Radio Producer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotRadio producers are not seen and usually not heard, but without them most radio programs would never reach the airwaves. Producers work behind the scenes to make everything come together on the air.

It's fast-paced work, with looming deadlines and often limited financial rewards. But radio producers say they love the creative and intellectual opportunities they find on the job.

dotProducers fill a number of roles. Some producers research topics and find just the right guest for live talk-radio programs. Others collect taped interviews and natural sound, and mix the two together in a packaged report. Radio producers also write commercials and oversee the mixing of voice and music for those catchy 30-second advertisements you hear.

Producers at stations with all-news formats will sometimes edit and write news stories, using information gathered by reporters.

Whatever their duties, radio producers are always working with deadlines. Programs air on tight schedules, so packaged items must be ready when needed for both program and commercial air times.

dotMost radio producers work for public or private radio stations. Public radio includes National Public Radio stations (NPR). NPR receives financial support from listeners and some government grants. Private radio, including Top 40, rock or talk-radio stations, makes money through the commercial time it sells to businesses. Producers in these stations often work to bring great-sounding commercials to the air.

Other radio producers work independently, rather than for one program or one radio station. These independent radio producers have the additional skills (beyond reporting) of being able to do the audio editing of pieces so that they're ready for airplay. "You need to know how to edit your own tape," says Hillary Frank. She's an independent radio producer.

dotRadio producers must ensure their end result sounds right. Radio listeners don't have the opportunity to read something over again if it's unclear the first time, and they can't look at pictures to help them understand a story. Producers must know how best to set up a story so someone can hear it once and understand it.

Some items require field production work, but most research is done over the phone or through a news wire service. The creative work of mixing interviews, natural sound and music is done in a studio at the radio station.

dotMany radio producers begin their careers as production assistants or associate producers. These jobs involve helping the producer create the programming and assisting with research.

"The producer sort of guides the programs, has the overview, the general sense of the show," says Robyn Burns. She's an associate producer. "They'll do a lot of writing, but they also vet most of the scripts."

At larger stations, associate producers like Burns write the scripts. At smaller stations, or with programs that air only once a week, the producer might also do the script writing.

Scripts are used for long interviews. These interviews are usually part of "current affairs" programs. Producers or associate producers pre-interview sources whenever possible to get background information. Then they write the intro to the interview along with a list of questions for the host to ask the guest.

"You learn the full background on the person, so the host is not going in to the interview blind," says Burns. "You draft the questions and your producer vets the whole script and maybe makes changes.

"One question has to lead in to the next," Burns adds. "It has to make sense to the listener."

Burns often writes two or three scripts a day. She alternates between working as an associate producer on a current affairs show and working as a reporter.

"As an associate producer, you're trying to figure out the story from your desk because you're drafting scripts, whereas the reporter is out in the field," says Burns. "As the associate producer, you rely on the reporter in the field.

"As an associate producer, I come in with ideas for stories and I pitch those ideas, but they don't necessarily make it on to the show," Burns adds. "The producer decides what gets on the show."

dotThere are also opportunities for radio producers at English-language radio stations around the world. If you want to start out in North America, you'll probably start at a small station outside of the major cities. This is because job competition is very strong in major centers.

The hours a radio producer works depend on the time, length and complexity of their program or shift. For example, the morning drive, starting at 6 a.m., is a major listening time in radio. That means some producers have to be at work at 5 a.m. or earlier, and they may work until late afternoon.

Independent radio producers can set their own hours. But they also have to find their own work. They often end up working more hours than someone with a full-time job on a radio show. Nights and weekends are not uncommon.

"Shows that use independent producers are always looking for new people," says Frank. "It's hard to find people who not only know how to technically put together stories, but know how to pitch interesting stories and not just predictable stories. If you have that, editors at a program will come after you and want you to work for them again and again.

"Surprising stories are key," Frank adds. "If you can answer the question, 'Why should I care?' and the answer is interesting, then you're ahead of most people who pitch stories to public radio shows."

At a Glance

Work behind the scenes to prepare interviews, research materials or find guests for radio programs

  • There are opportunities for radio producers at English-language radio stations around the world
  • Producers can work for public and private radio stations
  • Most people in this field have some post-secondary training