Morning Edition is a nationally-distributed NPR newsmagazine, that is in fact among the most listened-to radio programs in the country. Yet, it is said within the public radio system that Morning Edition is going to have a unique sound from station-to-station. And that’s because Morning Edition is designed for stations to customize it slightly, or even substantially.
In this series of posts about what I do as the morning engineer at WAMU, I’ve discussed how we obtain the live Morning Edition feed from NPR, and I’ve explained how NPR’s program clocks provide several opportunities for us to customize the show.
So on my shift, we combine local content and a little bit of national content from other sources with Morning Edition to deliver a blended, tailored product for the Washington audience.
Inserting Our Local Content
The network clock dictates how NPR structures its feed of Morning Edition, but when I put Morning Edition on the air, I work with WAMU’s morning host, Matt McCleskey, to determine where and how to insert our local content into the show.
Some of this local content is predetermined by WAMU’s Content Ops team. They generate the official Broadcast Log — a minute-by-minute listing of which shows go on the air, which sources they originate from, and more importantly, the scheduled promos and local underwriting that are to be inserted into each local break. The log mostly corresponds to the time-posts set by the network clock. Some of this scheduled content is to be read live by Matt, and other content is pre-recorded, which I need to play on the air within the designated break.
Of course, this is live radio, so we do have a little leeway to move these scheduled elements around to other breaks within the hour when it’s necessary.
In addition to the scheduled promos and underwriting, our newsroom will also schedule news stories, long-form local reports, and two-way interviews to insert into the show. And of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on any local news that breaks during the morning, or major traffic shutdowns or Metrorail delays that we need to announce on the air as well, and adjusting the show as necessary.
And we also take some short program modules from other sources as well. Twice per morning, we air American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report, which is designed to air in the exact time slot of Morning Edition’s E segment. And once per morning, by popular demand, we air a more “contemplative” segment called The Writer’s Almanac, hosted by Garrison Keillor.
Putting the Ingredients Together
So when Matt and I walk into the studio at 5 a.m. each weekday, have all of these ingredients waiting for us — two hours of scheduled segments by NPR that fit their program clock, a broadcast log of scheduled promos and underwriting to play, and a variable amount of local news and feature content, some of which may cover up some of NPR’s national content.
Over the course of the morning, Matt and I plan out each local newscast and each local break in the show to synthesize all of that material into a seamlessly-blended program. For each break, my job is to pot down the network at the specific times and open Matt’s mic, and he talks the listener through each element of the break, tossing back to me whenever a pre-recorded element needs to be played, and then going back to the network feed at the end of the break.
Ideally, if we do our job well, our listeners will have little-to-no idea how much planning went into every moment of the radio program they heard.
This amount of planning and adjustment actually pales in comparison to what I do during a particularly busy week — pledge week. More on that in part 4.