By Dave Foxx
A few people noticed that I missed writing this column in last month’s issue of Radio And Production. (OK… my mom noticed.) Those who’ve been listening to Z100 over the last several weeks know why. A few weeks ago, Z100 introduced a re-invented version of itself, a new style across the board from bumpers to tweeners, and every sweeper, stager and promo in between. Every producer has been through this process at least once in his/her career. It’s a grueling schedule for several weeks leading up to the event, taxing both the body and mind. Every sweeper has to be developed from the ground up, every stager carefully pieced together. Most importantly, it all has to have some sort of cohesive sound that can become the signature of the radio station—a sort of “hello-this-is-THIS-station-and-not-any-other” sound that modern marketing gurus like to call a brand. Regardless of how much filigree surrounds the sound, any listener has to be able to recognize the station’s stamp immediately.
The purpose of this column is to help you be more creative by outlining steps you can take to improve your product and make it uniquely yours. To that end, I’d like to give you a synopsis of “the new sound” of Z100. I am including a brief montage of sound for this month’s column, so you can experience the product we’ve come up with first hand. (Check this month’s RAP CD.)
We began by realizing the need for a new sound. Our catalyst was the hiring of a new evening jock, something that had been in the works for several months. Our PD, Tom Poleman, took me aside one day and told me that Booker (Q95.5/Detroit) was coming to town to take control of the night shift, and that we needed to come up with a new way to brand his show. After a bit of brainstorming between Tom, Sharon Dastur (APD) and myself, we decided it was time to reinvent Z100 itself, and make Booker’s debut a part of the new brand. We really wanted to start from scratch…so we did.
First up: the voice. For the last 4 years, I had been the main voice of Z100, with an assist to Leah Brandon (formerly of Star 98.7/Los Angeles). We decided I would still be the main voice, but that we needed a new “spice” voice, someone who could act as a counterpoint not only in pitch and timbre, but in attitude as well. We wanted a female voice who carried the attitude of the artist Pink—a sort of “so what?” delivery that would soften any jingoistic flavor my pronouncements would have, and give the station a feel of less hype. There were several candidates, but the front-runner was always Anne DeWig of DC-101 in Washington.
Annie’s VO sessions are a lot of fun to listen to because once we described what we were looking for, she started prefacing every line she’d read with some sort of hip-shot, half-lidded smirk line like, “What’re you looking at?” or “Yeah, so what?” (Some of these unwritten lines made the air because they were just so perfect.) Hint: Think about the overall attitude you want to portray in your imaging and have your VO person “pose” by saying something appropriate right before delivering the actual line. You’ll be amazed at how dead on the read will become.
Timing in this business, as it is in so many others, is everything. Just as we were piecing together the new sound, Joe Kelly (AVDeli) introduced a new library to us called Pop Tools 2. As soon as I dropped the first CD into the tray, I knew we’d found a treasure trove of new sounds we could use. Using combinations of various effects and pads from PT2, the entire package began taking shape. Hint: Never use a package “as is.” Nearly every hit and slam that is on our air is a combination of effects, not only from PT2, but also from Killer Hertz, Frost Bytes Online and my own collection of twisted sounds. Using a library the way it comes invites staleness to camp on your front doorstep and really limits your possibilities.
As time got short, and we changed Booker’s name to Romeo (there is a Booker already working in New York), the possibilities began to explode in number. Writing sweepers got to be a lot of fun. I purposely made most of the Romeo sweepers to make fun of Romeo, saying, “We know he sucks,” and “It’s a long way to work on the short yellow bus.” Also, I had to make one literary reference to Romeo’s name. “A rose by any other name would still smell better than Romeo.” It was just too easy. Hint: When making highbrow humor, make sure the reference is one everyone has heard, even if they don’t know the source. (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.)
What we ended up with, for those who don’t get the monthly RAP CD, is a snappier sound that jams the station into the listener’s face. This is NOT a passive radio station, and never has been, but it’s now even more active, demanding much more from the listener. Z100 is a much more intense, high-energy radio station. The energy level of each of the jocks has kicked up several notches, just to keep pace with the imaging. It’s forced them to think more about what they’re about to say, and has actually decreased the number of on-air mistakes every day. Hint: There’s an old psychological study laying around out there that says when you speak faster and with more intensity, people listen harder and retain more information. Obviously, there’s going to be a point of diminishing returns, but it’s something I thought you should know.
I expect that many of you will listen to the RAP CD track and say, “Pretty simple.” You’d be right. But the words consistent, insistent, and resistant should all be there too. All of it should be consistent with the established station image, insistently pushing the station brand, and resistant to wear. Does it all accomplish those goals? I hope so. Does it sound like ear candy to the radio pro? It would be nice, but it’s just not that important. Hint: Now matter how active your audience or your radio station is, not one of your average demo targets will ever listen to radio production the way you do. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to be the radio biz superstar by adding so much razzle-dazzle to your work that the audience wanders off. Michael Jordan has had his success because he scores. Yes, he has the flash, but he delivers the points too. The minute you start adding flash to the equation, keep an eye on the end goal. Make sure the message doesn’t get lost in all the glitter.
So, there you have 5 hints to help you deliver better production, according to the warped mind of Dave Foxx. I close with one more. Hint: Never take yourself too seriously. This is radio, remember?