Rob Frazier, Commercial Production Director, KLSX-FM, Los Angeles, CA
By Jerry Vigil
In this era of post-consolidation, it’s hard to find a Production Director working for just one station. Well, not only did we find a one-station operation, but they have THREE full-time production people on staff. Rob Frazier is the Commercial Production Director at Infinity’s KLSX-FM in Los Angeles, and this month we get the inside scoop on this dream gig. It’s another infrequent case of management realizing the importance of a solid creative production team and following through by providing their sales department with the support they need to truly succeed.
JV: Tell us how you got into the business and how you wound up at KLSX.
Rob: I grew up here in Southern California listening to stations like KHJ and KRLA when I was a kid. It was some awesome radio—The Real Don Steel, Casey Kasem, all those guys. Then FM came along in the ‘70s, and I was a big KMET fan and listened to Jim Ladd and a lot of those guys. Of course Jim is still on the air out here. The Golden Age of freeform FM radio appealed to me. One thing led to another and I finally had to decide what it was I wanted to do with my life. I had always had a love for radio and music, and like everybody else I wanted to be on the radio and play my favorite songs. KROQ had just signed on the air in 1977 I believe. When they signed on I was probably fresh out of high school, but it took me a couple of years to really decide what I wanted to do. And when I did decide, there was a jock on KROQ, Chuck Randall, and I really liked his show. He did a lot of creative stuff. That was when Skylab was falling out of the sky, and he had this gimmick, these Skylab catcher’s mitts and stuff. KROQ was a wild and wooly place back then, and they were breaking all this new music. It was a cool station to listen to.
Anyway, I wrote Chuck Randall a letter and said I’d really like to get into radio, how do you go about doing it and stuff like that, and one day I came home from work and he called me and suggested I stay away from the big broadcast schools because they just kind of take your money and recommended I find a college radio station I could work at. So I went to Fullerton College where they happened to have a great radio program.
I did the radio program at Fullerton College for about 3 years and was Station Manager and all that good stuff. Then I took a job up on the central coast in sales in order to get my foot in the door because I wanted to be a jock. I had been sending tapes out left and right and not getting a whole lot of success, and a friend of mine from college radio had gotten a job at this little mom and pop station, KIQO, in Atascadero. He called one day and said they needed salespeople, and I thought if I can get into sales, well that gets me in. So I bought a suit, got a haircut, and went and interviewed and got a sales job. I did sales for 4 ½ years.
Then I moved to Fresno in 1986 and worked for a number of radio stations there in sales with moderate success. Because I had a background in production and on-air, the best way for me to sell was to create spec spots and take those out to the clients. That would usually be the closer. I was working at B95, which was a Top 40 station, and the sales manager at the time was Ed Prince. He would hear my production and go, “Man, you should be doing production! I don’t know what you’re doing in sales.” A year or so later I started working at another station, and I was tending to agree with him. I realized I was never going to make the big bucks as a sales guy because I just didn’t have that kind of personality. You always have to put a different hat on when you’re going out to meet with people, and I just got tired of having to beat people over the head with what I knew was a good product so some girl with a short skirt could come in from the other station and sell them.
So one day Ed called me up looking for a dub. He was now the general manager for B95 and said something to the effect of, “Yeah, if my production guy was doing his job I wouldn’t have to be making this call.” I said, “Well, are you looking for a Production Director, Ed?” He says, “Why? Are you interested?” We met, we talked, and there I was in production. I believe it was when I was Production Director at B95 that RAP Magazine came out—1988 or ’89.
B95 was in a weird position and wound up going into receivership. I wound up getting bounced out of that job, and one thing led to another and I did mornings at KKDJ for a year. I ended up doing the imaging for them as well. When that thing went caput I was on the beach for a while. I sent a tape to consultant Gary Berkowitz who forwarded it to Gerry McCracken at, what was then Big98 in San Francisco. Gerry likened me to a “diamond in the rough” and instead of hiring me, forwarded my tape to none other than Mike Lee of Brown Bag Productions. For a guy that he’d never met or heard of before, Mike was immeasurably helpful and encouraging. It was Mike who passed my stuff on to Rich Boerner at WTKS in Orlando and without his assistance I certainly would not be where I am today. Rich and Jay Clark flew me out, we talked, and I went to work for them for about 10 months. My wife absolutely hated Florida. She didn’t like the bugs, and she didn’t like the climate. So after about 10 months we came back to Fresno, and I did mornings for another Alternative station for a while, KFRR, and was soon replaced by Howard Stern.
At that point I was pretty frustrated with the industry. This was 1996 and telecom had just passed and consolidation was starting. I was trying to get jobs around town, and the best I could come up with were people who were offering me 7 bucks and hour to do a night shift or something like that. The last straw was at an interview up in San Francisco. I went up there 3 times looking for a gig, and the pay was so low I wouldn’t have been able to afford to live anywhere near San Francisco. I thought, if this is where radio is going, if this is the best I can hope for after a few years, making $40,000 in that market, then forget it.
So I wound up staying at home for 4 years and was a stay at home dad. But you know, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me because I was kind of burned out with the way the business was going. Staying home with the kids was real, and it was a real good dose of reality after doing the radio thing for a while. And more than anything else it taught me patience. I used to get kind of hot headed with salespeople; I’d blow up every now and then. When you’ve got your kids, you just can’t freak out with your kids all the time. Now I probably use my parenting skills at work just as much as I do at home.
My wife wound up getting a job down here in Los Angeles at The Wave, so we moved down here. Now she sells for The Beat here in LA. I had become a massage therapist in the ensuing years in Fresno, and that was good too because I had decided when I got out of radio that I wanted to move as far in the opposite direction as I possibly could. When I came down I was actually looking for a massage gig when I got a call from Jay Clark who had been my Program Director in Orlando. He was starting a new venture with some people called Comedy World. Comedy World had to have been one of the greatest radio experiences of my life. For one it got me back after being out for 4 years. And two, creativity was king there. The premise was to create this 24/7 all comedy talk radio network. It started out broadcasting on the Internet, and ultimately we had about 20 terrestrial affiliates by the time it folded. I supervised the board ops and did some production and was actually actively involved in the show. It was just a whole lot of fun, and I learned Pro Tools while working there. It got me back in the game, and I met a lot of people who worked here in Hollywood in the film and entertainment industry and TV. Unfortunately that all fell apart in April 2001.
I had always kept in touch with Rich Boerner, who at that time had been here at KLSX for probably about 5 years. He called me in June of 2001. The number three production guy had left, so I came down and did some fill-in work on a quasi volunteer basis. In July of that year they hired me and I’ve been here ever since.
JV: KLSX is FM Talk, and a unique aspect of your situation is that Infinity owns something like seven stations there, and you are in a facility that houses just one of them. Is that right?
Rob: That’s correct. Just one radio station.
JV: And you and your creative team are responsible for the production on just that station?
Rob: Right. Rich is the APD/Creative Director, so he handles most of the promos—writes most of the promos and oversees the production of most of them. Ron Lipkin is the Production Director, and Ron also does the promos with Rich and does a large amount of the commercials. He does most of the Howard Stern stuff and most of the Tom Leykis commercials. And then I’m the third guy. I’m the Commercial Production Manager and I do pretty much 90-95% of the commercials. I get a few promos come my way but I’m mostly commercials.
JV: Do you have any other people helping out?
Rob: We have an assistant, John Salwin. John comes in about 5:00 in the evening. He’s the night production guy—tags, dubs, and things like that.
JV: Three and a half production guys for one radio station. That’s probably at least 3 times the norm nowadays.
Rob: Yes, most of the time it’s the other way; it’s one guy doing the work for 3 or 4 radio stations. But KLSX is a different animal. One, it’s a talk station, and so you have a lot more direct business probably than you would on a music station. And our General Manager, Bob Moore, realized early on that the production was important and allowed the formation of this production team.
It’s a weird thing. In this business, they’ll come out and flat out say it’s all about selling advertising and it’s all about commercials; but if you look around, hardly anybody really spends the money on or cares about the commercials, which really is your final product. And here… it’s all about the commercials.
JV: Do you know if the other Infinity stations are all clustered together or are they somewhat separate from the other stations like KLSX?
Rob: Everyone here is pretty autonomous. It’s not like some big stations are doing with consolidations. As a matter of fact, the pendulum seems to be swinging the opposite way here. Mel Karmazin has gone on record recently saying he doesn’t think cluster selling is effective and can actually point to areas where it has had the opposite effect. KROQ and Arrow are in their own building. K-Earth is in its own building. The two news stations, KFWB is in its own building, and KNX is over at the TV station. So everybody has their own departments and is pretty autonomous.
JV: Give us a little of the philosophy there and describe the process that occurs when it’s time to put a commercial together for a new client.
Rob: We treat the production department as an in-house agency. On Wednesdays we have creative meetings at 11:00 in our conference room. Salespeople will schedule clients to come in and meet with us during these meetings. The whole creative team will sit down and meet with the client. We’ll find out what the plans are, what they’re doing with the radio station, what it is that they’re looking to achieve, and what their needs are. We let them tell us about their business, and from there we get a good idea what it is that they’re looking for or what we think that we can do for them. After the meeting we’ll go back downstairs and assign the work out. Somebody will write copy for them. Usually, in the course of the meeting with the client, it becomes apparent who would be the best person for the job and we farm the work out accordingly.
We used to send finished copy out for approval, but it just kind of gets lost in the translation; so what we usually do now is tell them we’ll get back to them with a spec spot that they can listen to within a relatively quick period of time, usually no more than a week. Most of the time these specs are fully produced and are fit to go on the air as they are, but if there are changes to be made, we do that.
JV: Is it generally just one client you deal with every Wednesday?
Rob: Some days there’s just one client. Other days, we’ve had as many as 3 or 4 clients. And in some instances we’ll have special creative meetings. If somebody can’t make it in on a certain day or if someone has just sold something and it needs to get out fairly quick, we’re more than willing to sit down and meet with the client.
It makes everyone’s life easier because if you take the time to find out what it is the client really needs, then you can deliver the goods. You can put a commercial on the air that truly works for the client, and they come back. Salespeople aren’t having to go out continuously reselling them because people get results and they stay—not to mention the fact we have very popular shows and very persuasive hosts.
JV: What’s the on-air lineup?
Rob: We have Howard Stern in the morning and Sam Ruben right after Howard. Sam’s a local TV entertainment reporter, and he does the slot between Howard and noon. From noon to 3:00 we have Frosty, Heidi and Frank. They’re a local show and they broadcast from here. From 3:00 to 8:00 we have Tom Leykis, and even though he’s syndicated, he’s here in town at Westwood 1, so he’ll show up at the station events and things like that—and when we do station events with Tom, they’re phenomenally successful. After Tom we have Conway and Steckler who is Tim Conway Jr., who is Tim Conway’s son, and Doug Steckler, and they’re actually syndicated from here.
JV: Tell us about the studios. Are they Pro Tools equipped?
Rob: Two of them are; mine is not. I use Vegas and I prefer it to Pro Tools. I think it runs circles around Pro Tools. I mean, for what we do for radio production, it is just so fast and so sweet. The interface is so intuitive. We’re running Pro Tools on a PC system, and Pro Tools is really a Mac program that’s been adapted to PC. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Pro Tools is great. If you’re going to produce a record or something, I don’t think there is a better system to do it on. But for the kind of stuff we do, Vegas is it. I just love it. You can drag a wave file and an MP3 onto the same track and cross fade them without blinking an eye—none of those conversions and all that stuff. I use Vegas, Acid and Sound Forge in my studio.
JV: I take it you have a total of 3 production rooms.
Rob: Yes, we have three. Ron Lipkin is in the main production studio, and he’s got Pro Tools set up in there. Rich has the Pro Tools in his office but he has no mike chain; so if he needs to do voice work, most of the time he will do it in Ron’s studio because Ron’s got the nice Neumann mike in there. And then he’ll just import his voice parts into his Pro Tools. We are all networked so we can pull files from each other’s computers, which is nice because Rob’s got a very nice sound effects library in his computer which makes searching for crowd sounds or whatever pretty easy.
JV: You mentioned Sonic Foundry’s Acid in your arsenal. How do you utilize this program?
Rob: Well, let’s say I’m producing a commercial. I’ll lay voice parts down in Vegas first, and then I’ll add sound effects and everything else short of the music. All that’s done in Vegas. Then I’ll bounce that down to a stereo wave file and open it up in Acid. This is where I score my spots, and it’s what I love about Acid. I remember the old 2-track days when you would find music that you like in your production library, then you would try to do your read over the music and try to hit posts in your music. Well now it’s just the opposite. You put the posts where they need to be. I can accentuate a piece of copy by changing the tempo or by bringing in different instruments or dropping stuff out. I just love it. And the upside of that is when I have spots that leave the station, I don’t have a needle drop fee.
Acid is such a great tool, and I think a lot of radio stations should use it because you can create your own royalty free music. I create music beds that run on the radio station for various remote appearances or different hosts that talk over them. I create sweeper beds in Acid. If Rich comes in and says, “Hey can you do this kind of bed?” “Yeah, I can put something like that together!” It’s a great tool. I’ve got up to 7 gigs worth of loops on my computer already. And the nice thing about that is, if I have a slow day, I will just jump onto Acid and start making music beds or sweeper beds.
I also get ideas just from working in Acid. We have one client that sells mail order pee for drug tests. I was trying to come up with an idea for them and I created this goofy little song called “Buy This Piss.” It’s kind of a hard core techno thing, and obviously it wasn’t going to go on the air; but I wound up sticking it on Acid Planet and it charted #3 in the Acid Planet Industrial chart.
JV: Do you have any music back-ground?
Rob: I played a little bit of guitar when I was younger, and then I reached that stage where I had to decide whether I wanted to be a rock star or be in radio. I was playing and singing in a friend’s band, then I went the radio route. But I always loved music, that’s why I got into radio in the first place.
JV: Do you feel that your musical background is necessary for you to be able to do what you’re doing in Acid?
Rob: Oh no. I think if you can count to 4 you can do what I do. It’s like the old days of having to edit on tape, only this is just so much easier.
JV: About how many commercials do you think you guys crank out in the course of a week?
Rob: I don’t know; in a busy week it could be dozens of commercials. We’re getting into a busy time right now, and it’s not unusual toward the end of the week to have to bang out maybe five to ten spots a day. But I don’t know what an average would be.
JV: What kind of turnaround time can a client expect on his commercial?
Rob: Turnaround is a really big thing for me, since I’ve been in sales and I’m married to a salesperson. I try to get stuff turned around as quickly as possible because I’ve been in that position. I know what it’s like to have to be sitting there waiting for something. You need to get it approved and get it on the air. So my thing is to get it off my plate as soon as possible. I try not to have anything sitting around for more than a few days. If I’ve been working on something for 5 days, that’s probably about the longest I would be working on something and it’s probably because there were revisions and such.
JV: You’re one of the few production people who has sales experience. How do you think your perspective of things is different because of your sales experience?
Rob: I think a lot of it is maturity. When you’re young and starting out, you can get cocky. I went through a phase like that too. Right before my little hiatus from radio I was probably reaching that stage. I thought, “Hey, I do all this work, and who are these people messing with my art” or whatever. “Don’t they understand?”
It’s kind of ridiculous but there is one thing that I still carry around with me. I had a situation where I got called in to management because I had upset a salesperson for some reason. I made my case saying this is what I do and blah, blah, and I’m the Production Director blah blah. The General Manager listened to what I had to say, and then he told me that I was there to serve the sales department. Boy I didn’t like it. That was a real bruise to my ego. But you know what? The guy was absolutely right, and it probably took me a while to realize he was right. But that is what I’m here for. I always remember that and always keep that in the back of my head. So when I get this stuff from the salespeople, I do my best to get it back to them as quickly as possible and keep the client happy.
And I have no problems dealing with clients and talking with their clients and trying to help their clients get the best out of their radio. And you know, sometimes clients don’t know what’s in their best interest, and unfortunately, with the kind of turnover you have with salespeople, there is not a lot of training; and a lot of these salespeople, yeah they’re great salespeople, but they really don’t know a lot about radio advertising. And so it falls on the production guy to help educate the client as to what’s going to work for the client and what’s not going to work. Clients get used to hearing things on the radio, and there is probably more bad production on the air than there is good production. We’re all guilty of slapping stuff together and throwing it on the air just to get it on the air and get it off our plate. But it can be a challenge to educate them sometimes.
JV: When you need a creative idea, what do you do? Plug in the sound effects CD? Go for a walk? What works for you?
Rob: We went to the Dan O’Day production workshop last year, and they had a great workshop on writing to music. In fact there’s an article in your magazine this month [Radio Hed - June ’03 RAP] which covers the exact same ground. Sometimes I’ll do that, put in a CD, listen to it, and write some stuff. Going for a walk is okay; we do that sometimes. Oftentimes we will all sit around together and brainstorm and see what we can come up with. I work with a couple of really wacky, crazy guys. Oftentimes I’ll come up with something way outlandish at first, maybe a parody song or something that’s totally un-airworthy, but it has some comedic value. It might please me and kind of get me going, and then from that oftentimes an idea will spring forth.
JV: You have a few RAP awards under your belt, one which came just this past April for a commercial you did for JackpotsInAFlash.com. Do you remember the creative process on that spot?
Rob: That was a lot of fun actually. We had a client who was buying one of our special weekend shows. We sell out weekend airtime, and so we have all kinds of weird shows on the weekend. We had this one guy who had an online gaming show on Friday nights. It was called Jackpot Radio, and he had a bunch of these online casino sites. There were four of them that we had to create spots for in a short period of time. Well you’re kind of constricted to all you can say. You can’t really say you win tons of money or things like that. And all the sites are pretty much the same; they’ve got card games and slot machines and stuff like that. So we had to come up with a bunch of different spots for these different online casino sites. We had done about two or three of them and were starting to scrape bottom on ideas. So Rich and I sat down and wrote down a bunch of non sequiturs about the site, and I had Rich say all these things as I rolled the machine and let him talk into the mike in different voices. He just rattled off all these different deals using all these different voices, getting the salient point in there. I put the pieces together and scored it with a bunch of Acid loops in Vegas, and that’s how it came out. It was a very weird little piece that did the job I guess.
JV: Do you have a favorite success story about a commercial you did for a client?
Rob: Well it’s hard to pick out any one client because we really have a lot of success stories on the air. Inspiral Condoms is a client that we put on the air. He had this new condom design, and they started advertising on our station. We created some interesting commercials for them, and they wound up selling so many condoms that the factory couldn’t keep up with the orders. We’ve got a lot of web based businesses on here ranging from various penis enlargement pills and the like, and these people get tremendous hits on their websites after they run on the station. I’d like to say it’s the production that makes it all happen, and I’m sure it’s a part of it; but it’s also a very powerful radio station. It’s very foreground, and people respond to the advertising on the station. We do really well with the mortgage guys too. They get a lot of success from the stuff we do. But it would be hard to pick any one success story out.
JV: For those stations that rely heavily on direct accounts, what steps would you suggest to get their creative departments and sales departments pointed in the right direction to provide their clients with the kind of service that your station provides?
Rob: One, the basis of any good commercial or ad campaign is the copy. So it’s imperative that you have somebody who can write good copy. We’re fortunate here. We’ve got three people that can write good copy. So if one person’s idea doesn’t gel, well there’s still two more people you can go to down the line. So copywriting right off the bat; invest in someone who can write good copy. Salespeople are salespeople. They’re not copywriters and they should not be expected to be copywriters. If you’re serious about satisfying your clients’ needs and making them happy and making their cash register ring, which in turn can make your cash register ring, then hire a decent copywriter.
Second, thanks to RAP magazine, I recently discovered the works of Roy Williams. I think the stuff that he writes is phenomenal, and just reading his books has been inspirational to me. If it were up to me, I would recommend that every salesperson read the Wizard of Ads. I think the problem with a lot of salespeople today is they don’t get the training they need, and they really don’t know a lot about advertising. You need to have some kind of idea about how radio works and how it grabs the listener by the ears and makes them respond. You have a lot of people just using it the wrong way because it’s sold the wrong way. So I would think educating salespeople on just how radio works would be a key point.
As for three, get some people in there who can produce. It sounds so simple and it really is, but it’s just overlooked. Can you really have one guy producing commercials for 5 radio stations? Can you really expect high quality work to come out of a guy who has to work that hard and do that much stuff? And commercials are your product. In fact, on some radio stations commercials are like 30% of your airtime. That’s a big chunk of your product there. People will think nothing of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a morning show, but yet they don’t think enough to staff their production department. Fortunately I don’t work at a place like that.
JV: There you are in market #2 having fun at one of the few dream gigs left. What advice would you offer folks in the smaller markets that want to work their way to the top?
Rob: Well, I didn’t get here overnight. It took me 15 long years to finally get here. I would say learn all you can. Be creative and don’t be afraid to be creative. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out. Come up with wild and crazy ideas. A whole lot of them will never get on the air, but you gain from every little thing that you do. Working in a small market is great. I loved it. You get to do so much. People who start in larger markets have a real hard time keeping up because if you start out in a large market as a board operator or something like that, then they pretty much think of you as a board op. In a small market you’ve got a chance to make mistakes. You’ve got a chance to grow.
I would suggest that you read as much as you can, and not just newspapers and magazines, but read books. Read stuff by people who know how to use words. You don’t have to be a great English major, but you can learn so much from reading Henry Miller or Steinbeck or Charles Bukowski for that matter. There are just so many influences out there. Soak up as much of it as possible. Listen to what the other guys do, but then don’t try to copy it; try to make it your own. There are enough drill sergeant commercials out there. There are enough game show commercials out there. Don’t be afraid to try to come up with an original idea. It’s the old thing about throwing it up on the wall and seeing what sticks. You have to throw a whole lot of stuff up on the wall.
My definition of success is doing what you like and liking what you do. If you can get into a place like that, everything else will come.