Producer, eh?: An Insider's ViewBy Martina Castro
Whenever I tell people that I'm a producer, I always get more or less the same reaction: "ah...cool," and a sympathetic nod to cover up the fact that they don't know what the heck I'm talking about. My family, however, isn't at all shy about having no idea what I do all day, and they often ask, "What does that even mean?"
All producers are put in charge of a product. That could be as "easy" as a 3:00 minute story (NPR's newsmagazines have a ton of these) or as "difficult" as a two hour live call-in program (i.e. NPR's "Talk of the Nation"). Our job is to usher that product from idea/concept to its final, on-air version. There is usually a time and quality control component involved as well. In my job, that means I'm in charge of making sure that we meet our deadline, while striving for the highest sound and content quality possible. There are a million things that can go wrong and a few that go right. When it goes right, you will turn on your radio and there it is. If you don't hear anything odd, we've done our job.
So that's the simplest way to describe what I do.
What confuses most people about my title, is that they're used to hearing about producers in music, film, or television. We might all have the same "Producer" title, but what we do day in and day out can be drastically different. We do have some things in common, and that's to fulfill our priority: getting the product on the air.
But there are little things that are particular to radio production that definitely are a big part of what I love about this job. I love working with different types of people. In this job, I am the glue that brings all these people and elements together in an efficient (and hopefully pleasant) way, so that we get our job done. The producer definitely works behind the scenes when it comes to a show, but we RUN what's behind the scenes.
There is no better stage for the producer's magic than in the field. There we have much more to juggle and bring together. Not only do we deal with logistics, but also we have to have our ears open and ready to hear good radio out in the real world, so that we can make sure to record it.
Recently, I went to Las Vegas with one of our show hosts to produce a few pieces on a Democratic presidential debate that took place in that city. When it got time to cover the debate, we had very little planned out, so we had to rely on our instincts to get the sound we wanted in the moment.
We knew that we needed to get reactions from local Nevadans who watched the debate. I think we ended up interviewing six people, lengthy interviews about their perspectives on the issues and the candidates. But even after all that invested time, we weren't ecstatic with what we got. It was very late in the evening by the time we decided to head back to our work space and write the piece.
But on the way back to our work area, I overheard a few girls sitting at a table eating snacks, engaged in a very animated discussion about the debate. By that point we were already exhausted and anxious to get to work, but I knew that we just had to try one more time. And it paid off. In the end, we only featured those students and scrapped almost everything we had recorded in those three hours we spent with other people.
Of course, you would never have known all of this by just listening to the show. I guess that's the point. We're supposed to make our show sound effortless, thoughtful and smooth. The only clue to my contribution is the occasional reading of credits over the air, when for two seconds my name gets national recognition. But that's really the cherry on top. The exhilaration of making something out of nothing is really why I do what I do, even if the listeners, my friends, or my family don't totally get it..
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Martina Castro is a production assistant for NPR's "Day to Day" in Culver City, California. Oops, sorry, Los Angeles, California.