The 'Short Wave' staff knows how to keep a daily pod sustainable

‘Short Wave’ host Emily Kwong, hard at work. All of the podcast is scripted.

You’ve launched a daily podcast. Congrats! Now you have to keep it going.

Short Wave, NPR’s daily science podcast, stays sustainable through careful planning, vigilance about burnout, and realistic expectations of how long a 15-minute podcast takes the staff to produce.

“People outside the industry think we produce an episode once a day,” producer Rebecca Ramirez says. Though the timeline varies, “sometimes episodes can take a few days to produce.”

“It takes two days for a pre-interview and interview preparation, and another day for scripting,” Ramirez says. “We script everything, even the ad libbing. A lot of the time, people think we are putting people in the studio, but it’s fully scripted.”

The tracking session between the host and reporter can last 30 to 40 minutes, then cutting together the material adds two to three hours.

‘Short Wave’ producers Brit Hanson, left, and Rebecca Ramirez, right, also hard at work.

Since audio production is a process of layering, every aspect of complexity added — edits, snippets of music, sound effects — lengthens the process of creation.

Take adding music: “Scoring is a long process, especially when you don’t want to use the same music” as in past episodes, Ramirez says.

Many news and narrative podcasts have to plan days, weeks and even months out to balance program expectations with staffing and avoid burnout, which can hinder creativity.

The Short Wave team was “treading water” when they revamped their planning process, producer Brit Hanson says. They now schedule months ahead, with a calendar that “allows us to work backwards” to set achievable deadlines.

“There is a rhythm, and our workflow is much smoother,” Hanson says.

Camaraderie and a willingness to ask for help are also keys to sustainability, with the entire staff attempting to balance the workload so no one feels overwhelmed.

“Nothing bad will happen to me if I admit what my weaknesses are,” Hanson says. “When a producer is slammed, we help each other out.”

Argin Hutchins is the NPR Training team's Audio Production Trainer.