Every industry has its unsung heroes, the little elves who actually keep the bearings greased and the lights on. Almost any company can survive for a month without a CEO without anyone but stockholders even noticing a difference, but almost none will be able to operate without that one person who knows where the files from 1996 are kept and how the building security code can be changed.
Yet these guys might end up feeling unappreciated when they realize just how much the “talent” earns, often without needing a formal qualification or even working very hard. While household names might be able to bank on their brand recognition, the writer’s guild strike of 2007 proved that the whole machine can come to a standstill if a single part stops working. Ultimately, everyone is replaceable, but refusing to acknowledge the contribution everyone makes is rarely a good management strategy, whether in the broadcast media or elsewhere.
When an announcer or journalist says “We have spoken to…” or some similar phrase, there is not always an I in that we. Few people know how much sheer work goes into making even a 30-second audio clip: research, planning, fact-checking, finding members of the public to speak to or tracking down persons of interest, chasing leads and rumors, as well as solving all of the myriad problems that seem to crop up out of nowhere.
From answering the phone to obtaining any needed licenses, broadcast assistants support radio producers at every step in the process. This job requires flexibility and charm as well as a wide-ranging skill set. Broadcast assistants are expected to know how to record and edit audio, help keep track of expenditure and even present short items on air. This is typically an entry-level position but tends to be far more demanding than just knowing how coffee makers and fax machines work.
One reason the news is read by a different person from the show anchor is to give the latter a chance to pee, but this isn’t the whole story. When listeners hear the daily news on the radio, the bare content is not all that matters: the presentation is equally important. Histrionics are clearly not acceptable, but the delivery can also not be so dry that listeners will lose interest.
Think of a simple sentence like “Today, the president announced that cuts to the federal education budget may be necessary.” Depending on which words are emphasized, the way the listener perceives it can change completely. Professional newsreaders will constantly study tapes of their own work as well as analyze the style of others in the same profession to perfect their personal technique.
Additionally, there is no room for stage fright or hesitation in this profession, especially when the wrong clip is played or some other error makes improvisation necessary. While most of the job may seem routine, the ability to think on your feet is a must, since there isn’t always time to prepare detailed notes on a breaking news story. Since much of reported news is controversial or upsetting, the ability to retain composure under any circumstances is absolutely essential.
Unless it’s part of a national network, the typical radio station can’t afford full-time technicians for every system they use, but they still need all of the technical bells and whistles larger organizations have.
This means that the same person might have to calibrate the transmitter when needed, administrate the email server, act as audio engineer, maintain mobile units for field reporting, run cables as needed, and be on call 24 hours a day in case any of a hundred things go wrong. Be kind to this person: technology isn’t something that just happens automatically, but something that only works when dozens of things are done right.
Whether as freelancers, interns or full-time staff, everyone working in radio is expected to understand at least a little about everyone else’s responsibilities and challenges. This is especially true in smaller stations where everyone knows each other. Some people may earn less than others, but if even one cog in the machine drops the ball, embarrassing errors or worse are likely to result.