JV: What about the creative end of your production, away from the technical side?
Ann: This is where I’m strongest, and there are a couple of people that I learned a great deal from in this regard. I will always hold them close to my heart for giving me the knowledge that they did. Eric Chase is one of them and Ned Spindle is the other. Ned is at Q101 in Chicago, and I heard one of Ned’s demos when I was in Dallas. The first thing I thought was, “You can do that?” It was amazing. Up until then I had only been copying what I had heard, and that was using sound bites and beat mixing them with a full funky beat—move your head kind of production. Not that that’s a bad thing, but that’s all I had learned. I’ve written some skits and some funny things here and there, but nothing to the depth of Ned. He is just so incredibly creative, and the production I heard out of Ned Spindle had my head reeling. It really pushed me in a new direction. I don’t like to call it “theater of the mind” because so many people take that so many different ways. It was basically theater, theater radio. There was one weekend promo I remember in particular where he never explained what was going on, but you knew that this Viking from the 1700s had found his way to present day Chicago and was running up and down the streets killing and raping and murdering the citizens of Chicago. And somehow, that turned into the weekend promo where they were giving away CDs. It was unbelievable. It was creative and funny, and it left me salivating for more.
My midday guy down at the Eagle in Dallas, who was my voice guy, also helped us. He was creative and funny and came up with some of the greatest stuff we’ve ever done. Together we kind of moved the Eagle in this new “theater” way of producing. I soon stopped using sound bites. I decided that people weren’t watching the Simpsons or popular TV shows for the sound bites. They liked the characters. They liked the way the show developed. They liked the way the characters interacted with each other. They liked the relationship. It was about the entire show, not necessarily every single punch line. I adore the Simpsons, but I adore it as a show, not just for the punch lines and the outtakes. So I stopped using sound bites in my production and started coming up with characters, relationships, shows of my own. One character that has followed me from Dallas is Bill, and he’s a quirky intern who gets stuck with all the crappy jobs that nobody wants to do. Basically, he just loves music. He’s so into music, and he has that California Valley girl style—he talks really weird. He just sounds stupid, I guess you can say. Bill has become a long-term character. He was at the Eagle, and now he’s at DC101. And a lot of the listeners call requesting those promos. “Hey, what’s Bill doing now?” And when we go to appearances, people ask, “Where’s Bill? I want to see Bill.” I think that’s so much more important than using the popular Simpson’s sound bite.
JV: That makes perfect sense.
Ann: Because of Ned Spindle, I really have taken a turn in my philosophy on production. When I got into it, I was just making funny noises on the radio. You know, “Hey, this sounds cool!” But because of Ned, I started to rethink what my job was, and you have two trains of thought. One is: it’s my job to remind people as often as I can that they’re listening to DC101 so when they get that diary they’ll write it down. Black and white. I’m just there to remind them who they’re listening to so they’ll fill it out in their diary. Then there’s the other side of the equation, which I subscribe to, and that is: create passion. Give your listeners something to be passionate about so that they won’t need to be reminded, so that no matter what, when someone asks them, what station do you like, they’ll automatically reply DC101 because you made them feel passion for your radio station. You made them see your radio station, not just hear it. Sometimes when I hear my production—and I know this is going to sound silly—but sometimes when I hear the radio station for an hour or two, I’ll see the radio station as a color, like red. I’ll see color, and I think I’m on the right track with that, hearing the station to the point that you start to see the radio station. It kind of brings on a third dimension, and that’s what I’m after. I don’t really know many other people who are doing that.
JV: No, that’s definitely not the mainstream approach to production. Movie and TV sound bites are still “cutting edge” for a lot of producers.
Ann: That was a crutch for me when I was at KBPI, and I knew it was a crutch for me. If I didn’t know what to do, I grabbed a sound bite. If I had a promo to produce, and it needed to be on the air right away, I would go rent a movie that was somewhat about what we were doing. It was just a big crutch. It kept me from using my brain.
Nowadays, I like to think of myself as an advertising agent. If I’m supposed to make my listener passionate about DC101, then I think I am like an advertising agent. I know that Nike and Taco Bell and all those big guys put a lot of money into how they’re going to reach their consumer, billions of dollars on how they are going to get people into that store to buy their product. Billions of dollars. And DC101 pays one person one salary to try to do the same thing. I’m not knocking that. It’s just the way it’s always been. So, I like to think of myself as a big agency, representing DC101.
How do I get my listener passionate about DC101 in 40 seconds? Every time we stop the music we should be pulling them in, reeling the listener in, getting them passionate about something. We’re a music station. We know they’re there for the music. They don’t like it when we stop the music, so when we do stop the music, it should be to incite passion. It should be to remind them of just why they’re there, remind them of how great it is to be listening to DC101, and how great it is to be involved in what we’re involved in. I think that’s probably the hardest part about my job and part of the job I take so seriously.
JV: How many character are you playing with on the imaging there?
Ann: It changes everyday, but we have maybe 20 recurring characters. We’ve got a gay couple whose job is to go out and about and make sure you can hear DC101 out in the surrounding suburbs. Those are promos that help us describe just how strong our signal is and that you can hear us pretty much anywhere—take us with you kind of stuff. And of course, there is Bill, the intern who kind of invites you into the radio station. Here’s what’s going on behind the scene, you know. I’m in the bathroom doing this, or I’m unwrapping the CDs before we put them in the control room. Stuff like that. And he’s very popular. I’ve got one character named General S. T. Delight who reads naughty romance novels, and that really lends itself to great music promos. We’ve got a character named Virgil who we always hear from. He’s an older man who is writing DC101 about how great it is. I imagine Virgil’s in his 70s.
Everyday I come up with new characters. I don’t rely on the same characters all the time. I write every piece of production differently. I don’t box myself into certain characters. I may want a policeman this day. Maybe I want him to be a country policeman, like in Deliverance. Or perhaps I want him to be a black policeman or whatever. I write it different each day.
JV: Do you do a lot of these character voices yourself?
Ann: I’ve got a great wealth of wonderful voices at DC101. My mid-day jock, his name is Shock, is amazing. He’s such an actor. If I ask him to stretch, he says, how far? Tell me where to stretch. He’s wonderful, and he plays a great majority of my characters. Also, next door to us, Clear Channel owns a business station, WRC, and a couple of the guys over there really kick ass. Jim Cuttie and Joe Clark both do business news by day, and by night they come in here and play characters for me. It’s an amazing transition to hear them doing stock reports and then come in here and play gay characters or whoever I ask them to do—Martians, baseball players; it doesn’t matter. They come alive in my studio. I don’t do a lot of the characters myself because I write mostly for men. When I’m talking to an eighteen-year-old male, I don’t usually use the sex card and play the sex kitten. I don’t talk about getting it on with a real hot chick or talk about strippers. I don’t usually go that route because I know Washington DC is a white-collar city. Many of our listeners are lawyers. Many of our listeners are politicians. And I know that they do not necessarily want that kind of entertainment. A lot of my characters are men just found in precarious situations, and it tends to be really funny and good radio.