Joe Meinecke, Imaging Director, WKLH/WJMR, Milwaukee, WI

903-JoeMeineckeThis month we visit market #33 where Saga’s 5-station cluster enjoys a healthy slice of the Milwaukee market. Their top rated station is the legendary WKLH, which currently enjoys the #1 slot 25-54 with its Classic Hits format. Not too far behind is Urban AC WJMR. And the imaging wizard behind both stations is Joe Meinecke, who also happens to be this year’s RAP Awards winner for Best Promo – Medium Markets. It’s a major market sound blasting from WKLH and WJMR, and Joe shares some of his imaging philosophy and techniques in this month’s RAP Interview. Be sure to check out Joe’s entertaining demo on this month’s RAP CD!

JV: Tell us how you got into radio and what brought you to Milwaukee.
Joe: Actually I’m from Milwaukee. I grew up in a little town called Muskego, which is 20 minutes outside of Milwaukee. I was bitten by the radio bug in high school right around the age of 17, and that led to an internship at WMYX here in Milwaukee back in 1990. I was with ‘MYX for 5 years. I progressed from intern to part-time board op to part-time on air to morning show producer and on to imaging producer for WMYX and at the time WAMG. From there I went to Des Moines to work for the Saga Communications cluster down there. I became the Production Director and the Imaging Director for Star 102.5 and 104.1 but oversaw the entire cluster. While I was down there an offer opened up in Milwaukee with Saga. I came back to work for what was WPNT “The Point” and then eventually I was offered ‘KLH and now Jammin’ 98.3 WJMR.

JV: How many stations does Saga have in Milwaukee?
Joe: We have five: WKLH, WLZR, WJYI, WFMR and WJMR, which are all in the same building. Luckily I don’t image all of them. I’m only responsible for imaging ‘KLH and WJMR.

JV: Do the other three stations have their own Imaging Director?
Joe: ‘LZR has their own Imaging Director and ‘JYI and ‘FMR are their own unique animals. Pretty much the PDs are responsible for those two.

JV: Are you the imaging voice for the stations?
Joe: No, we have hired outside voice talent for both stations. On ‘KLH we are use 3 different voices. We use Jim Cutler, Chris Corley, and Christie Tanner. And on WJMR we use Jay Dickson.

JV: Who handles the commercials?
Joe: We have a separate commercial producer and he oversees the commercials for the entire facility, all five stations. I’ve been known to help out from time to time, but it’s not my primary responsibility.

JV: You started doing imaging work at your first station, WMYX. Was that when you discovered production was your thing?
Joe: The minute I started there I fell in love with it. Like most people who come up in the ranks in radio I just started playing in the production studio as an intern, and my boss at the time who has come to be my mentor, Jim Schaefer, saw what I was doing and gave me a chance. He’s responsible for me being in radio pretty much.

JV: How would you describe your style of imaging?
Joe: Well, people have called it cinematic. I just say theater of the mind for the most part. I do storytelling, and I kind of do more animated stuff in terms of the sounds.

JV: We’ll look forward to hearing some of that on your demo for the RAP CD. Tell us about the studios you’re working in?
Joe: Well I guess all of the producers who will be reading this are going to roll their eyes and say, “Update, will you?” But I use SAW. Saga’s standard pretty much through most of the company is SAW. It’s the SAW Pro version, and I use it together with Sound Forge. I’ve gotten away from any type of outsourcing for reverb or anything like that. Everything is done with the computer now. For the board we just have a basic Mackie console and a couple of speakers. It’s a real simple system.

JV: What’s your approach to making a good promo?
Joe: Teamwork. It’s not just one person in our promo-writing circle. It’s a combination of people, everyone from the Promotions Director to the Ops Director to me; and sometimes we’re all in the room together, sometimes it’s just two of us. It’s never consistent, but I find that the more people we have getting in on a brainstorming session the better the promo, because ‘KLH has a very irreverent sense of humor, and so do all the people who work for it. We just laugh constantly in these meetings, and we apply that to whatever the promotion is that we’re working on at the time. And the same goes with Jammin’. Everyone gets involved.

And when I say team, it’s copywriting, brainstorming… I mean ultimately the final product is coming out of my studio, but getting to that point involves a bunch of people. To be specific, on WKLH it’s the Program Director, Bob Bellini, the Operations Director and Morning Show Host, Dave Luczak, the Marketing Director Brad Wallace, and myself. That’s the brain trust on ‘KLH. And then on WJMR it’s the PD Lauri Jones, Scott Marshall the Marketing Director, and myself. And I should also throw in there all the Jammin’ DJ’s because we’ve done promos on Jammin’ where all the jocks get in a room and a promo just happens right there on the spot. We’ve done a couple like that already that have just turned out hilarious.

JV: The two formats you image there, Classic Hits on WKLH and Urban AC on WJMR, are somewhat diverse. Does this present any challenges for you?
Joe: It did at first because Jammin’ was an evolution. When I first returned to Milwaukee it was a Modern AC called The Point. I have an AC background and Star in Des Moines was a Hot AC, so the leap really wasn’t anything too dramatic. I loved doing The Point. Unfortunately the ratings didn’t show up at The Point and we adapted it to be Jammin’ Oldies. I’ve done Oldies too, so no big jump there. But as the station continued to evolve into an Urban AC, the challenge got a little bit more difficult. You have to understand the mindset of the audience, and the minute you understand that then there is no problem. But it was a little bit touch and go in the beginning; however I think I’ve gotten it down to a pretty good routine now. I also have a great PD to guide me through the stuff. Lauri Jones has been in the urban realm for quite a long while.

JV: How many promos do you think you’re cranking out in the course of a week?
Joe: That’s never consistent because it’s not always promos. There are also lots of short form sweepers. I mean just within the last week I must have wrapped up, just for ‘KLH, 60 or more sweepers. But to be fair, some of them were backburners from 2 weeks ago. But it’s never consistent. There will be weeks where we will crank out 45 production pieces between the two stations, and there will be other weeks when it’s close to a dozen.

JV: Are you working some crazy hours, or are you able to keep it to a basic 9-5 gig?
Joe: Even that varies. 8-5 is a typical day, but there will be days when it will be 8-8.

JV: You do a lot of theater of the mind production. Where do you go for the music for that type of production? What production libraries do you use most?
Joe: We bring out soundtracks. They come in very handy and I’m a big collector of soundtracks. The most obscure stuff works the best — you know, movies that really don’t do well, but yet the score is phenomenal. Spy Kids is a case in point. I’ve used that in promos. It’s not the biggest budget movie out there but yet the score is outstanding.

JV: And the wide spectrum of music styles in today’s movie soundtracks must give you a very diverse library to choose from. You’ve got the whole spectrum from classical to hip-hop to heavy metal.
Joe: Exactly.

JV: What are some other techniques that you use that help with your theater of the mind production?
Joe: Well, coaching the voice talent is very important. Jim Cutler is an exception here because he gets it right away; he doesn’t need any coaching. Granted, we’re not actors, but we try to get it to that level. We try to make it sound like we’re coming out of a major Hollywood studio. If it takes multiple takes, it takes multiple takes and I take the best take. If there is an outdoor sound, I try to get every outdoor sound that I would hear if I walked outside — the sound of the wind, the trees, birds chirping in the background. Not just a door open sound effect and poof, you’re outside. I actually try to paint the entire picture with sound.

JV: Do you ever go outside and record the actual sounds you need?
Joe: Oh yes. We have an old Sony portable DAT that works great for this. It also works great for gathering listener testimonials. One of my favorite things to use are the testimonials. I like gathering a whole bunch of people and getting their comments on the station, whether it be Jammin’ or ‘KLH. And I try to piece them together in a different kind of way. Not just the usual, “I love that radio station” kind of stuff. I did a series for Dave & Carol, our morning show on ‘KLH, where people kept stumbling over the words, so I used the stumbles. To use a metaphor, if you’re looking at a picture, I try to tilt that picture just a little bit.

JV: Do you use listener testimonials a lot in your imaging?
Joe: Yes, but more so for Jammin’ right now. It’s probably heavier on Jammin’ because Jammin’ is so new, and if you can get the audience talking about a newer radio station, I think it makes a bigger impact. One of the challenges that’s been posed to me is to start working in more testimonials with ‘KLH, which will have to happen carefully because ‘KLH, being a heritage station, has every form of production on it, from testimonials to standard sweepers to comedic promos to serious promos to morning show promos. It’s a production beast.

JV: Do you get the testimonials yourself?
Joe: Yes.

JV: Do you have an air shift that you do on the station as well? I mean, when you approach the people in the street, do they know you as one of the station personalities?
Joe: No.

JV: Well what kind of reaction do you get from the people when you go out there and stick a mike in their face and they don’t know who you are? Does not being one of the air personalities get in the way of getting the best read from them that you can?
Joe: Not really because what I do is take a very casual approach. I go to the event, whether it is for ‘KLH or Jammin’, and get a feel for what everyone is doing. I don’t just approach people right away. Then I keep an eye on the people who seem most relaxed, and I walk up to them. And I’m always wearing station gear, and as long as you’re wearing station gear, they’re not going to be apprehensive in any way. But I just approach them, make small talk, and then ask if they would mind if I ask them a few questions, and I’m not afraid to ask people to say something again. I think that’s something a lot of producers miss. They will get the testimonial and think they have the testimonial regardless of how good it is. If I don’t think it’s exciting, I might say to that person, “Hey, this is a great radio station, don’t you think so?” And maybe they’ll say, “Oh, I love it!” If you can just get them more excited, you’ll get much better testimonials.

JV: And that’s the key. If you’re going to use testimonials on the air they have to be believable. If they sound staged, that’s exactly how they come off.
Joe: And the best places to get them are at major events. For example, Jammin’ had the Tom Joyner Sky Show come to town. Tom Joyner is our syndicated morning show. He brought his Sky Show to town and everyone waited outside the theater. I just walked up and down that line and people were more than willing to offer their testimonials on the station.

JV: Do you find that the fans of one station are more excited about giving testimonials than listeners of your other station?
Joe: It varies. Demographically I’d say Jammin’ listeners are more excited. But it just depends on what type of an event you’re at. If you’re at a big contest giveaway, everyone is excited no matter what the radio station. If it’s just a typical remote, you’ll get mixed responses.

JV: Are there any key questions you like to ask when you’re out getting these testimonials?
Joe: My favorite question is “Would you like to see us do something different with the radio station?” What that does is it makes them think, and sometimes they’ll just get embarrassed and say something like, “No, I love what you guys do!” And that’s what you end up using. That’s what you wanted to hear in the first place.

JV: How would you describe Milwaukee as a radio market?
Joe: It’s competitive, but there is also a lot of heritage. A lot of these stations have had pretty much the same morning team and the same format for a long time. And I think that’s what keeps it competitive, but yet there’s that sense of heritage. I mean from the time I went to ‘MYX to Des Moines and then came back, with the exception of some smaller signals, nothing had changed in Milwaukee.

JV: How about the production and the imaging on the other stations in the market? Do you listen much?
Joe: That’s where it’s competitive. I mean we all have our own individual styles, but if I hear something on another station that I think is pretty cool, you know, something like a stereo pan or something that I never thought of trying, I might give that a try. I might hear some sound effects and wonder which library they come from. I do keep an ear on the sounds on the other radio stations and their imaging.

JV: How much time do you typically spend on a promo? Once you get the copy written and all the voice tracks down, how much time would you spend searching and gathering music, sound effects and piecing it all together?
Joe: If there’s a deadline, I can have it done in an hour. Is my best work in an hour? No. I’ve been known to spend all day on a promo. So anywhere from one hour to a day. That really varies; it just depends on where I am in terms of the workload.

JV: Who has been most influential in your career?
Joe: Several people including Jim Schaefer, David Ray, Steve Goldstein, Tom Joerres, Bob Bellini, Kipper McGee, and Jim Morales. Over the years these people have been my teachers and have always pushed me in the right direction. 

JV: Do you have any goals for the immediate future? Bigger markets maybe?
Joe: No, not really. I’d love to continue doing this. I don’t think there is any bigger goal set right now. For a long time, working for WKLH was a goal for me and I’ve met it. Often I ask myself if there is something more. Possibly, but I’m content where I am. I’m very happy at home. Like I said, I was born and raised here. I’ve been tempted by other markets like Cincinnati and Baltimore, but nothing really ever seemed to pan out with that just because of the location or compensation.

JV: If someone in a small market wanted to move up in the ranks to be an Imaging Director for a great station like ‘KLH, what aspects of the job would you have them work on? Is it copywriting? Production?
Joe: Copywriting for sure. I think the copywriting goes hand in hand with creativity and imagination, and I’ve noticed a lack of imagination in our business right now. And one thing I think anybody can do to jump-start their imagination is to read books, I mean pretty much everything from fiction to nonfiction. And watch movies — not just watch the movie, but listen to the movie, visualize the movie. When I watch a movie, I’m not just watching the movie. I’m listening to the sound and score, and that’s what always motivates me. How can I apply something like that? And stay on top of current events — news, TV, music, and the Internet.  Sometimes the most topical news stories or events make the best subject matter for production.