Fundamentals of Radio Broadcasting: Keeping the Logs

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The operator of a broadcasting station is required to keep two logs: the operating log and the program log. In the operating log you must show the time the carrier (transmitter) was turned on and the time modulation (program) began. Each broadcast day must begin with a sign-on. This is an announcement which includes the call letters of the station and the name of the city where the station is licensed. Generally the sign -on also states the operating frequency, channel number, and radiated power of the station as well as the names of the owners. When the station signs off, the same information is given. The operating log also includes meter readings, which must be taken every three hours. Required meter readings vary from one station to another; the procedure will be explained to you by the chief engineer.

FIG. 1 Program log

The program log serves two functions: (1) It provides a guide for the operator so he or she will know what programs and spot announcements have been scheduled for the day, and (2) it serves as a record that can be made available to a sponsor, the FCC, or the general public. The FCC requires that logs be kept accurately and legibly. If a sponsor wants to know when a commercial announcement was run, you should be able to find it in the log. And don't log it if you didn't run it! If you do, you can be charged with fraud. Remember, your name is in the log, and you, personally, can be held responsible, as well as the station. Program logs become part of the public file. Anyone may come into the station and ask to see them. They should be kept neatly and maintained in an organized fashion. An FCC inspector may come in to see the logs, too. If there is reason to suspect improper conduct, the inspector may tape a portion of the broadcast day, and then check to see if it coincides with the log for that period. If falsifications are found, both the station and the operator can be issued a citation and asked to explain the discrepancy. If the explanation is not satisfactory, and if the transgression is serious, both station and operator may lose their licenses. I have known cases where operators have been fired for not keeping logs properly. In one case, the logs had been filled out in advance. The young man was discovered, much to his chagrin, when the station suffered a power outage and went off the air after the logs had already been filled out. It would be a shame to have your career interrupted like this over a technicality, especially when keeping logs is such a simple task.

The style of program logs will vary, but the essential elements will be constant. (See FIG. 1). In the center of the log will be a space for programs and announcements. Every item entered must be one or the other; none may be both. Each must be accompanied by specific information.


Almost anything can be classified as a program, but usually it is some thing that is 2 minutes or more in length. In the log will be a space for the type of program and its source.

Type The log must tell how the program is classified, or its type. The following are the ones generally recognized:

E Light entertainment: such as popular music N News. Current events presented without emphasis on any particular point of view.

PA Public affairs: discussion programs, talk shows, etc.

GEN General education: cultural programs offered for the general enlightenment of the listener.

I Instructional: programs offered by educational institutions for academic credit.

EDIT Editorial: programs expressing the point of view of the station.

POL Political: programs that endorse political candidates.

S Sports: reporting or actual play by play.

R Religious: church services or church news.

AG Agriculture: news about farms, crops, etc.

A radio station should be conscientious about providing the appropriate classification for each program. Every three years the license must be renewed, and the FCC will ask for a breakdown in percent of the amount of time devoted to the various program types. If everything is light entertainment, there may be a question about the station's responsibility in providing a public service. The station owner must remember that licenses can be challenged every time they come up for renewal.


The log must tell where the program originates. The following symbols are the ones most commonly used:

L Local means that the program was produced at the station, utilizing live talent more than 50 percent of the time.

NET Network means that the program is originating from a distant location and being fed to the local station. In this case the designation might also be the initials of a network: NBC, CBS, ABC, etc.

REC Recorded means that 50 percent or more of the program material has been previously recorded. Most disk jockey programs would have this designation.

REM Remote refers to a program originating from a location away from the main studios. The program material is produced by station personnel, but it is not coming from the place where the station is licensed. A remote might come from a local sports arena or shopping center. The sound is received at the station by telephone line or shortwave transmission and then broadcast in the normal fashion.


An entry on the log that is called an announcement (or spot) is usually a minute or less in length. It should have a designation indicating its type and its duration.


The following are symbols commonly used:

COM Commercial indicates a spot announcement that has been paid for by a sponsor.

PSA Public service announcement is a message for which no charge has been made and which presents information about a non-profit organization or cause that is in the public interest.

SC Station continuity is an announcement that provides information about the radio station itself, such as promotion for a special program.


The length of a spot announcement may be important. For example, on a commercial station a 30 -second announcement will cost less than one that runs a full minute. In the column in the log that calls for duration, the length of the spot should be entered in minutes and seconds. Use a colon to separate the two as follows:

1:00-to indicate 1 minute

:30-to indicate 30 seconds

The job of preparing the program log ]s done by the traffic director, who will type into the log all the programs and spot announcements, with their scheduled times, prior to the broadcast day. As the operator, you will receive the log with most of the information already entered.

Your job will be to write in the actual time that the programs and spots are run. Programs need both time on and time off spot announcements need only time on because their duration has already been indicated.


If there is one person on a radio station staff who is in a position to see the entire picture, it is the traffic director. Primarily the job involves preparing the daily program log, and so the traffic director has to be familiar with all the programs and spot announcements and must know something about the skills of all the other members of the staff. The traffic director works with the program director in laying out the format for each broadcast day. He or she must be informed when programs are changed and is often consulted about time availabilities, program con tent, and listener response. The traffic director works very closely with the sales personnel, who supply information about what air time the sponsor wants and how many commercials to insert. It is the responsibility of the traffic director to offer protection for sponsors whenever possible. This means keeping competitive spots separated. In addition, there is a broadcasters' code that calls for not putting more than 18 minutes of commercials into any one hour. The traffic director should have a thorough understanding of the rate card, which is a directive that tells the cost of the station's spot announcements. Some times of the day are more expensive than others; if a sponsor is paying for prime time, that sponsor's spot must be run at prime time. Although it may never be necessary for the traffic director to talk on the radio or hold a license, he or she should know something about combo operation and have an understanding of what the combo person can and cannot do. Programs or spot announcements must not be put in an impossible sequence. The traffic director also works with management, and needs to be informed about bookkeeping and billing.

In recent years, the burden of the traffic director has been eased considerably by the use of computers. A computer program can be de signed so that the printout contains the information needed by the ac counting department for billing purposes as well as the programming department for scheduling and keeping records.

Preparing the program log is only half the responsibility of the traffic director. The other half is to see that all the copy, tapes, and transcriptions that are written into the log are actually in the control room where they are supposed to be. If the operator has to cross out a commercial because the copy or tape was not available, the station loses revenue. The traffic director must see that it is in place and that it is current. Often sponsors like to change their copy regularly. There is no point in reading a commercial about a sale that has already passed.

When new copy is prepared, the old copy has to come out, or else the announcer may read it by mistake. It is especially important for the traffic director to keep the carts up to date, because you don't know what they say until you play them.

Labeling Carts

On the front edge of every cart, the traffic director will place a sticker. It will give the name of the sponsor (or public service organization) the way it appears on the log. There will also be a number or a letter to identify it and facilitate filing. That will be on the log and on the label. If there is a termination time for the spot, the label may contain a "kill" date. And if there is any room left, the label will have the last few words of the announcement. This is called the "out cue." A label on a cart may look something like this:

B-8 Kelly's Hardware Kill: Jan 16 Cue: ". . . this Jan. sales event."

In the program log the traffic director would write Kelly's Hardware Cart B-8. All of this information is necessary. The name of the sponsor has to appear because just a letter and a number would not be understandable to the FCC or the general public if they looked at the log a year later. The log must also contain the information necessary for the operator to know how to find the spot and whether it is live or recorded.

The out cue on the cart tells the announcer when it is time to come in with the next record or live comment. The procedure and filing system may vary from one station to another, but the practice is basically the same.

Live Copy

There are several different ways of working with live copy. Usually each of the commercials that the announcer will have to read is placed in a loose-leaf binder. This way it can be moved and changed easily. The copy would be alphabetized and sometimes given a code letter similar to that which appeared on the cart. This might be necessary if there is more than one piece of copy that the sponsor is running. Kelly's Hardware would be filed under K for Kelly rather than H for Hardware. There must be a convention that is understood by both the operator and the traffic director.

Use Tags

Often commercials or public service announcements are prepared by large advertising agencies in a distant city. There may be hundreds of different outlets and merchants that handle the product. So the advertising agency must rely on the local station to provide the specific information about where the item is available. Kelly's Hardware, for example, may carry General Electric products. GE will send Kelly advertising materials that he can use as he wishes--posters, display stands, etc. They may also send him a vinyl disk (formerly called an electrical transcription, or ET for short) with several different spots on separate cuts. They may vary in length and content. The parent company may pay part or all of the cost if Kelly wishes to advertise on the local radio station. If so, the station would play the designated cut on the ET and then add a "live tag" that tells the listener that the product is available at Kelly's Hard ware. The live tag is treated the same as any other piece of copy. But the traffic director must be sure to include the information in the log that there is a tag that goes with the ET. The combo operator must be ready for this too. It is easy to forget about the tag. I am sure you have heard announcers who have.


Keeping logs is an important part of your job as a combo operator. The chief engineer at the station where you work will show you how to make entries in the operator's log. Program logs will vary from one station to another, but you should have an understanding of the basic principles.

Keep in mind that the program log has two functions: to serve as a guide for the operator, and to provide a record of what programs and spot announcements the station aired. Knowing how to prepare program logs will help you get a job as a traffic director--a position that may not be glamorous, but is extremely important. The traffic director's job is not finished when the entry is made in the log; he or she must see that all tapes and copy are properly labeled and in the control room where they are supposed to be. The traffic director's job is one of the main determinants of a station's smooth operation.



Prime time



Kill date


Live Spot

Out cue



1. Prepare a blank program log that looks like the one shown on page 78. Select a station in your community and listen to it for a period of two hours. As you listen, log all the programs and announcements that you hear. Be as accurate as you can in writing down the times. Call the station and ask if you can compare your log with theirs. They should be willing to accommodate you, as the logs are part of their public file. It might be a good idea, however, to tell them you are doing this as a class exercise. Be sure you note how the station has classified each of the programs and spot announcements.

2. Ask to see the station's latest license renewal application. (This is also part of the public file.) See what percentage of the station's total air time was devoted to each of the various program types.

3. Talk to the traffic director. Find out what system the station uses for labeling carts, logging spots, and making copy available to announcers. Ask what their method is for keeping track of where the spots go and how long they are to run. If possible, visit the control room to see how the copy is filed and where the tapes and carts are kept.

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