Work Experience 10: Radio Producer
I first met Rob Minshull and Rebecca Levingston from ABC Radio Brisbane (ABC 612) a few weeks ago when I was interviewed on their Weekends radio program about my 40 40 Experience. I was utterly terrified! Not of meeting them of course, but of speaking on the radio. As I was waiting in the green room I could hear Beck chatting on air with the guest before me, a nutritionist advising listeners on how they can cut down on their alcohol intake. I thought that was a rather interesting coincidence. With my hands sweating and shaking, leg muscles twitching and heart pounding, the first thing I said to Producer Rob as he introduced himself just before I was due to go on air was that I needed a shot of vodka! (Jokes of course…it was 9am on a Saturday!) Not surprisingly, it was pretty obvious to both Rob and Beck that I was very nervous. I was worried I was going to talk too fast, say too much, or freeze and not be able to say anything at all. But Beck was a magician and managed to calm my nerves almost immediately. It was just like having a chat with a new friend, with the addition of giant headphones, microphones, screens, sound and recording equipment and a man I’d just met (Rob) watching on through a big glass window.
I made it through the interview relatively unscathed thanks to Beck, and had the extra benefit of teeing up some work experience with her and Rob for their Weekends radio program.
What did I do?
Beck and Rob spend Thursdays and Fridays preparing for their Weekends radio program, which is on air from 6am-12pm on Saturdays, and 10am-12pm on Sundays.
I kicked off on Friday morning with Rob. He had a list of jobs jotted down on his notepad that he needed to do, and set to work completing them while I looked on over his shoulder. As producer, Rob’s main roles prior to the program airing are to write script, provide story content, and edit audio. His aim is to get as many tasks done as he can before the weekend, as he’s far too busy while Beck is on air. I think it’s a bit like writing lesson plans for teaching. The more organised you are beforehand, the better the lessons will be and the smoother they will run.
Rob was a great teacher, and showed me through the different computer programs they use. Then he asked me questions to see what I’d remembered. I didn’t see that Pop Quiz coming! (I’d say I got at least 50% right…surely that’d be considered a pass??)
ENPS (Electronic News Production Service) is where the schedule for the radio program is found. In it you’ll find what’s planned for any given time including news, weather and beach reports, the names and contact details of guests, a brief overview of what they’ll be speaking about including Beck’s introduction notes and some key questions she’s planning to ask, plus any pre-recorded segments that are due to be aired. Although it’s not great quality, the picture below shows an example of the ENPS timetable, with notes Beck had written about her scheduled interview with me on the right. If you’d like to listen to the audio of that interview click here. It’s possible you’ll hear the sound of my knees knocking.
We also looked at Netia which is where all of the audio functions are controlled. I had to do a cart stack for the Saturday program, which involved searching ABC’s online music catalogue for songs and putting them in the order to be played. In the past this would’ve required finding CD’s in the ABC music library and physically loading them into a stacker.
Beck pre-recorded an interview with one of her guests on Friday that was to be aired on Saturday. After it was completed we sat in a small studio where she edited the audio using Netia. She faded music in and out, cut out small sections of audio, boosted the volume of the guest’s voice when it was a little quiet, and added in the sweeps (‘You’re listening to ABC radio Brisbane with Rebecca Levingston’). It was really interesting to see the program in use. Later on, Rob edited the audio a second time for Soundcloud.
I was given the job of writing an introduction and some questions for a couple of short interviews that Beck would be doing on Sunday when on location at South Bank. I’m sure Beck or Rob would take a maximum of five minutes to do that task. It easily took me half an hour and it still needed improving. It was harder than I’d thought!
Later in the day I had the chance to check out the ABC TV studio where Karina Carvalho presents the 7pm news. Beck interviewed her about her role and how the studio works, which was shared on the ABC Brisbane Facebook page the following day. It was great to get that extra little bit of insight.
Saturday morning was an early and not-so-bright start (at least until my coffee kicked in!) as I was due at the studio at 5.30am. Rob and Beck had already been busily working for half an hour or more by then. In preparation for the start of the program, Rob sprayed Glen 20 in the production room to sterilise the place after many a producer had sat there in the days before. It did give me a good giggle, and a brief headache (just kidding Rob!).
He was then very busy checking the news, turning on monitors, opening Netia, opening ENPS, calling the weather bureau to get the latest weather updates, and checking police updates. All before Beck’s show kicked off at 6am. He was the ultimate multitasker.
As soon as the clock clicked over to 6am the phones started ringing. Annette McFarlane has a gardening Q&A segment that runs for about an hour, so people were calling in with their questions. Rob answered calls and typed up the caller’s name and question for Beck to read on her monitor, updated and monitored social media, checked text messages, and continually thought about what was coming up next as the morning progressed. All of this while listening to Beck and providing her some non-verbal feedback from time to time. I was amazed at how calm he was while doing so many tasks at once. His role usually involves greeting Beck’s guests in the green room and explaining to them how radio works before leading them through to the studio, but as I was there that job fell on my shoulders. No one seemed as nervous as I did when I was there a few weeks earlier though!
What did I learn?
It pays to be well organised in this job! It’s live radio which means there’s a clear deadline that has to be met no matter what. In live radio I think it’s essential to be able to think on your toes, multitask, and stay calm. Rob’s always got a back-up prepared in case something unexpected happens on the day, and Beck needs to know that if something falls over they’ve got something else lined up. For this reason, Rob says, it’s not stressful as you’re always in control. It’s worth mentioning here that Beck and Rob are an amazing team, and they need to be. The show wouldn’t run anywhere near as smoothly if they didn’t have a team approach. They’ve definitely got each other’s backs, and that was something I was impressed to see.
The aim of the Weekends radio program is to say to listeners, ‘You live in an interesting place, with interesting people, who have interesting stories to tell.’ Beck is a naturally curious person who enjoys asking questions and finding things out, which is why she’s so well suited to her job.
I really enjoyed my ABC radio experience. Rob and Beck made me feel like one of the team for my short time there. Not to mention I got to meet the Bananas in Pyjamas! I’m looking forward to catching up with my ABC friends again down the track.
If you’d like to gain some further insight into life as a Radio Producer, please click here to read my interview with Rob Minshull.