Long before your radio alarm clock clicks on in the morning, long before your favorite morning show goes on the air, legions of gag writers, sound engineers and programming consultants are up, scanning the Web for cute and funny wire stories to funnel to DJs and talk show hosts so they can fill their daily programs.
For small fees, radio hosts can tap into services that provide topical jokes, lists of celebrity birthdays, audio clips from the previous night's Leno and Letterman monologues, and all the other goofy stuff that fills the space between songs, news headlines and commercials.
Dozens of show-prep services compete to get into the e-mailboxes of DJs and producers. For $30 a month, one site offers four pages a day of fresh gags.
Another service, Positive Prep, charges $20 a month for a daily e-mail that includes quick rewrites of news wire features about, for example, a shop that sells Halloween costumes for dogs, a list of the 10 fattest cities in America and tidbits such as "Today is National Chocolate-Covered Cherry Day."
The Internet being what it is, some prep sites are free places to trade material with other DJs. Music DJs are partial to sites such as songfacts.com, which traffics in lyrics, histories and production stories about thousands of pop tunes. Talk hosts search for ideas from one another's work, as collected on sites run by the consultants who program most radio stations. When KLIF in Dallas offered its listeners a chance to audition to be a talk show host, the idea spread quickly across the country courtesy of show-prep sites such as Holland Cooke's "Best Bit of the Month."
But the more traditional way to prepare a radio show lives on, especially on the few remaining local talk shows. WMAL's Chris Core, who will celebrate 30 years at the station in February, reads The Washington Post, Washington Times and USA Today each morning; then goes online to check the Drudge Report, CNN and Fox; flips on the tube to see what's dominating the cable news channels; and, as the day progresses, refines his list of six or seven topics down to what he, his producer and the station's program director think are the two most powerful and provocative issues of the day.
"The bias will always be toward a local story, because I follow six hours of national syndication," says Core, whose 6-to-9 p.m. show follows Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. "Once we pick the topics, I do my best to become the 10-minute expert. What I have to do is be just a little bit more knowledgeable than the audience."