By Trent Rentsch
Whenever the subject of radio comes up, an ex-DJ friend of mine is quick to point out that, when he wins the lottery, he is going to buy a station and run it, “… the right way, with the right people.” Nailing him down on the right way to run a station is a little like trying to get our former President to explain his relationship with a certain intern… the responses are vague. “Well… there would be music, you know? Good music— none of that crap everybody else is playing! And other good stuff… none of that boring stuff! It would be entertaining… with lots of funny bits! And no stupid commercials, they’d all be really good, so people would never spin the dial! And only 2 minutes of spots per hour!” Okay. Knowing his tastes, I start getting a picture of what he’s planning—an all Neil Young and Modern English format, separated by old Bob Newhart and Firesign Theatre routines. And as for the two minutes worth of commercials, if Dick Orkin didn’t produce them, forget it! As for the “right people,” his list included many people he worked with at former stations, the majority who had been fired, either justly or unjustly over the years. Worse, most hadn’t been on the air for years, and some of them didn’t have any business on the air in the first place. His heart was in the right place, but his head? All in all, it was a good thing that his plans included winning the lottery, because the money to run this “dream station” certainly isn’t going to come from advertising.
The grass is always greener on the other side of our consciousness, isn’t it? I know that I’ve owned some pretty amazing companies in my head, from audio production to a chain of coffee/microbrew/wood roasted pizza restaurants. I’ve made millions in my mind, doing it the “right way.” If reality wasn’t where we pay the bills, can you imagine how many of us would’ve dreamed our way into the Billionaire’s Club by now?
A store I once did spots for had a dreamer for its owner. The difference was, he wanted to be a doer. He would always have these massive ideas for his commercials. Mind you, I did not say big ideas. We’re talking huge, multiple voice, John Williams orchestrated, sound effect-layered, Globe Theatre of your mind MASSIVE!!! One idea nearly had me riding a horse in the middle of a race, cassette deck in shaking hand, just because he didn’t think that I could capture the effect of “being there” without it (thank goodness for our companies Risk Manager!). Another time he brought several small barnyard animals into the studio, because he thought that the ones on the sound effect CD sounded “phony.” I don’t know if you’ve spent anytime on a farm, but certain odors linger, and I endured weeks of cracks from the rest of the staff and apologizing for the smell to any other client that happened in. Over and over, I would cringe whenever I heard he was coming in to cut a spot, and over and over my cringing was justified.
His smile truly frightened me that day. It was wider, more maniacal—a smile that said, “THIS will be my greatest ad EVER!!” I braced myself as he tossed a piece of paper on the desk. I looked down, wondering what type of padding this one would require and if workman’s comp would cover a self-inflicted injury that was endured in self-defense. I read the first line of the script… no, just the name of the announcer on the first line, “James Earl Jones.” I blinked. I rubbed my eyes and read it again. Yep, “James Earl Jones.” I looked up at him, and he immediately took my stunned expression for confusion. “You know, the actor? He’s the voice of…” “Of CNN, yes, I know.” “Yeah, well, it took me awhile, but I found out his name and I want him!” “Gee, that would be nice, BUT…” “Hold on!! There’s more!!”
There was more. It was actually a two-voicer, the female he was “casting” was Demi Moore (“You know, that wife of that Willis fellow?”). The music was a Beatles song, re-sung by Michael Bolton, because, “…it might cost too much to bring in those guys from England, airfares being what they are.” The topper was the airdate. It was to start in 3 days.
A joke, right? Had to be, there’s no way that any reasonable human being would… looking up at that big, goofy smile reminded me of what I was dealing with. How was I going to calmly burst this guy’s bubble, when all I really wanted to do was laugh/scream in his face?
Somehow, I got through the next few minutes of explaining high profile talent fees, copyrights, and time lines. With as much tact as I could muster, I reminded him that he was a medium-sized fish in a little pond, and that James Earl Jones grosses more for a 10 minute v/o session than his business did last year. As I talked, his smile faded bit by bit, until finally, with sad resignation in his voice, he said, “So you’re saying that, unless I win the lottery tonight, this ad can’t happen?”
We all dream. We hope for a winning ticket that will change everything, that will give us the power to make everything right. It’s a lovely dream that some people will hold onto for a lifetime. Then there are the Dick Orkins, the James Earl Jones, Demi Moores, John, Paul, George and Ringo’s, even Michael Boltons who have lived what most people dream of. The difference is, they didn’t wait around for a magic golden ticket; they worked hard to create a reality as big as their dreams. It had to seem impossible to achieve at first, but somehow they found it inside themselves to begin. And the rest, as they say…
Creative people are the most wonderful dreamers. Imagine what could be if we’d all wake up, get out of bed and take that first step?