Turning Prospects into Running Order
“Where do you get the ideas for your podcasts?” is a fairly common and understandable question. I will attempt to answer it in this chapter.
Throughout this book I am taking a slightly complex podcast production as an example. Your podcast might be different. In my example, the podcast I describe has several stories and each story is treated slightly differently in each episode. Sometimes the story will be a package, sometimes an interview on site, or a discussion in a studio. Overall I am describing what in radio terms would be called a magazine or current affairs programme. That is one broad theme and many stories around the theme. A theme might be education or business or news. Yours might simply be your community.
[Hi – I’m Davy Sims. I have been teaching, lecturing, speaking and writing about radio and podcast production for years and have been producing radio since 1979. In 2016 I wrote Podcasting for Communities intended for community organisations intending to make podcasts for their clients, supporters, funders and other people they want to reach. Podcasting for Journalism Students is intended as a level 1 introduction to students who are studying journalism where radio and podcasting form part of their course.]
As I describe in the introduction, there are many different types of podcast. Some people chose to be one person podcasters. They take a subject they are interested in talking about or exploring and learning with the listener. Perhaps they want to interview people from other countries living in their city. Maybe the podcast is just you and a friend and once a week you record reviews of the week’s movie releases, films to be shown on TV, showbiz gossip. While I was working with students in Dublin in 2016, they came up with a great idea for a podcast. “Trending in Dublin” was about social media, phone apps, fashion, and entertainment in the city. It was amusing, fun, irreverent and perfect for people in their early 20s to make and to listen to. The age group of the people who made the podcast, were exactly the people who would be listening to it.
As I write this book, I have in mind a group of people who are passionate about their community and want to cover stories that impact on the people around them. The audience will be at the centre of the production process. You will be considering the audience from the moment you begin to list the prospective stories for the podcast.
Regardless of whether you are a solo podcaster, a double act, a group, or another arrangement, you are at some point going to say “What’s going to be in the next podcast?”
Whether you cover one item per podcast or chose a magazine style (and particular if there are a group of you), you are going to start listing the stories you want to cover and the way you want to treat each story.
- What’s the story?
- What’s the angle?
- What’s the approach?
Will you produce a package report, interview on site, “expert reporter” in the studio, write/read piece, discussion out of the studio, discussion in the studio? Oh, there are lots more.
You will begin to list the stories, the people to be involved, the reporter, producers, Interviewees, the treatment, then the duration and deadlines. You will list the “must have” stories and the “wish list”, too.
All together are called the prospects. In due course the prospects become The Running Order. Both are a communications tool for everyone involved in making the podcast.
Even at this early stage, you might well want to publish the prospects on your blog for the audience to read as you are going through the production process. The audience might even be able to help with possible interviewees or additional information.
This is what the prospects list will look like. Very often they will be on a white board where everyone can see them. But at the very least they should be posted on a sheet of paper on a wall, not emailed around. It is essential people working on the podcast can see the changes. And there will be changes.
The example below are from my first book “Podcasting for Communities”.
You can download a version of The Prospects and other papers at www.podcastingfor.com/communities
The prospects illustrated are for a podcast that lasts at least 20 minutes and no longer than 40 minutes. With 4 items agreed, the programme is 18 minutes long already, there is room for more stories. When you add an introduction and closing to the podcast, cues into items and back references out of them, additional scripted material and accommodate for items running over and under, you probably have more than 20 minutes already.
It is important for everyone to know what the proposed duration consists of. Is 4:00 minutes the duration of the recording or discussion, or does it include the introductory script (the cue) and any back announcements?
I once produced a live daily programme which was only 45 minutes long. In the first few weeks of taking over the programme as producer, I could not understand why every day we almost over-ran or had to cut out of reports early. At the end of the second week I realised that I was not giving the presenter enough breathing space (literally and metaphorically). Everything was tightly timed, everything was running to the second. The presenter wasn’t getting enough time to do what she was there to do — to present. I was only giving her enough time to read. There is a big difference. Remember when you are setting out the timings, you need to let your presenter to present.
During the production, right up to recording, it is not unusual for new stories to come along. Neither is it unusual for other stories to be dropped because they can’t be “stood up”, or they weren’t as interesting as expected.
While radio programmes by and large have to fit into a pre-determined time segment, a podcast does not. If you normally record a 30 minute podcast, and one week you have 40 minutes of good material, then let the podcast run 40 minutes. If you are short, then run short. Time is less important, but not unimportant. Make sure the content is good. Does that extra 10 minutes earn its place on the running order?
Don’t let the flexible duration be an excuse not to edit out the material that needs to be edited out. How will you pace the programme and how can you manage that pace? If that extra item or story can be used any time in the near future, keep it for another time. You will sometime be glad to have something on “standby” to use when there are fewer stories around.
Some podcasters who make a podcast regularly once a week, will mid-week produce a short promotional podcast for subscribers. The podcast should itself be useful. For example, Monocle’s podcast The Foreign Desk usually releases a three minute podcast mid-week called The Explainer which takes one topic of current interest and explains the background to the story, and then it promotes what is coming up in the next full podcast. It is a simple write/read. It is worth listening to as a standalone, but also a clever way to promote the main podcast to be released in the following days.
Holidays are awkward. You will want to take a break. Should your podcast? Consider a “best of” once or twice a year. If you have been making podcasts for a long time, maybe something from the archive updated if it is still relevant. Or a “special” recorded anytime and available for holiday time or just when there are no or not enough stories. These thoughts might not be part of “The Prospects” but they should form part of the planning.
The producer is the owner of the Prospects. While it will be a joint effort among everyone involved in the production to come up with the ideas, a programme or podcast cannot be produced by committee. The producer’s main job comes into play at this point:
- Lead the discussion on the prospects.
- Make final decisions.
- Give out the assignments.
- Support everyone else involved to achieve their goals and meet the deadlines.
About this time, also, that the rest of the group begin to see if the producer is up to the job. Calm heads, determination to get the job done, empathetic but strong leadership, and a clear idea of the map ahead.
Panicky, divisive, disorganised, indecisive are all qualities that producers should not have.
The running order
The producer will transform the prospects into the running order, an ever changing list of content for the programme or podcast. The only static running order is one that is the record of what happened, not what’s expected to happen.
In a live radio programme, there are likely to be surprises that will dictate the way the show will work. The running order might be static for days and change moments before going live, it might even change several times during the programme. A podcast, by its very nature is a pre-recorded programme. But even during a recording, you need to be aware that something unplanned might happen in the studio. Perhaps an interviewee reveals something you were not expecting. Your presenter will need to ask follow up questions and that will need additional time. Perhaps as you are recording, something happens in your community that really needs to be reported urgently, or means that one of your stories needs to be dropped.
The running order represents the current plan. Expect the plan to change at any moment, for any reason and accommodate that change. Chances are it will improve the programme. It is, if nothing else, more exciting.
Below is an example of the running order based in part on the earlier prospects. You can get examples of running orders and other forms and paper work at www.podcastingfor.com/
Each item will have a script and everyone working on the recording of the podcast should have a copy of the script. Like the running order and the prospects, the script is a communications tool to help everyone know where you are in the programme. It (or a version of it) will be used on the website, too. If you are in a studio, the sound engineer (or whatever title you give the person in charge of recording and mixing the sound) needs a copy as does the producer, the studio director (usually, but not always the producer), each of the presenters and if someone is acting as a “runner” getting people to and from the studio, they will need a copy of the scripts and running order.
And the script is how the presenter helps the listener navigate the programme.
The final script will probably be written by the presenter in their own “voice”, but it will be prepared by the reporter or producer who is working on the relevant story.
For clarity, all scripts should follow the same format (there is an example below). It is normal these days for scripts to be read off a computer screen. That’s fine if everyone can move quickly between stories if there is an unexpected change in the running order. If you are using printed scripts, the pages should be loose, not stapled together. This is really important, because whether it is a live radio programme or the recording of a podcast, the running order should be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances. If someone fails to turn up, or arrives late, if a story is dropped, if at the last minute a story is added or a piece of equipment fails, you need to move easily to a different story.
Make sure each story as a different title and running order number. Both of the following scripts could have the title school traffic, but they shouldn’t.
EXAMPLE SCRIPT 1
#2 School Traffic Chaos
The number of cars arriving every morning at the Primary School has been rising every year. The new school extension – which opened in September – and the additional 40 students, has meant that even more parents are delivering their precious little bundles of fun right up to the school gates. And tempers are becoming frayed.
Even though there is fairly good parking less than 400 yards from the school entrance, some parents are determined to drop off as close to the gates as possible.
Microphone dropped by on Monday morning – said by some to be the worst day of the week for traffic chaos.
[INSERT – SCHOOL TRAFFIC CHAOS]
IN: [SFX – Sounds of traffic and children] “It should be …
OUT: “. . . but that is for others to answer.”
LAST VOICE: [Michael]
EXAMPLE SCRIPT 2
#3 School Traffic – Police Spokesperson
And one of the people who might be able to answer that question is Community Policing Officer, Sergeant Anna Mason.
[2-WAY ADAM AND ANNA]
– Current situation
– police presence at school gates
– rancor among parents
– problems caused to other drivers and pedestrians
– general advice
– specific action to be taken by police
EXPECTED OUT: Thank you
EXPECTED DUR: 3’.00”
There is a skill to learning how to write a script. It is not like writing a book or writing a business report or an essay for school. It is not like writing for a magazine or a newspaper. Writing a script is different. Sometimes it requires re-learning how to write, especially for people who write for a living.
Even these days on professional radio I can hear people reading a script at me. I heard one yesterday. By profession the presenter is an actress and musician. She read a script at me and I had to switch off. You can hear it in a voice, an intonation, the vocabulary and sentence construction. You can hear it in the reader’s breathing and their unnatural intensity.
The first rule for reading a script? Don’t let the script get between you and the listener.
Over the years there have been many changes to how scripts are written and how they are read. Once it was formal. Listen to very old BBC archive programmes. As broadcasting became less formal sometimes producers would complain that a presenter would fail to “lift the script from the page”, when in fact, the script was badly written (sometimes by the producer).
We are largely in a post-formal communications era. From prime minister and president to podcast presenter and news reader, we and they seek “authenticity”.
Your own accent is important, keep it. The way you naturally form your sentences (providing your speech is clear and grammar good) is important, keep it.
Lyse Doucet is the BBC’s multi-award winning Chief International Correspondent. She has one of the most interesting accents on radio. On the Radio 4 programme One to One in February 2016, she talked about her voice to Jan Ravens, the Dead Ringers actress who often impersonates Lyse and many other famous women.
“Your voice, your accent is as much a part of your personality as the colour of your face, as your name and you can’t over estimate when you say it’s a personal insult when people say your accent is wrong.”
Write your script as you speak and read your script as you speak. That – in summary – is what we are going to talk about next.