The Art of Show Prep

Somebody once said that “only you know how to prep your show” and somebody else also said “for every hour that you’re on the air, spend half an hour doing prep”.  Both are quite useful nuggets of information – and my thinking has always been to stick with the former.

For me, it’s having a range of “stuff” immediately available to talk about should I need to fill a gap or multi-task because there’s a problem I have to deal with (eg: playout crash).

The additional benefit of a prep sheet is that stories, bullet-point topics and even up-and-coming shows can be ready to read without having to navigate multiple tabs on a web browser or squint at the studio’s whiteboard.

Quite often, my prep sheet will include a basic summary of a story I’ve seen, especially if I’ve written something witty alonside it, perhaps some “observational” material leading up to a punchline.  Other times it’ll be a headline which I’ll load-up on the studio’s computer to summarize from during the show.  As many of our shows have guests, I always include the next few shows on my paper and mention them: Same goes with recent write-ups and features on the website, eg: “if you missed Joe Bloggs chatting this lunchtime about the new housing development, listen again” etc.

I always feel as though I’m doing a disservice to the listeners (and those at the station) if I don’t promote other shows and web content.  This is also made easier when there is a central place for up-and-coming shows: Website homepage, internal/private webpage or even a whiteboard.  If your site runs under WordPress, I strongly advocate the use of a plugin for this, managed by each presenter, and this can be displayed/rotated via a widget with minimal human intervention.

The traditional “Clock wheel” is also a useful tool to planning a show – and also displaying overall balance: How many songs and what type?  How often do you stop for adverts or travel?  Do you play the same types of songs every hour or have an A and B clock (I do).  Using a clock can give you a framework to build your show around, allowing for creativity+flexibility but also give you (and your audience) a comfort-blanket because regular things will happen at the same time.

The beauty of this preparation is that it can make everything sound more spontaneous as opposed to getting flustered and trying to think of something to say.

Programme Clock Layout

The above clock is a typical method for planning an hour – With a little colour and the aid of an analogue clock in the studio, you can easily keep track of your timings and see how much time you need to gain/lose.  The Broadcast Clock Creator software is a great tool for making clocks like this – with export to PNG image and Acrobat PDF.

How I Choose Content

I have a simple formula for deciding what to feature on the show in terms of guests, talk-topics etc.  The graphic below illustrates this perfectly – In order to qualify, the item concerned must be a “Yes” to any of the following questions:

To Feature or Not To Feature?

It sounds obvious, but that’s all it needs – even if it’s something happening miles away, it still may be of interest or affect our audience in some way.

As I said at the start of this post, prep is something that is personal to you: 1 page per show, 1 page per hour or perhaps a full script.  The important thing is that what you deliver is the best possible radio for your listener.  When I say “best”, that doesn’t mean “slick” or “in under 30 seconds”, just efficient.  If you are pre-recording an interview then you may be able to make things a little tighter in terms of speech/breath gaps as well as possibly remove superfluous pieces that don’t add anything to the piece.

So this is just a summary of what I find that works for me – my general rule-of-thumb is to never open the microphone unless I have something of substance to say.