How To Screen Calls...Without a Call ...
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Tracy Johnson
How To Screen Calls…Without a Call Screener
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Most radio shows make use of listeners on the air, if they can. And for good reason. Great callers can add personality to a show and act as another microphone to bring out more of your personality. But it’s getting harder and harder to get calls. There are a variety of reasons, but one of the main problems is that most of us don’t talk on the phone as much as in the past. It’s easier to text or respond on social media.

And there’s another problem. Great callers are a terrific addition to a segment. But only if they’re great callers. Most of those calling in to try and get on the air aren’t great callers. And many of them end up on the air anyway because we’re so happy that someone (anyone) called. Or, a show doesn’t have time to properly prepare the caller. That’s usually because the phone screener position was eliminated (or never existed) long ago. And often, the producer was soon to follow.

That’s a shame. And it’s not good for high profile personalities. But it’s a reality that has caused more than a few personalities to compromise the quality of callers that get on the air.

So what’s a radio show to do? Is it possible to screen calls effectively? Yes, it is, if you’re creative, know what you’re doing and use the tools available to you.

Getting Great Callers

One of the keys to getting great callers on the air is getting more callers to call in. That makes sense, right? The more you have to choose from, the greater the chance of finding someone useful and interesting. But that doesn’t solve the screening problem. Because the more lines that ring, the more frantic it becomes in the studio.

Callers are not entertainers. In fact, most  are not even as qualified as guests on your show. So you can’t just hope that when you go to the caller they have something to say. Fortunately, there are shortcuts to screening calls and getting better responders on the air

Use Social Media

More and more shows are driving response to their social media pages. That’s fine, and it’s more likely to attract a broader audience response. But honestly? It’s really boring to hear personalities reading what listeners have typed on their Facebook page. Come on! We’re an audio medium. But you can use Facebook to get great callers on your show.

Did you ever wonder how some shows get calls without ever giving the phone number on the air? They’re usually more prepared that most shows who beg for calls and give the phone number every 10 minutes. Just plan your content further in advance. Put the topic on social media 1-3 days before you plan to air it, and see what kind of response you get.

Note: you’ll get more if you participate in the discussion that should follow.

When there are interesting comments, send a private message to the user, asking if they’ll be on the air with you. You can schedule the call at their convenience. Recording it will help you know where the call is going, and you’ll be able to tell the on-air story more effectively. And, you’ll have several calls ready to go before you even launch the topic. It’s like magic. As an added benefit, you can tell them when they’ll be on the air and they will be likely to tune in. And probably tell some friends.

Text Messaging

This is another popular form of communication, and a great way to screen calls. When introducing a topic, promote response by text. It works! And the texters will usually be more thoughtful efficient and edited! Now don’t rush one the air to read the texts. Message the best responders back and ask if you can call them and talk about it on the air. They’re not perfectly screened, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

Recycle Callers

When you get a great caller, use them for multiple topics. If someone sounds great on one segment, chances are they’ll have a comment (or something you can use) on another. That means you’ll have to prepare further in advance (again, you should be doing this anyway). Keep a list of topics in the studio and re-use your best callers. That’s one of the tips for getting the most from phone calls I share here.

Use Ringers

The most certain way to get great callers is to stack the deck by setting up each caller. Use ringers or regular contributors. Many shows have a roster of go-to folks they can use anytime. You can use family, friends, co-workers, personalities from other markets, listeners who sound great, actors and actresses or just about anyone else who can pull it off on the air.

Ringers are great because you can get them to say what you want, can record them in advance and make sure they fit into your storyline.


You don’t need a lot of calls to make a great phone segment. You just need a few great callers. If a random caller can add to your show, great! But chances are, they need to be screened and coached.

With a little creativity, you can not only attract responses you can use, they’ll be prepared and ready to perform the way you want! It’s not quite like having a producer or screener, but it’s a great shortcut. A word of warning though: Putting great callers on the air will produce a lot more callers, whether you provide the phone number or not. So you may want to beg for that producer/phone screener position after all!


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