The Future Of Radio Belongs To The Producer

(By Spike Santee) Content is king and the most engaging content, the most entertaining content, commands the highest prices.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! is not broadcast live. It is recorded at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. It is highly produced in advance of the recording session to look like a live spontaneous show.


One of the show’s producers will contact a guest a few weeks before the broadcast date and ask the guest what topics they would like to discuss in their segment. The producer reviews the list of topics with Kimmel, then calls the guest back with Kimmel’s list of questions so they can prepare. In many cases, the first time the guest meets Kimmel in person is a few minutes before the recording begins, just to make sure they are still on the same page.

This highly orchestrated procedure creates what appears to the audience as a spontaneous, unscripted conversation. The guest is relaxed because they had time time to prepare, and maybe even come up with some witty answers. Kimmel is happy because his team has the most entertaining content in Kimmel’s time slot. And that’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

The success of Jimmy Kimmel Live! would not be possible without show prep and modern recording technology, the very same tools that some disgruntled programmers say is ruining radio.

In his book Good To Great, author Jim Collins identifies the key factors that help a good company become a great company. One of those key factors was the willingness to embrace “technology accelerators.”

They key word here is embrace. The dictionary defines embrace this way: accept or support (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically.

As I write, I am reminded of the first time I met Chris Stryker, an enthusiastic young man, excited about his new radio job in a new market. What made this encounter stand out was Chris’ positive attitude following a recent downsizing in his market. His market had been downsized to just him. It was Chris and five radio stations.

Downsizing was common at the time and most of the surviving staff in many markets had a pretty dim outlook about the future of radio. But not Chris.

Chris was able to put all of the station computers in one room with a swivel chair that allowed him to move from one station to the next as he produced the programming.

The stations were carrying a lot of satellite programming so the first thing Chris did was contact all of the syndicators and request localized content from the shows. He carefully produced each show with the localized content to make it seamless, even asking for do-overs if it didn’t fit just right. I listened to Chris’ stations and it was the best local integration I have ever heard.

Chris even went so far as to get the hosts of the shows to record contests, “We’ll take the 10th caller” kind of stuff. He really did answer the phone and take the 10th caller for the winner!

Did you catch how I used the word produce as I described Chris’ actions? He wasn’t a DJ, or an announcer, he was a producer of content. He was “producing” his shows, just like they do in Hollywood and New York City, and it was more entertaining and more engaging, than the other guys across town with an air staff.

It isn’t voice-tracking software that is hurting radio, it is the attitude about using voicing-tracking software. Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t complain that video tape prevents him from being spontaneous in his show; Kimmel welcomes the technology because he recognizes it gives him a competitive advantage. He knows his success depends on using the technology to produce the most entertaining content possible.

We need to think like the professionals do. It takes a lot of preparation to sound natural and unscripted. “Four and out the door” won’t cut it in today’s competitive environment of podcasts and other audio entertainment.

With smartphone recording quality, we have a recording studio in our hands at all time, we can create content anytime we want. We may never use most of it but the content we do use will give your show more entertainment value than just announcing the songs we are playing.

The role of programmers in the future will not be as DJs or announcers, it will be as content producers. We will still be doing DJ and announcer tasks, but the future belongs to the radio producer, the person who can see the big picture that the entertainment value of the show is the sum total of all of the programming elements. We must be aware of the science of psychology to create engaging content. We have a lot going for us already. 

Radio listening is a one-on-one and emotions-driven experience, and listeners believe that both the medium and its advertising are more relevant to them (compared to television and newspapers). Consumers see television and newspapers as being designed to satisfy the masses, but radio is where they turn to get gratification of their personal wants and needs. 

To be a professional and produce emotionally engaging and entertaining content, we must take a page from the professional’s playbook. Ripping and reading is not show prep. The computer is not a creativity killer. Show prep takes hours, not minutes. The computer helps you maximize your creative resources and helps you create, correction, produce a more entertaining product.

One of my favorite Zig Ziglar quotes goes like this: It is your attitude and NOT your aptitude that determines your ALTITUDE!

In all my years, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone complain about voice-tracking when the holidays or three-day weekends came around. 

Talk to you soon.


  1. To be sure, Spike, more people, more better and more often is a worthy and valuable premise.
    Unfortunately, the industry, generally, has not figured out how to do any of it.
    Further, because of “business decisions” are the ownerships motivated to make those investments that require the actual influx of actual resources.
    And yes, Spike, I am glad to chime in – because I am a chimer.

  2. From here:
    Just because Spike didn’t mention it doesn’t suggest he is either unaware or doesn’t hold the following concept in high esteem or deep concern.
    The concept: Radio, for the most part, rejects the extraordinary power of “live & local”.
    Of course, “content in the can” has tremendous value but not, I submit, as much as does the influence of “live” performers.
    Radio is eager to maintain the control that comes from pre-produced materials.
    Maintaining “live” performers, to most radio practitioners, is akin to keeping cobras as pets.

    • Ron,

      Thanks for the comment. My article is not meant to endorse “content in the can”. My article is about playing the hand you have been dealt and staying motivated to do the best job you can creating emotionally engaging content. My local NPR station likes to use the slogan, “We’re live, we’re local, now back to All Things Considered”. What? I suspect they think “live and local” means something to the audience even though they are going back to a network show from Washington DC made up of recorded and live elements.

      That’s why I use Jimmy Kimmel LIVE! as an example. It is more entertaining than what most local TV stations could produce in their 10:30pm slot.

      I don’t believe that “Radio, for the most part, rejects the extraordinary power of “live & Local”. I do believe that local staff who just try to wing it, do a minimum amount of show prep, run the risk of being replaced by something that is more “entertaining”, maybe by another local person. The most entertaining content will draw the biggest audience and subsequently command the highest prices. I’m convinced if a Radio owner has a local show that is more entertaining than “content in a can”, and can command higher prices than they could with a satellite show, they would pick the local content every time. It is a business decision.

      There can be bad “live and local” and bad “content in a can”. My article is meant to motivate people to become content creators, whether you’re one person in charge of five stations or if you are a member of a morning zoo show.

      It is the quality of the content, regardless of delivery technology we should all be focused on.

      Thanks again for chiming in on the conversation.

  3. Yes, that’s truly inspirational for one person. I’m sure the ex-staffers of the 5 stations are very happy for him. Kimmel watchers know he’s not live and local yet radio continues to try to fool their listeners. Some listeners don’t know and some don’t care. Just about none have any choice other than turning it off.

    One might ask where are the economies of scale where one owner can operate 5 stations with a greatly reduced staff, lose money and still continue to buy stations? There is something very wrong here.

    • My story is not about the company’s decision to downsize market. They story is about how to postion yourself as a valuable resouce so you are not a casualty of downsizing. In his best selling book, “Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life”, author Spencer Johnson tells the story of two humans and two mice who live in a maze where plenty of cheese is provided at the same place and at the same time every day, until one day there was no cheese.

      The two mice immediately started to look for cheese somewhere else in the maze but the humans got in to a debate about why the cheese wasn’t there and what to do about it. After a day or two, one human was hungry enough to go look for cheese somewhere else while the other human stubbornly insisted to stay put because that’s where cheese always was.

      Needless to say, that human starved to death insisting all the while that’s the way it was always done.

      I’m just trying to offer my fellow Radio professionals a way to find new cheese. I wish you all the best.


  4. THANK YOU for writing something I’ve been trying to verbalize to my co-host and colleagues at our cluster. I get blank stares at times. Folks so used to their daily prep sheet, they’re going nuts at the thought of losing it. I spend hours and hours creating, finding and recording on my ever present Zoom for content. It may take hours to get a great one minute break or bit, but it’s local, engaging and yes, it is rehearsed. Many of my air-Talent / producers think that it’s more “real” when they “wing it”. I bring up Jimmy Kimmel every time. No one who’s the best just “wings it”, and although they are trying at sounding like they’re the “natural talent”, no one is that either. Any other profession takes practice and prep. Not copying prep. But original. Thank you for writing a great piece!


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