Radio producers plan, rehearse, and produce live or recorded programs. They work with the music, on-air personalities, sound effects, and technology to put together an entire radio show. They schedule interviews and arrange for promotional events.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the United States alone has more than 13,769 radio stations. Larger stations employ radio producers, while smaller stations may combine those duties with those of the program director or disc jockey. While most radio producers work at radio stations, some work to produce a particular show and then sell that show to various stations.
Radio Producer Career History
As long as radio has existed, people have been behind the scenes to make sure that what the audience hears is what the station wants them to hear. A wide variety of administrative, programming, and technical people work behind the scenes of radio shows to create a professional broadcast.
Scheduled broadcasting began with a program broadcast by radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh. By 1923, 2.5 million radios had been sold. In the 1930s, radio personalities were household names, and even then, numerous people worked behind the scenes, arranging interviews and coordinating production.
Before television, radio producers would direct the on-air soap operas as well as the news, weather, and music. With the added technology of today’s radio broadcast, radio producers are even more important in mixing the special effects, locations, personalities, and formats in ways that create a good radio show.
The Internet has made the radio producer’s job easier in some ways and more challenging in others. Web sites specifically for producers provide a community where ideas can be exchanged for shows, news, jokes, and more. However, with the new frontier of broadcasting on the Internet, radio producers have one more duty to add to their long list of responsibilities.
The Job of Radio Producers
The identity and style of a radio program is a result of the collaborations of on-air and off-air professionals. Radio disc jockeys talk the talk during a broadcast, and producers walk the walk behind the scenes. But in many situations, particularly with smaller radio stations, the disc jockey and the show’s producer are the same person.
Also, many show producers have disc jockey experience. This experience, combined with technical expertise, helps producers effectively plan their shows.
Brent Lee, a radio producer for WFMS, a country radio station in Indianapolis, began his career while still in high school at the small radio station in his home town. This early on-air experience, combined with his degree in telecommunications and political science from Ball State University, helped to give Lee the necessary background for his current position.
Radio producers rely on the public’s very particular tastes—differences in taste allow for many different kinds of radio to exist, to serve many different segments of a community. In developing radio programs, producers take into consideration the marketplace—they listen to other area radio stations and determine what’s needed and appreciated in the community, and what there may already be too much of. They conduct surveys and interviews to find out what the public wants to hear. They decide which age groups they want to pursue and develop a format based on what appeals to these listeners. These decisions result in a station’s identity, which is very important. Listeners associate a station with the kind of music it plays, how much music it plays, the type of news and conversation presented, and the station’s on-air personalities.
Based on this feedback, and on additional market research, radio disc jockeys/producers devise music playlists and music libraries. They each develop an individual on-air identity, or personality, and they invite guests who will interest their listeners. Keeping a show running on time is also the responsibility of a producer. This involves carefully weaving many different elements into a show, including music, news reports, traffic reports, and interviews.
As the producer of the “Jim, Kevin, and Bill Show,” Lee arrives at the station at about 4:15 a.m. each morning to prep for the morning show. The show broadcasts from 5:00 to 9:00 each morning and considers its main audience to be the “morning drivers” on their way to work or school.
The time of the broadcast is one key to planning a radio show. Because of the typical listeners of the morning show, traffic reports are given every 10 minutes. These reports are mixed with weather, news, and music. While the rest of the day, WFMS listeners will hear 13 songs each hour, the morning show typically plays between six and eight songs per hour. Those songs are interspersed with six traffic reports, four weather forecasts, a variety of national, local, and entertainment news, and the typical morning disc jockey banter.
The audience of the country music radio station is mostly female, and the morning show is billed as “good, clean fun” by the station, promoting the family nature of the program.
In addition to keeping in touch with the listening public, producers keep track of current events. They consult newspapers and other radio programs to determine what subjects to discuss on their morning shows. One of the newest tools that Lee uses is a Web site designed specifically for morning shows. The site provides a forum to share ideas and ask questions.
“There are a couple of things each day that can be used,” says Lee. “Since we’re a family show, we have to throw some of it out, but it’s a really good resource.” Radio producers write copy for and coordinate on-air commercials, which are usually recorded in advance. They also devise contests, from large public events to small, on-air trivia competitions.
Though a majority of radio stations have music formats, radio producers also work for 24-hour news stations, public broadcasting, and talk radio. Producing news programs and radio documentaries involves a great deal of research, booking guests, writing scripts, and interviewing.
“One of the most attractive qualities about this job is it’s fun,” says Lee. “Each day, I spend half of my first five hours laughing.”
Radio Producer Career Requirements
Writing skills are valuable in any profession, but especially in radio. Take composition and literature courses, and other courses that require essays and term papers. Journalism courses will not only help you develop your writing skills, but they will teach you about the nature and history of media. You’ll learn about deadlines and how to put a complete project (such as a newspaper or yearbook) together. Speech courses are also necessary if you plan on getting on-air experience.
Business courses and clubs frequently require students to put together projects; starting any business is similar to producing your own radio show. Use such a project as an opportunity to become familiar with the market research, interviewing, and writing that are all part of a radio producer’s job. For both the future radio producer and the future disc jockey, a theater department offers great learning opportunities. Drama or theater classes, which are frequently involved in productions, may provide opportunities for learning about funding, advertising, casting, and other fundamentals similar to a radio production.
If your school has a radio station, get involved with it in any way you can. Check with your local radio stations; some may offer part-time jobs to high school students interested in becoming producers and disc jockeys.
Most journalism and communications schools at universities offer programs in broadcasting. Radio producers and announcers often start their training in journalism schools, and they receive hands-on instruction at campus radio stations. These broadcasting programs are generally news-centered, providing great opportunities for students interested in producing news programs, daily newscasts, and documentaries. News directors and program managers of radio stations generally want to hire people who have a good, well-rounded education with a grounding of history, geography, political science, and literature.
In order to be a successful radio producer, you should be well versed in the English language (or the language in which you broadcast) and be a creative thinker who can combine several elements into one project. The ability to understand technical equipment and coordinate it with on-air events is also necessary.
A healthy curiosity about people and the world will help radio producers find new topics for news shows, new guests for call-ins, and new ideas for music formats. There are no physical requirements to be a radio producer, although those starting as disc jockeys need a strong, clear voice to be heard over the airwaves.
Exploring Radio Producer Career
Getting your feet wet early is a good idea for all radio careers. Small radio stations are often willing to let young, inexperienced people work either behind-the-scenes or on-air. Getting a job or an internship at one of the small stations in your area may be as simple as asking for one.
Many high schools and universities have on-site radio stations where students can get hands-on experience at all different levels. As you explore the career further, you might want to interview a radio producer to make sure that the job requirements and description are still of interest to you.
Since most people don’t start out as a producer, experience in any area of radio is helpful, so talk to local disc jockeys or program directors as well.
There has been a steady growth in the number of radio stations in the United States. According to the FCC, there were 13,769 radio stations as of 2006.
Many stations combine the position of radio producer with that of the disc jockey or program director, so depending on the size of the station and market, producers may or may not be able to find a suitable employer.
Due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, companies can own an unlimited number of radio stations nationwide with an eight-station limit within one market area, depending on the size of the market. When this legislation took effect, mergers and acquisitions changed the face of the radio industry, with automation and networking reducing the number of employees needed by stations. So, while the pool of employers is smaller, the number of stations continues to rise.
Radio producers usually start work at radio stations in any capacity possible. After working for a while in a part-time position gaining experience and making connections, a young, dedicated producer will find opportunities to work in production or on-air.
Both experience and a college education are generally needed to become a radio producer. It is best if both your experience and your education are well rounded, with exposure to on-air and off-air positions as well as a good working knowledge of the world in which we live.
Although some future producers begin their first radio jobs in paid positions, many serve unpaid internships or volunteer to help run their college or high school station. Even if this entry-level work is unpaid, the experience gained is one of the key necessities to furthering a career in any type of radio work.
With experience as a disc jockey or behind-the-scenes person, an aspiring radio producer might try to land a position at another station, most likely within a station and format they are used to.
Radio producers are a key link in putting together a radio show. Once they have experience coordinating all the elements that go into a radio production, it is possible to move into a program director position or, possibly in the future, to general manager.
Another way to advance is to move from being the producer of a small show to a larger one, or move from a small station to a larger one. Some producers move into the freelance arena, producing their own shows that they sell to several radio stations.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median annual earnings for radio and television producers were $44,880 in 2004. This is slightly lower than the median for all types of salaried producers and directors, which was $52,800. The lowest paid 10 percent of producers make less than $26,940 a year, and the highest paid 10 percent make more than $120,000. Like many radio jobs, there is a wide salary range resulting from differences in market size and station size of each radio station. Salaries for radio producers have been relatively flat, according to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, with little growth over the previous few years.
Most large stations offer typical benefits to full-time employees, including health and life insurance.
Radio producers generally work indoors in a busy environment, although some location and outdoor work might be required. The atmosphere at a radio station is generally very pleasant; however, smaller stations may not be modern, with much of the investment going into high-tech equipment for the broadcasts.
Full-time radio producers usually work more than 40 hours per week planning, scheduling, and producing radio shows. Also, according to the schedule of their shows, early morning, late night, or weekend work might be required. Radio is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week production, requiring constant staffing.
Producers work with disc jockeys and program directors in planning radio shows, and they also work with advertising personnel to produce radio commercials. In addition to this collaboration, they may work alone doing research for the show. Working with the public is another aspect of the radio producer’s job. Promotions and events may require contact with businesspeople and listeners.
Radio Producer Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts slower-than-average employment growth in the radio industry through 2014. In the past, radio station ownership was highly regulated by the government, limiting the number of stations a person or company could own. Recent deregulation has made multiple-station ownership and consolidation of offices possible. Radio stations now are bought and sold at a more rapid pace. This may result in a radio station changing formats as well as entire staffs. Though some radio producers are able to stay at a station over a period of several years, people going into radio should be prepared to change employers at some point in their careers.
Another trend that is affecting jobs in radio producing is the increasing use of programming created by services outside the broadcasting industry. Satellite radio, in which subscribers pay a monthly fee for access to 100 radio stations, will be a big threat to smaller, more marginal stations.
Competition is stiff for all radio jobs. Graduates of college broadcasting programs are finding a scarcity of work in media. Paid internships will also be difficult to find—many students of radio will have to work for free for a while to gain experience. Radio producers may find more opportunities as freelancers, developing their own programs independently and selling them to stations.