Jeff Freeman, Creative Services Director, KUFO-FM, Portland, Oregon
by Jerry Vigil
This month’s RAP Interview stops into the country’s 25th market for a visit with Jeff Freeman, Creative Services Director at KUFO, Infinity’s Active Rock outlet in Portland, Oregon. Jeff is one of those people who pursued radio for an air-shift more than anything else, but as he spent more time in the production room, his hidden talents as a producer became apparent. Though most of his 12+ years in radio have been spent on the air, the last three have found Jeff off the air and in the production room where he has rapidly developed his production skills. Check out Jeff’s demo on this month’s RAP Cassette for a dose of clean, top-notch Active Rock imaging.
JV: Tell us about your background in radio.
Jeff: I started at a broadcasting school in 1988 just fooling around and spending my parents’ money trying to educate myself at something. I learned a lot but didn’t learn much, if that makes any sense. I grew up in LA, and somehow I ended up at a radio station called Power 106, which was an urban station. I ran into a friend who worked at Power 106 with the morning show. He worked with Jay Thomas. I started working with him just by clipping out newspaper articles and stuff like that for his show. Then I started to wander into the production room and was always amazed at what these guys were doing in the production room. They started showing me some stuff, and I caught on quickly. The next thing you know, I was splicing and putting together bits for Jay’s show. The production people saw what was going on, and suddenly they were using me to help produce commercials. My interest in production started to evolve a little bit at that point.
I did that for a couple years, but I still wanted to get on the air. It was really hard to break into an air shift in Los Angeles, so I ended up getting a job in Bakersfield, which is about one hundred miles north, a very small market, and worked weekends there for a while. Then I went to Fresno. I got a gig working overnights at KRZR for a thousand dollars a month. At the time, I thought that was a great job and a great opportunity. I just laugh at it now. I was at this radio station for about six years. I went from overnights to seven to midnight and had a really good show. It was a rock station. There was a lot of production involved in my show, and I put everything together.
Then I did mornings for a while at another station in Fresno. It was a country rock station, and I’m still trying to figure out what I was doing there. I was at that station for about six months, and they went kerplunk. Then I was looking for something to do. I had a friend who was working at a station up here in Portland who was telling me I should just get my butt up here and see what happens. KUFO really didn’t have a position for me. I told them I wanted to work part-time and that I could help out in production. They said, “Well, if you want to do that, if thirty hours a week is good for you, come on up here and prove yourself.” I’ve always wanted to work for a major market, and I said, “What the hell. Let’s give it a try.” Well, after about three or four months, they made me full-time. I was the Assistant Production Director and on air, and about seven months later, I was the Creative Services Director. This was in September of ’97.
JV: Did they create that position for you?
Jeff: Well, they had a guy in house here who actually was a really good friend of mine—still is—but it just wasn’t working. I still don’t know what all that was about, but he left, and that’s when I became the Creative Services Director. But what’s funny about how it evolved is that I always liked production, but I never really was a production person, if you know what I mean. I was a jock. But I was hungry to do anything I could possibly do. All of a sudden, when my friend was let go, they were saying, “Well, we don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re going to look within and look all over the country, but you’re in here now.” It took them three months to decide that I was going to be their guy. I pretty much had to prove to myself and prove to everybody else that I could do this. It was a really interesting transition to go through all of that because I had no imaging experience whatsoever at the time.
JV: Did you give up the air shift at this time?
Jeff: Yeah, they took me off the air.
JV: There are several Infinity stations in Portland. How many of them are involved in your facility there?
Jeff: We have two. We have KUFO, which is an Active Rock station with Howard Stern in the morning, and we have a station that just a few months flipped to an all-eighties format, KVMX.
JV: As Creative Services Director, are you handling the imaging for just one station or both?
Jeff: I do imaging for KUFO, and I handle the commercial production for both stations.
JV: Do you have any help?
Jeff: Well, what’s really great about my Program Director, Dave Numme, is that he’s always been a person who believes in delegating. As a result, it’s not just me who’s doing the imaging for KUFO. He hires outside sources to do some of the creativity, and to be honest with you, that really had a lot to do with how I evolved because I got to hear what other people were doing, and I got to become friends with some of the people. One person in particular is Rich Van Slyke in Atlanta. Rich has really been my biggest mentor. He was one of the people we were using as a free-lance to help produce some stuff. Rich kind of felt a little weird about the situation, and I pretty much explained to him, “Hey, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m here.” So he offered some suggestions and played some stuff for me. He said, “Roll some tape of your stuff and send it to me, and I’ll tell you what you’re doing and offer some suggestions. ” He’s really been a big help.
We still to this day use outside sources to help because there’s just so much here, I can’t do it all. We use Ann DeWig out of DC. Ann’s work is phenomenal. She produces and her voice is on some of our stuff. So, we have outside producers and voices, but to be honest with you, it’s slowly but surely fading. I’m doing more and more of the work now.
One of our board operators for Howard Stern has a real special talent that’s helped me out tons. He’s a wizard on the program called ACID. I’ll give him some songs or artists to use, and he puts together some unbelievable mixes. From there, I add the voice and drops to add flavor. There are a couple of examples on the demo I’ll send for The Cassette. I’m learning more and more how to work with the program, but it’s real special to have help like that right here in the building. He’s teaching me stuff, and I hope I’m doing the same for him.
JV: What other outside voices are you using?
Jeff: We’ve been using James Justice from the day I’ve been here, and just recently, we added Howard Parker. I really like Howard’s voice. Working with these two voices, Howard Parker, which is the deeper of the two voices, and James Justice is a blast—two different types of voices and personalities. With James, he can do so many different voice impersonations. Plus I get great ad-libs. I’ll have a promo written and James will play around with the copy and change it. It’s almost gotten to the point that when I do a session with him, I’ll only have copy points written and I’ll say, “James, just play with it.” It’s not always a success story, but most of the time it is.
We just started using Howard Parker in late June, and it’s been great. His voice is so powerful. He’s like a monster. I’m still playing around with his voice and discovering his styles. By having two voices like this, it really helps us with what we do here. If we want a funny spot and are having a hard time coming up with copy, James is our guy! But for the aggressive, in-your-face stuff, Howard is the man!
JV: Who’s doing the writing on the commercials and promos?
Jeff: I help out with some. A lot of the commercials, unfortunately, our salespeople deal with. Many times, they’ll come to me with an idea they have in mind, and I’ll help them when I have time. Other times, when the copy comes down to us from sales, we’ll literally change it on the fly.
JV: Are you putting in some long hours?
Jeff: Yeah, and I get to the point where I’m realizing I can only do what I can do. A word Dave Numme has been saying to me from day one is “delegate,” and I’m learning how to do that. I’m currently looking for an assistant right now. We have an ad out right now, but by the time this article prints, we will have hired one. I feel good about a guy we have in house. I’m pretty sure he’s going to get the job, and he really helps me out quite a bit. It’s really busy around here. Working with Infinity, we have just tons of salespeople and it’s a high demand situation.
JV: Have you felt the crunch of consolidation there?
Jeff: Oh, definitely. I’m kind of used to it now, so it’s not that big of a deal. But the workload has probably given me more hours and a few more gray hairs.
JV: Are you sharing voice and production work with some of the other Infinity stations in town that are not in the same building with you?
Jeff: No, we’re not.
JV: So in your situation, it’s almost like the old days of a basic two-station combo.
Jeff: It is. It’s a two-station combo. But back when the other station was a modern AC station, I was helping out with the imaging, and three years ago it was crazy because I was doing imaging for two stations and also doing the commercial work. That’s when I felt consolidation was a bad thing, but eventually they caught on and realized there was just no way that one guy could do all this work.
JV: You been doing production long enough to have gone through the analog to digital transition. Do you remember what equipment you did your first digital editing on?
Jeff: My first digital editing was at KRZR. It was probably 1994. It was a big step because we went from reel-to-reel to SAWplus. At the time, it was four tracks, and I remember the learning curve back in those days killed me. I was so petrified of it. It was just a whole different world to me. I look back at that now and just laugh at it. I eventually moved up to the Orban DSE-7000, and I was still in Fresno when that happened. That was ideal because when I came here to Portland, it just so happened that’s what they had. Of course, we’ve upgraded to the Audicy since then.
JV: Your production style has a nice, tight flow to it. What’s your production philosophy or the process you go through to make a great promo?
Jeff: It’s something Rich taught me a long time ago; he said to tell a story if you can. If you’re going to use movie drops, which I like to use, don’t just use a drop for the sake of using the drop. It’s silly. I’ve heard it so many times and it makes me sick. If you can use the drop to help you tell a story, then that’s different.
Let’s say we’re giving away a trip to Las Vegas. If I’m going to use drops, what I’ll do is go out and rent a bunch of movies about Las Vegas. Some of these movies I may have seen, so I’ll know where some of these drops are. If not, I have an intern who will sit and help me, and we’ll start laying all those pieces together. Sometimes, just by listening to the drops, I’ll get an idea for a story and can almost start writing my promo from that.
JV: The UFO aspect of the call letters, is that played up in the imaging—aliens, UFOs, outer space, that kind of thing?
Jeff: It has been, but really not that much. In the demo I’ll send for The Cassette,you’ll hear some of how I’ve done that. But it’s something that my boss doesn’t want me to do so much, mainly because KUFO has been around for over ten years now, and they really never did anything about it. A lot of people just call us “koo-foe.” But what’s really funny is the call letters backwards. We’ve made fun of it every now and then—“KUFO, spell it backwards…you know what it is.”
JV: I suppose you can get away with that kind of thing on an Active Rock station with the target primarily young males!
Jeff: Yeah. We have a male dominant audience. We’re looking for the eighteen to thirty-four year old male. It’s always been the demo for Active Rock, but the Active Rock demo is starting to get older. It’s a really interesting time in music right now because these guys who were listening to Van Halen and AC/DC and Rush are now in their thirties, going into their forties. Yet, these people are still listening to our station. But there’s other competition out there because they’re getting older. The thing about rock is that you’ve got to play the stuff for the kids. So we mix it up. We do a really good job of mixing it up, actually.
JV: With the promos and IDs, what kind of attitude do you approach these eighteen to thirty-four year old males with? Is it shock radio imaging or more humorous stuff?
Jeff: It’s both. It’s everything you can possibly use. It’s trying to live that person’s lifestyle, whatever that lifestyle may be. What’s really great about my Program Director is that he likes to have other people in the mix as far as coming up with creative ideas. Here’s an example. We have this trip to give away to go see a band like AC/DC in Paris on Halloween night. We were just fooling around thinking of different ways to do this. We thought maybe we should make fun of dead people because it’s Halloween and all this stuff. And I came up with this idea that we ought to do something with the movie The Sixth Sense and have that same kid whispering and saying that he hears dead people. Then we’d play a bunch of artists who have passed away. My boss loved the idea and we’re going to run with it. Anytime you hear a dead artist, be the tenth caller and qualify for this trip. So, I’m working on this promo as we speak. Sometimes I come up with the idea, and I wonder how the hell I’m going to put it together. “What did I just do to myself?” It’s funny.
JV: What about the in-house produced commercials? Are you able to push the humor/shock envelope on the commercials as well?
Jeff: As far as the attitude with commercials, we’ve really got to watch ourselves. Although it is interesting. In the town of Portland there’s a lot of pornography. As a matter of fact, in downtown Portland or in the outskirts area, you almost can’t go around the corner without seeing a strip bar. And a lot of these places want to advertise on our radio station. So, we’ve had some fun with those spots. We have this one client called Vanity for Adult Video, and their commercials are both very classy and very funny. I don’t have anything to do with those. I have a couple of free-lance copywriters who are very creative, and they will put together the concept and copy. A couple of years ago I was helping them out with it. Now these guys have evolved so well that they’re doing it on their own. I think it’s good to have people like that in your Rolodex, people who can help you write, who can come in here and do voices for you, and people you can share an idea with.
JV: You must have a budget for this.
Jeff: No. It would be nice if we did.
JV: Well please tell us how you get free-lance writers without a budget.
Jeff: Well, I explain it to the salespeople like this. I tell them if they want a top-notch spot, let’s say they want a George Bush impersonator, no problem. But, a lot of people try to do George Bush, and nothing’s worse than having a bad George Bush on the air. That’s going to stand out more than the message in the spot. But it just so happens I know somebody who can do a good George Bush. And Mr. Sales Guy, it’s going to cost you some money. I’ll tell him probably about a hundred bucks. “If it’s worth this to you, a hundred bucks should be nothing.” And that’s where the budget comes from, from the salesperson if they really want to spend that money. They can spend their own money or they can talk the client into it—“Hey, there’s this guy who can do Elvis Presley and George Bush—you can have all of these people in your commercial, but it’s going to cost you some money.” If they’re willing to do that, then that’s when we really put some pretty creative spots together.
JV: Are you guys still on cart?
Jeff: We’re still on cart. It really angers me. In fact, I have one cart deck I’m just ready to throw off a bridge somewhere. But we’re looking to move on to digital mass storage here soon. We’re not sure which system yet. I’ve sat in on a bunch of presentations. I’m suspecting that somewhere in the year 2001, I pray that we will have digital mass storage. The carts are breaking on the air, and obviously, the sound quality stinks. You produce something so magical on the Audicy, and it sounds so nice. Then I hear it on the air with a cart, and it’s just not the same.
JV: What imaging libraries are you using?
Jeff: I have something that actually gets back to Rich Van Slyke. We have the MJI Rock Kit, which is produced by Rich Van Slyke. We started subscribing to that about a year and a half ago, and what’s great about having the Rock Kit is that there is a lot of stuff that Rich has done. What I like about it is some of the effects he has, the movie drops he has. What they’ll do is give you stuff three different ways. They’ll have a demo version of a fully produced sweeper with a voice on it. Then they’ll have another version of it without the voice. Then they’ll have everything all completely broken up. I hardly ever use the version without the voice, but it helps me with my creative processes. It’s kind of like hearing a promo from another radio station and going “Wow, this has given me an idea.” But not only do you have the idea, you also have some of the pieces already there for you. It’s cheating in a way. I also have quite a bit of stuff from AVDeli. I have Speed Tracks 3.0 which I use a lot. I also use Rich Van Slyke’s own production package called Distortion. That’s more or less what I’ve been using these days.
JV: What libraries are you using for the commercial side?
Jeff: We use FirstCom for commercials.
JV: Are you guys wired for the Internet in the production room?
Jeff: Yeah, just recently. I’ve got a computer right here in my room and wow, what a nice thing to have. I’m a big fan of Napster, and I’m really going to be upset if Napster goes away because as a production guy, sometimes you’ll be thinking, gosh, I wish I had so-and-so song, and the Music Director’s office is locked. How are you going to get that song? The only problem with Napster is that you get some good stuff, but sometimes you get some stuff that there’s just no way you’d ever put on the radio—the quality is just horrible. But I’m having a lot of fun having it right here at my fingertips and being able to go get music like that. I was grabbing movie drops off the Internet, but I’ve stopped doing that because I haven’t been happy with the quality that’s out there. It’s all crunched up and sounds horrible. You can EQ it and try to make it sound good, but it’s obvious it’s not the same quality I can get here in my room.
JV: What about transfer of commercials via the Internet or e-mail? Have you gotten involved with that yet?
Jeff: It’s just starting to happen. I’m noticing more and more television stations are doing it with their sweeps spots which we’re about to head into here. They’re offering it on the Internet, and the sound quality actually has been surprising. It hasn’t been bad. But what scares me about things like that is our network. It’s run through the entire Infinity family, so everything’s being routed to New York and coming back to us. And every now and again—actually a lot—the network totally shuts down, and when that happens, we can’t get our spot.
JV: What’s down the road for you? Are you looking to make a permanent home there in Portland, or do you have some plans to open up your own Active Rock production facility?
Jeff: I don’t know. I have dreams of one day having my own studio and being able to do things like that. This imaging thing really is new to me, and I’m having fun right now. I’m still a baby at it. But I would like to get my voice out there more. I don’t really use my voice on a lot of my promos. Maybe I’m a little more gun-shy than anything else. But I do many commercials here, and I’m trying to get an agent to get that going. I’m trying to take advantage of the strike, even though I don’t like the idea of being a scab. But the thing I’d really like to do is some free-lance production work. I’ve done some, but I’d love to do more.