Q It Up: What happened when you first learned that radio production was something you wanted to do for a living? What was the turning point for you? When did you realize this was your path? How did you wind up living your dream? And how has it turned out for you? Has it met your expectations?
Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge .com], Susquehanna Indianapolis: Started jocking in a school station in upper Michigan in 1969. Wanted to be a star. However, my first opportunity in commercial radio didn’t hit until 1974 at Jeff Smulyan’s father’s station, WNTS-AM (News/Talk/Sports). Jeff was GM at that time. I was an intern in the production department to assist and learn how to do “production.” Wound up being the errand boy for Letterman when he did afternoons there. Hearing some of our simple sound effects used creatively by Dave over the radio was a real rush for me.
Still wanted to be center stage, since I had done that in college as MC of variety shows and beauty pageants (quit snickering). Hit the nightclub career in ’75 and utilized my production skills to back up my performance in the clubs—sound effects, intros, transitional effects, comedy bits, etc. Plus I was responsible for writing and voicing the radio spots for the clubs. This was when my interest began in producing. Produced a weekly show for WNAP-FM in ’78-’79 with a lot of beat mixing, editing, SFX/EFX and such.
Still wasn’t the best jock on air. I did okay at that time, but I really liked being able to go into the production room and work on a project until it was perfect. And I was my own worst critic. Began and organized the first production department at WTLC-FM as I went part-time in the summer of ’81. They liked my style and attention to detail (now called anal-ness). They hired me full-time by fall. I was still doing an air shift which I loved, but soon developed my style in the production room that lead to a more secure feeling of accomplishment. (Remember pushing 3 buttons at once on the cart decks and reel-to-reels to create a phase or effect?)
I’ve had the privilege of working for almost every company in town at one time or another and have wound up at what I consider to be the “top of the mountain.”Yes, I would say I have been living my dream. And I plan to work here as long as they allow me. It’s a great company and a wonderful environment that allows you to continue spreading your wings and developing your style.
Rob Frazier [robnokshus[at]yahoo .com]: I first knew that I wanted to do radio production when I took a Radio Production course at Fullerton College in the early ‘80s. Production was fun and creative. I figured out pretty quickly that that was where you were going to be able to get away with all of that wacky “theatre of the mind” stuff. Of course, my main motivation for getting into radio was pretty much the same as everyone else’s: I loved music and wanted to get paid for playing my favorite songs and being a quasi celebrity!
Growing up in Southern California however meant moving to a smaller market in order to get my foot in the door, since very few people score an on-air gig in Los Angeles right out of college radio. I wound up taking a sales job at a little mom and pop station in Atascadero (home of California’s Atascadero State Hospital, where the criminally insane are housed). San Luis Obispo was 7-miles away, and nobody that I called on had ever heard of our station! I sold by calling on clients, ascertaining their needs and going back to the station and creating creative spec spots to close them. Being in a small market, I wound up getting to be on the air also, so I got a well-rounded view of radio right from the get go. Ultimately, I wound up receiving the biggest paycheck the station had ever written for an employee, cashed it and moved to Fresno, the most over-radioed market west of the Rockies.
I bounced around in sales for a couple more years, repeating the creative production spec spot sell technique with limited success, when a GM that I had worked for at B-95, Ed Prince, offered me a job as his Production Director. Ed had always said that I belonged in production when I was selling for him, and I will always be grateful to him for giving me the opportunity. B-95’s facilities were rather primitive but typical for the time—2 old Ampex reel-to-reels, 2-turntables and a couple of ITC cart decks running through an ancient rotary pot converted on-air board. Lots of splicing and dicing, with strips of tape around my neck and a razor blade in my mouth, tape loops running the length of the room, firing carts and turntables in a linear fashion and god forbid if you got JUST ONE element wrong, You’d have to cue everything up and start all over again from the beginning! In fact, it was one of those productions that got me my first RAP Award all those years ago. Of course, now I thank God for the DAW, but those days were fun.
I still had the on-air bug though, and when an opportunity to do mornings at the new Alternative station in town came up, I jumped at it. The PD, Don Parker had been my PD at B-95, and we had spent many an hour in his office talking about what we would do if we were at “The Edge.” Well now we were there, and it was one of the best times I ever had in radio. Don gave us a lot of leeway in the mornings, and we tried a lot of creative stuff, not all of which, I will readily admit, worked.
When the Production Director resigned to do an air shift at the Classic Rock station (what is it with us production guys?) I took over the imaging duties. Unlike B-95, The Edge had state of the art facilities (for the time): Pacific Recorders ABX board, Neuman mics, and an Otari 1-inch 8-track recorder. Each studio offered stunning views of the Sierra Nevada. I was in heaven, and created stuff there that’s still on my demo today!
All good things come to an end, though the Edge’s end was premature. One thing I have learned over the years however, is that when one door closes, another one is bound to open. Well another one did open, across the country in Orlando Florida at WTKS, just then starting its meteoric rise to the top as Real Radio 104.1. Rich Boerner hired me because he said my stuff was “as bent” as his. I take that as a supreme compliment. Rich deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the success of WTKS and the FM Talk format. WTKS was a wild ride and I am proud to say I worked there, but Florida was a different story, and we wound up back in Fresno within a year. For a while I viewed the whole ordeal as a big mistake, but I had made a good friend in Rich and we kept in contact over the years. When he and his family moved to California, we visited them in San Francisco, and the same thing when they moved to Los Angeles where Rich became APD/Creative Director for KLSX.
To make a long story a little bit shorter, after a couple of failed endeavors and 4-years out of the biz as a stay at home dad, I am again working with Rich at KLSX in much the same capacity as in Orlando. And yes, you could say I’m finally living my dream, and have even achieved some of my goals; I’m in a major market, I’ve been on KROQ (well, my spots anyway), and I am truly happy where I’m at, which, if you ask me, is the ultimate definition of success.
Another couple of things I’ve learned: things happen for a reason, though you may not discover the reason until years down the road, and, wherever you are, that is where you are meant to be. It may or may not be a good place, but there is a lesson to be learned there. I’m still learning lessons, and I’m still chasing my dream. Good luck in chasing yours!
Jay Rose [jay[at]dplay.com]: While I had played with radio in college, one of my first real jobs was at a small commercial film company. They hired me to rebuild their ancient RCA BC-3 console, but this place was so down-and-out, they soon put me to work mixing films... then editing them... then writing and directing. After they went out of business — what would you expect from a company that called a kid with no experience a “director” — I took a long look at my reel. It had great, creative soundtracks and fairly awful pictures. So I went into radio.
The experience soured me on working for small companies, which ruled out any radio station that would hire a green kid. Fortunately, I was living on a government grant (otherwise known as unemployment insurance), and used my electronic skills to kludge together a home production studio. I cut a reel of the radio spots I’d done at the film company, and started knocking on ad agency doors. My wife said I was out selling five days a week, just so I’d have something to produce over the weekend.
I got lucky. I was carving a niche at the same time Boston ad agencies were discovering creative radio. Within two years I turned my spare-bedroom operation into a downtown boutique — still mostly home-brew — and the work flowed. Six years later I had three suites and a staff of 12. We were doing most of the national spots coming from Boston, and our productions dominated local award shows.
Then my building got sold and torn down. I didn’t feel like starting another operation, and a large post house offered me decent money to improve their audio. They had me doing TV sound as well as radio, and I discovered it could be just as creative.
Four years later I quit the post house — I’m just not a corporate guy — and moved back to a home studio. Only this time it’s not as kludged: AudicyVX; Eventide and TC processors; a Sony BetaSP deck for video. You can see it at dplay.com.
Has my career met my expectations? I never had any expectations. But I wish I had it all to do over. Not that I’d change anything... I just want to experience it again.
Justin Taylor [studio[at]voiceimage. com]: I started in Radio as a Jock back around 1978, but I had always tinkered with recording, whether it was music or just learning my way around a studio. The lights, the meters, the gentle hum of equipment motors were calling my name. I knew I wanted to do Broadcast Production when I landed an on-air gig at WEAM in Washington. My assigned daily production kept getting more and more intricate... and with no remote starts mind you.
I slapped on that pair of electrostatic headphones, and with my stocking feet I would kick off a simultaneous start of that old Tapecaster cart machine with the gear shift knob on it, throw the Ampex reel-to-reel into record, crank the turntable up with the Tanner Music Library record on it, and start reading copy into that huge smelly Sennheiser mic. That was the moment I knew that accounting was not going to be my field of choice.
As the years and the call letters passed by, I was always putting in a little extra time and effort on my production and then I started writing and recording promos and spots on my own. Eventually, going from Jock to Production Guy happened for me at WMZQ in Washington DC where I was working as a Jock with the greatest shift in the world ... 10pm-2am. But I wanted more than just being on the air and making dubs. I wanted something that was project creative instead of off the cuff creative.
Gary McCarty, who was my PD at WMZQ, let me talk him into taking over the newly created position of Production Director/Station Creative. I really enjoyed what I did there. It was there that I made the transition from razor blade to digital editing and really got to hone my craft. I jumped right in with the AKG DSE7000 and discovered a whole new world of possibilities. Then came SAW, Cool Edit, Sound Forge, and now Pro-Tools. Is this fun or what? Now I own my own creative production/voiceover business and truly love what I do. We handle all types of audio creative and stay on the edge of technology. How many people can say they love what they do for a living? I’m one of them.
Walt Troup [Walt.Troup[at]abc.com]: I was a jock at KSCS/Dallas when the “production bug” hit me. I found myself coming in before my air shift and spending more time in the Production Room than in the Control Room. It was then I realized that I didn’t want to be playing records when I was 50. Back then my PD, Dean James, saw the effort and heard the creative and placed me as the Creative Director at KSCS/Dallas in 1997. At first I missed being on air, but there is nothing like sitting in front of my Orban Audicy with a blank slate and creating something that not only makes the client and station proud, but also something I can listen to and measure how much I have grown in my efforts.
I love my job, and I would only give it up to be a cameraman for Monday Night Football. Until then... image is everything!
Carlos Montoya [agmaprod[at]live radio.com], KYLZ/Albuquerque, AGM Production: Realizing that radio production was my thing was a slow subtle process. I’ve been a musician since I was ten, and music has always been a major part of my life. That gave birth to an interest in the behind-the-scenes of all types of audio. In high school, I was given the responsibility of putting together an end-of-the-year slide show for our band banquet. With that came my first-ever audio production. I had the idea of running around with a tape recorder all year long and getting funny drops from my peers. I edited them together with some music and sfx for the soundtrack to the slide show. Experiencing the finished product gave me a funny tickle that I had not experienced before. In college, I never practiced my horn as much as my professors wanted, but rather took an interest in running sound for concerts. I discovered that I was more interested in playing with equipment than practicing my horn. During college, I started volunteering at Christian KLYT and went through the jock class. The Production Director at the time showed us some of his promo samples and something just clicked with me. Afterwards, I told him that I was really, really interested in learning production. They gave me the chance to start producing with a lot of creative freedom. I blossomed quite a bit there. A couple years later, I got a part-time gig imaging Top 40/R KYLZ. In the interview, the PD asked me where I wanted to be in three years. I told him, “I wanna be Production Director.” Four months later, they made me Production Director and here I’ve been ever since.