Garry "D", Creative Imaging Director, KNIX/KEZ, Phoenix, Arizona
The decades have definitely changed radio, but scattered throughout the U.S. you still find legendary call letters keeping their legend alive. KNIX in Phoenix has certainly had an amazing history, and this month’s RAP Interview checks in with KNIX Creative Imaging Director Garry “D” for a look inside this country powerhouse. Like more and more Imaging Directors, Garry finds himself imaging more than one station, and more than one format. But multitasking is a skill Garry learned a long time ago, and it’s coming in handy at Clear Channel’s 8-station cluster in the country’s 15th ranked market.
JV: Tell us about your background in radio and how you wound up in Phoenix.
Garry: I got into radio in 1978, one month after I got my high school diploma in my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. I got my first job at KTDY/KPEL. KTDY was the FM and KPEL was the AM—at the time a fairly well known and pretty big station in Lafayette. I started out doing overnight weekends, and then it progressed to middays and then afternoons. I was also a PD there for a short time and the Production Director for a good chunk of the time. At the same time I was there I was going to the local university, which is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The station was close to the campus, so I could go to classes then come and work at the station for a while then go back to classes. For some ungodly reason I ended up staying at that station for 10 years. And for some ungodly reason the university decided to give me a diploma in business.
JV: Not many people stay ten years at their first station!
Garry: It was amazing. I did a lot of commercial work there, really cheesy stuff, and even won some Addy awards. Of course, when you listen to those spots today you’re like, they gave an award to that? So it was a really nice run but in 1988 I made a decision. My goal was to work at KISS-FM in Los Angeles in some way, shape or form. I was so enthralled with Jerry DeFrancesco as the PD, and I would always read about what was going on with them in R&R. Well I didn’t know a soul in the majors, so I figured I’d better plant myself in a major market somewhere. I pulled out a map and the only major markets close to Lafayette were Houston, Dallas and Atlanta. Atlanta was too far; and Houston was close, but the thought of living in Houston was just like being in Louisiana. But Dallas was something I had an eye for. So I called my brother who was living in Dallas at the time and I said, “Hey, can I come stay with you and pass out tapes and see if I can get a job there?” And he said, “Yeah, sure, come on up.”
I got a job at the Hilton Hotel in Arlington, Texas to make extra money while I was passing out demos. I was probably the oldest bellhop at the time that had a driver’s license. So I burned their gas driving around Dallas learning the town, and occasionally I’d have a demo or two to drop off at a station. Sometimes you had famous people coming through the hotel. My big claim to fame was having carried Bob Eucher’s bag back to his room when the Milwaukee Brewers came to town.
I eventually got a call from Magic 102.9, which was owned by Shamrock at the time, to do overnights on the weekends. Bob Delancey was the PD at the time. Bob stayed there for a while and then was replaced by a guy named Gary Shannon who was doing 10:00 – 1:00 at night. When he got the PD slot he told me I was taking his old slot. So the next thing I know I’m doing late nights in major market Dallas. I thought it was going to take me 3 years, but it only took me 6 or 8 months. I worked there for quite a long time, up until Nationwide bought the station and then blew everybody out.
When I got the late night slot, I had a very nice production room to play around in. It had an 8-track tape recorder, keyboard, drum machine, much more that I could imagine coming from my hometown station. So I began to make up parody commercials and songs to play on my show. It got noticed around the station, and soon I became the fill-in guy. For a short time, I teamed up with half of the morning show to do mornings and contribute. The morning show gig lasted 6 months until we were bought by Nationwide and they cleaned house. After we got blown out, the Music Director and I got together for a Texas Ranger baseball game at old Arlington Stadium. Nolan Ryan was pitching that night. It turned out to be his 7th no-hitter! Thanks to being fired, I got to see history. How cool is that?
Then I had odd jobs in Dallas at CD 107.5, and I also worked for the ABC Radio Network on their in-your-face CHR format called The Heat. A typical weekend for me would be to do the classic rock stuff at CD 107.5 Saturday morning. Then I’d jump in the car and be on from 2:00 – 6:00 at the network doing in-your-face CHR. It was like a total night and day difference, and I learned a lot from that. And of course I was still doing production on the side when they needed help.
After that I worked at Oldies 94.9 in Dallas. They had changed formats, and it was at that time I got to work with J.J. McKay who was an Assistant PD. Brian Wilson was the Imaging Director at the time. I really got a kick out of listening to his production. Of course that station blew up like everything else and the next thing we know we didn’t have a job. But J.J. had word that The Oasis in Dallas was getting ready to flip format. He said, “Whatever you do stay put because I’ve got an in on this, and I think we’re going to be part of this team.” And so I laid low and J.J. and myself, Leanne Adams, Carey Wilson and another gentleman by the name of Steve, were all part of what was to become 106.1 KISS FM in Dallas. I was hired to be the Production Director. I also ended up doing imaging and being on the air. Then a few months later Kidd Kraddick came aboard.
We figured this would probably take us a while to achieve the top five status in the market. We figured it would take 5 years to get somewhere, but we were able to crack the top 3 in Dallas within two years. It was an amazing ride and a blur as well. I was mostly the production person at KISS FM for the first 5 years although I did have a shift on Saturdays and did fill-in for Kidd Kraddick on days he was sick or on vacation.
Then I got a call from Larry Daniels at KNIX, which I considered the KISS-FM of country music. He said, “I got a challenge for you. My creative guy is gone and I really need to kick this station into another gear.” I saw it as a challenge and the next thing I knew I was in Phoenix, Arizona at KNIX. That was in 1997, and five years later I’m still here. Even through the big mergers and all that I still managed to continue to be the Creative Imaging Director for KNIX, and I also do imaging for KEZ, which is our top rated AC station, along with some other stuff on the side.
JV: Ten years at your first station, five years at KISS in Dallas, and five years at KNIX. Sounds like you have a little more stability than the average radio person.
Garry: Yeah, I don’t know how I’ve done that. I kind of give credit to college and getting the business degree. I think it gave me a well-rounded picture of how the business works. We all know it can get crazy, but my first boss at the station in Lafayette always told me, he said, “Remember, radio is fun but it still is a business, and so treat it as such.” That gave me a little more of a perspective on the business.
JV: How many stations in the Clear Channel cluster in Phoenix, and how is the production work distributed?
Garry: We have 8 stations. Of the eight, I am the Imaging Director for KNIX and KEZ. We have another imaging person and a Production Manager, Scott Fisher. He pretty much oversees all the commercial production throughout all the properties. He makes sure that the quality is there. Plus he’s also imaging our news/talk station, KFYI, and KOY, which is our classic nostalgia station. I believe he’s doing other stations as well. I’m kind of fortunate in a way because I just handle the imaging for KNIX and KEZ. I also help out when it comes to any commercial work the other stations need done. Certain salespeople in the company know what I can do. They’ll come to me and we’ll work on certain projects. I kind of feel like a free safety—I’ve got my position, but I’m also like a free safety on the defensive end where I can move around a little bit and help out.
JV: Are all these stations in one facility?
Garry: We have two facilities where we house the stations. Plans are in the works to merge everything into one soon. I’m located in the Tempe facility which has four stations: KNIX, KEZ, The Coyote, our smooth jazz station, and KOY. The other stations are in the building in Phoenix. They have a separate Imaging Director.
JV: Tell us about the production studios at your facility.
Garry: We actually have some pretty nice studios, and that’s because the station was formerly owned by Buck Owens, the country legend. He and his sons ran the station for a long time. I knew of KNIX being referred to in the industry as “the palace.” When I got there 5 years ago, it was, and it still has that palace charm to it. It’s a beautiful facility that we’ve managed to maintain. We have a very good engineering department.
There are four production rooms, three of which were designed as original production rooms. The fourth was a closet that we turned into a digital production room. Each room is pretty much fully equipped now. Scott and I are big Pro Tools fans, so we’re both running Pro Tools. Believe it or not, I’m still running Pro Tools 3. I ended up ordering it when I first got here. We’re running Pro Tools on Macs, but the two other production rooms are running Windows based Pro Tools systems. God bless Windows, but I just don’t like it. I even have Pro Tools at my home studio on a Mac. There are so many digital workstations out there, and everybody has their preference. I try to play with as many systems as possible, but I always seem to come back to Pro Tools because I’m comfortable with it now.
JV: Do you play around with any outboard gear or are most of the effects and processing you use handled with plug-ins now?
Garry: We still occasionally use outboard gear. In my room I still have a Yamaha SPX-90 that I dicker with every once in a while. I also have that infamous Thompson vocal remover. It doesn’t work on every record or every CD, but it’s still fun to play with on occasion. We still have a reel-to-reel in every room, just one, just in case we need it. But to be honest with you, I haven’t turned mine on in quite a long time.
We’re using Symetrix compressors and RE-20 mics, but most of the effects that we use are strictly within the Pro Tools domain, and that’s really all the effects that we need. We’re not into that in your face kind of sound. With country you have to be careful with that.
JV: I assume you guys have done away with carts behind by now…
Garry: We actually still have cart machines around, just for fun. But I haven’t seen a cart in ages. Like other Clear Channel properties, we’re on the Prophet System. All of our material is recorded right into the Profit System, and I rather enjoy it. For me it’s great because when it comes to promos and sweepers, I have complete control of them. I can rotate as much stuff as I want on one number. I can control it, and the jocks don’t have to worry about replacing carts or knowing what’s running. Like with Father’s Day coming up, for the weekend I might put together a couple of Father’s Day sweepers to rotate with our other image sweepers. I can do a special rotation just for Saturday and Sunday and then when Monday comes around, I can bring the other rotation back automatically. That’s really nice, and there’s no typing up labels and no messy ink stains on your hands.
JV: Do you assume some of the responsibility of what promos and IDs need to be cut, or do you pretty much just wait for a Program Director to place an order?
Garry: Actually it’s a little bit of everything. For KNIX I really do rely on our PD, George King, to come to me with what he needs. For example, he might say, “We got the Fabulous Phoenix Fourth coming up; here are the copy points. Go to town.” So I’ll do a lot of the writing and in some cases will do some of the voicing of it as well. Our voice guy for KNIX is John Willyard, and I work with him a lot on the imaging.
Now for KEZ, Shaun Holly is our Program Director and we have an understanding. He writes everything he needs and I produce it. We also have two different voices for KEZ, Steve Wood and an in-house female voice by the name of Linda French. And I should also mention Allan Fledge who’s our Ops Manager who also dabbles in writing promos and sweepers. So he’ll throw some ideas my way as well. Then I may get a wild hair and come up with something very simple and put it on the air. So it’s really a collective effort.
I also try to manage the imaging work and stay ahead of the game. If we know something is coming up, like a major event, I’ll flag George down and say, “Hey, are we still doing the 4th of July thing?” “Oh yeah, we’re major sponsors.” I’ll find out who the acts are as soon as they’re announced so I can get everything ready. I try to be a little on the proactive side. That way I can stay ahead of the game and won’t get surprised. I think when you’re surprised, you basically close your eyes and throw something together and hope it comes out okay.
JV: What kind of day are you putting in right now?
Garry: Right now I try to get in about 7:30 in the morning because that way I can get a good parking spot before the heat gets turned on, especially during the summer. And I’m usually pretty much done by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And some days are easy; some days are a nightmare. It’s really funny; if I have an easy day then I’m expecting a bad day the next day, and sure enough it happens.
Some days I’ll spend a good chunk of the morning before everybody comes in writing up some ideas to pass by George. Or sometimes I’ll just write up some ideas and go ahead and produce them, then play them for George because sometimes an idea doesn’t make any sense until you hear it.
So it’s a full day. And with the studio that I’m building at home, there are some occasions when I have work parts that are already in that computer, and instead of transferring all that stuff to work, I’ll run home during lunch and work on a couple of pieces and then mp3 them back to the station.
JV: You’ve worked quite a few different formats over the years. Do you have a favorite?
Garry: Well I’ve done Country, Hot AC, in your face CHR, Classic Rock…. I guess the thing to me wasn’t necessarily the format. I’m a huge music fan, but to me it was just a radio thing. I didn’t go into it thinking I’d just do Classic Rock or whatever because that’s my beat. To me it was just the idea of radio. I also liked the challenge, and I needed the money. I also dabbled in television for a little bit. I tried to do some of the local telethons and get my face out there as well. But radio has always been kind of the first thing.
JV: What format do you like to listen to?
Garry: I’ll tell you right off the bat, the one group that got me started in radio was the Beatles. Everything that I like musically evolved around the Beatles, and it just spreads out from there. I’m a huge Jimmy Buffet fan. I listen to radiomargaritaville.com, his Internet station, religiously.
I love country, but I’ve been kind of angry at Nashville lately. I’m not liking what they’re doing. They’re kind of AC-ing up the music a little bit, but I think I understand. There’s kind of a catch 22 going on here. Take an artist like Jo Dee Messina. She had a single out on country that did quite well. What they did is they re-mixed it and reserviced it to our AC station, and now it’s like a brand new hit on the AC charts as well. I don’t know about any other markets, but we have a bit of a conflict because here we are…we’re KNIX! We’re like the KISS FM of country music. We’re a legendary station and a country station that’s really looked up to all around the country. So we’ll play this big name country artist, then our AC station, KEZ, which has huge numbers as well, will turn around and play that song again remixed. All of a sudden it’s a new song, and the audience is confused. I really don’t like that.
But I find myself listening to country more than anything else. I also find myself listening to news/talk often. So probably those two are even. And then a close second would probably be AC or smooth jazz. I’ve gotten away a little bit from CHR. I liked the days when the music was really fun to listen to like in the mid 90’s. Now everything has gotten urbanized or “raptized” as I like to say, as in baptized. It’s starting to all sound the same to me. I like rap but I really like to hear good hooks, and I like to hear some intelligent rap, not the same old stuff over and over.
JV: Country imaging versus CHR/Rock imaging…what are your thoughts?
Garry: The one thing that I’ve noticed with imaging today, especially CHR, there is a lot of noisy imaging out there. And there is a lot of fun missing. It’s like nothing but noise and scratches and that kind of thing. Now, I actually use that stuff on country, but I don’t use it to the extent that it’s that noisy. When I was at KISS I tried to stay away from using too much noise. I wanted the imaging to be fun. I didn’t even want to get too crazy with the audience as far as the copy points were concerned. I wanted the message to say, “Hey, when you hear this sound, call this number and you win two tickets.” Nowadays, the message kind of gets lost with all the noise and stuff that’s going on in the spot. It gets too busy at times.
So when I came over to KNIX, they had been doing the same old country, twangy kind of imaging. I took some of those elements of CHR and brought them over to KNIX, and it actually gave it a nice, fresh taste. And we just started out doing some simple stuff. For example, I remember one of the guys around the station was a pilot. I asked him what the call signal was for K-N-I-X, in that alpha-bravo-charlie language. So we made a sweeper out of that. I had our voice guy cover his mouth and go [radio effect], “For those listening on the radio this is Kilo November India Xray… 102.5 KNIX.” And I put airplane sounds in the background to signify what we were doing. And maybe not all the audience would get it, but maybe some of the pilots out there would get it. But it was different. It was something they’d never heard before.
So that’s the kind of thing we’ve tried to do. In fact, one thing I helped convince KNIX to do was go with a CHR jingle package. It’s still airing right now, a CHR package on a country station. We went to ReelWorld and pulled off a CHR package that sounded completely different. When we put it on, we thought we might have made a mistake, but when I got here we were able to change the sound of KNIX and really give it a little bit of zip. We took some chances and I believe it worked for a while. We’re in the process now of maybe looking to refresh our jingle package.
JV: How would you describe your imaging style?
Garry: I know every Imaging Director may have a sound. Take John Frost for instance; he has a hell of a sound, I mean it’s amazing. I love listening to his stuff. But that’s his sound. I don’t like to stick to one thing for a long time. I like to change things around a little bit, maybe once not putting so much noise in it or using special little effects. At KNIX we try to write our imaging sweepers or breakers just to be fun. I like the movies and good cartoons, and so I kind of think in movie themes and cartoon themes and that genre of material.
JV: What do you do or where do you go for creative ideas?
Garry: I’ll get ideas from going to the movies, scanning through television, even talking to people in the hallway. Somebody will say, “How was your weekend?” In fact, the sweeper I was telling you about with the aeronautic call letters, I was talking to somebody about his weekend when he said he was a pilot and flew up to Flagstaff for the weekend. It just hit me, to make as sweeper using that pilot talk.
JV: You mentioned building a Pro Tools studio at home. Is this something that you’re building just for fun or are there plans to do more work from home?
Garry: Well I’m building it for fun and education. I’m seriously looking at maybe getting some furniture made because what I have set up right now is this specialty furniture I got at a music shop, but it’s too low to the ground and I had to build some stands to raise it so I can be near it. I’m still putting it together and tweaking it. I bought an old house in Scottsdale and I’ve renovated it over the past 2½ years. I decided to dedicate one of my bedrooms to the studio, and over the years I’ve just collected parts. What I have so far is Pro Tools LE, version 5. I’ve got two JBL monitors, 4206’s, a basic CD player, a Symetrix 528E with an AudioTechnica mike, and a little Mackie 16-channel board. I made a little rack for my MiniDisc, a DAT player, and a VCR. I use the VCR to air check the station—I can use the timer on it and that’s why I like it. I also have a DA to distribute all this stuff around along with a cassette deck a CD burner… you know just basic tools I’ve collected over a period of time. I have a Mac running Pro Tools, and I also have a PC in the studio. I use it for my e-mail and Internet connection, although I have both computers networked into a router.
I’m doing a little bit of freelance out of the home studio right now, but I’m still not really keen on the sound quality. I have done a couple of commercials for some of our local clients, and I also have a couple of clients in Dallas that I do stuff for every once in a while. But once I get this thing tweaked and kind of take a deep breath, I’ll have to get my name out there and start getting into the work.
I’m also doing what I call the whole nine yards for a station in Louisville, Kentucky. They’re sending me the copy, and I’m doing the production and the voice. They’re a classic country station in Louisville called the Bull.
JV: Where would you want to take your freelance? Do you want to chase down more voice work or do more production work or both?
Garry: You know I’d probably want to do a little bit of both. If I could ever get an agent and do voice work on top of what I’m doing now, that would be incredible. I don’t like to be tied down to one thing. I guess it goes back to the old days when I was a kid. I love fishing, and I remember growing up, most guys would just go out to go bass fishing, and if they caught anything else they threw it back. Me, I put a worm on the line, drop it in the water and go, “Please, something bite, I’m hungry.” So I don’t mind doing a little bit of voice imaging for a station. But one thing I have learned is I cannot take on a whole lot of work doing the production and voice thing. Right now I’ve got the 3 stations that I’m doing voice and production for. I’m looking maybe to take on one more. But if it requires just the voice, yeah, I’m all for it. Bring ‘em on.
JV: You do a lot of work and you’ve been doing it for quite a while. What do you do to keep the job fun, to keep your spirits up about it?
Garry: One thing I had to learn to do is walk away. Make sure you have a good life outside of radio. Radio is important, but make sure you have a well-rounded life. It is kind of tough for me here because I’m away from most of my close family and friends, but thanks to the Internet and e-mail, and phone calls of course, we do stay in touch. One trait I had when I was a kid was I always ended up entertaining myself when nobody was around, and I guess I developed that as I got older.
Another thing I’ve done that helps keep things fun is attend Dick Orkin and Dan O’Day’s Creative Summit. Dick was one of my idols when it came to commercial production early on, and he still is. I have gone to almost every one of those summits. Sometimes I’ll just sit back and take notes. I won’t even participate. I’ll just watch and soak it all in. And if I come back with one fresh idea, it’s worth whatever fee it is. You’ll learn a lot in two days from a master. If anybody in the business really wants to take that next step and really needs a little creative kick in the pants, I highly recommend the Creative Summit. Go spend a couple of days with those guys.