Even without looking, I can tell that the nation’s radio station producers were rolling their eyes while listening to a complaint from a caller on today’s Talk of the Nation.
During its program on nutrition guidelines, a caller complained that NPR’s “call screeners” (we call them “producers,” actually) were letting mostly women callers through for a show on diet, but during an earlier segment, “the male screener only allowed one female caller in during a foreign policy discussion.” (Scroll to 24:15 below. Or you can just take my word for it.)
The Talk of the Nation host skillfully, and with tongue held, manipulated the caller back on topic.
How does it work really? As far as I know in 35 years of working in radio, the gender of the caller isn’t even a factor in determining whether a caller should be allowed to ask a good question on air.
Radio, at least Public Radio, isn’t like the open lines on C-SPAN where they take one caller from the “Democrat line” and one caller from the “Republican line” and everyone gets on in the order they call no matter how stupid or pointless the comment.
Calling a public radio station program isn’t the zipper merge.
A producer’s allegiance is to the listener and the discussion. Each call and each question or comment has to fit the conversation at the moment it’s taking place.The best way to find yourself on the air with a comment or a question, is to focus on something that hasn’t already been said.
“I want them to be concise and thoughtful,” MPR Midmorning producer Chris Dall says. “I want them to be passionate yet restrained. I want them to be listening to the conversation that’s going on. I want them to have a question or comment that moves the discussion forward. I want them to understand that no matter how good they think their question or point is, they just might not get on the air.”
As for gender, radio hosts know when the callers are mostly men or mostly women, but there’s not a lot they can do about it. Any radio producer is at the mercy of who’s calling. Maybe more women are calling on a topic than men. Should the producer put a male caller with an irrelevant comment on instead of a female caller with a good point?
The producers have a tough job, preventing irrelevant conversation — a complaint about a producer during a show on nutrition, for example — getting to your ears. Sometimes for every good question you hear on a public radio talk show, there’s probably at least three others telling a producer what a jerk he/she is.
Very few of the many I’ve known over the years actually are.