cue Bace, looks after Good Hope FM Breakfast with Guy McDonald. The team has been working together for six years, having all moved over from the afternoon drive slot in 2011. They’ve won three MTN Radio Awards, two for the best Commercial Daytime Show and this year for the Best Commercial Breakfast Show in South Africa. Pavitt says, “Content is our main appeal and it’s a team effort. It’s pointless having a team member with a great idea that doesn’t share it. Once an idea is established it’s up to me to refine and action it the best way I can.”
Pavitt started at the station 11 years ago. As producer on the show, his main tasks include coming up with and sourcing topics through newspapers and online, setting up interviews, ensuring the show goes off smoothly and on time, screening calls, live social media interaction during the show and promotion of the show.
What about presenters who may have an ego? “It’s easiest to let them be and allow myself to focus on the show’s goals. I’m indifferent, yet caring enough for personalities to know I am their strongest ally rather than someone they feel the need to impress or get a reaction out of, ” he says.
He also affirms that producers and presenters need to be close enough to be able to have a massive argument about something and then have a beer right after. Pavitt’s main concerns are about constantly staying informed as the breakfast show is usually where a listener hears breaking news for the first time. But, he focuses more on putting into action rather than worrying.
This story was first published in the August 2015 of The Media magazine.
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