A standard recommendation often turns into a debate with some personalities and programmers. Some shows have a personal problem using fake callers or voice actors on-air. In some circles, the term voice actors is a dirty word. So, let’s adjust the narrative and focus on the term manufactured reality.

Warning: If you a fan of Reality TV because you believe the storylines are authentic, don’t read this article. It’ll ruin the experience.

Manufactured Reality

The only authority that matters in the entertainment business is how the public reacts to the content. The audience has made their feelings known through their actions.

They know professional wrestling is fake.

They (mostly) know reality TV shows are scripted.

Even movies and TV series “based on a true story” are enhanced.

And they don’t care.

The subject comes up regularly in radio focus groups. Some listeners are as curious about callers as how movies are filmed. They ask:

Are those people real?

An interesting thing happens when you answer this question with another question.

If you found out that most of the callers were voice actors, would that bother you?

The vast majority say it would not, but they are dying to know the answer. In the end, the only thing that matters is whether the show is entertaining.

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Yet many broadcasters hang onto the notion that everything on the air should be “real.” Shows that insist on using only real listeners aren’t nearly as compelling as shows using manufactured reality (voice actors).

Manufactured reality enhances stories to make them more interesting and exciting, just as movie producers take liberties in films “based on a true story.” Often, the finished product has little in common with the original, actual story. But it makes for a better entertainment experience.

Reality Shows Are Not “Real”

Reality show storytellers are masters of this concept. Every top show specializes in manufactured reality. For details, go here. Show producers work with storylines, then look for emotional insecurities and triggers to increase the drama. For example:

HGTV: Even programs like House Hunters (HGTV) build a story only after the house has been chosen. Producers call it fictionalizing real life.

American Idol: An American Idol contestant didn’t make it to Hollywood, but producers wanted that person in the finals. Suddenly, a judge says, “Remember that contestant three or four people ago? Can we let her try again?” She returned and magically made it to the finals. Her presence made the story better.

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Catfish: This is a reality show about people confronting online lovers in real life. The online persona is drastically different from reality. Need proof that it’s fake? TV appearances require a waiver, yet their faces aren’t blurred. These aren’t surprising confrontations. They’re highly planned and scripted.

Why do these shows rely so heavily on manufactured reality? Entertainment must be designed to be consumed, not for historical accuracy, and radio shows should be designed to entertain listeners, not those who call to respond to a topic.

How to Create Manufactured Reality

Here are tips for applying manufactured reality on radio shows:

Set Up Topics: Use “ringers” to advance a phone topic with a well-placed call. This is particularly effective early in a topic. There are dozens of tips for using this technique in the on-demand seminar here.

Introduce A Problem: Start a dilemma with a phone call or assign a problem to a listener’s email or DM. Problems that sound real are more emotional than hypothetical situations. Using an actual voice with the problem adds more immediacy.

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Relationship Features: Arrange voice actors to play roles in regular relationship features like Group Therapy, Panic Button, or Forgive and Forget. The story will have far more emotion than a listener who doesn’t know how to tell a story.

Extreme Comments: Ask a friend, colleague, or coworker to perform as a caller to make an outrageous statement that adds friction to a topic.

Regular Character: Develop a unique local character to say things the cast can’t or shouldn’t.


There’s nothing wrong with airing organic calls from real listeners. It’s great when that works out, and there are dozens of tips on how to get the most from listener calls here.

But why not use all of your tools? Does it matter whether a caller is a manufactured reality or a “real” caller? Does it matter if a listener’s “problem” is an actual situation? Not really.

Radio is show business, and show business relies on storytelling. Personalities are storytellers, and storytellers use manufactured reality to enhance stories.