Steve Pigott, Kiss 100, London, England
By Jerry Vigil
The RAP Interview decided to stay one more month in the UK. Last month, in our chat with Hamish McLean at Urban Radio, Hamish mentioned that he thought the production coming from Kiss 100 in London was some of the best in the city. So, off we go to Kiss 100 to find out who’s behind the imaging there. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t some 20-year production veteran we found, but instead, a 21-year-old production wiz. And this wasn’t a case of one imaging guy who also images two or three other stations in the chain. On the contrary, we found Steve Pigott as just one-half of an “imaging team” working for just one station! Be sure to check out Steve’s demo on this month’s RAP CD, and be sure to check out Kiss 100 live online at www.kiss100.com.
JV: How did you get your start in the business?
Steve: I was always interested in sound from an early age, even before I knew what production was, really. I used to play around on my computer, record stuff from the radio — maybe sports commentary or something like that — and then I’d put music behind it and make it sound really cool with the music hitting in the right places and stuff like that.
JV: How old were you at the time?
Steve: Around fifteen. Then when I was sixteen I applied for work experience at the local radio station, Hallam FM in Sheffield, which is in the north of England. They invited me to do a weekend shift. I worked on the sports show, which went out every Saturday afternoon. There I produced live sports games and was driving the desk and did it all while I was still in high school. While I was there I taught myself how to use the studios, how to work the editing systems. I even learned SADiE while I was there, so that helped me out.
The guys at Hallam were really good about helping me out. It was really amazing how they let a sixteen-year-old kid have access to the studios and play around with the equipment. I wouldn’t have learned half as much as I know if they hadn’t given me the freedom they gave me to use the studios.
JV: What happened next?
Steve: I did the sports show for two years. Then in September 2000 I left high school. I had made plans to go to university and study sound engineering, but the guys at Hallam offered me a job as creative producer, producing all the commercials for the station — local commercials and some national commercials as well. I did that for about six months. Then after that I moved over to the programming side and became the station producer for all the imaging for Hallam FM. I was in that job for just over two years.
Then in April of 2003 I got offered the job at Kiss in London. Kiss is owned by Emap, the same company that owns Hallam. The guys down here had already heard the work I was doing at Hallam and just offered me a gig down here.
JV: That’s great, and barely 21! Did you ever do any on-air work as a presenter?
Steve: Yeah, I did that. I used to have a show every Saturday night on Hallam FM. It was a dance music show, and I’ve done the odd show here at Kiss too.
JV: But that wasn’t really what you set out to do when you got into radio.
Steve: No, I never really wanted to be a presenter. I always wanted to do the imaging for the station. It just interested me more.
JV: You worked with the SADiE system at Hallam. What are you using now?
Steve: I’m completely converted to Pro Tools. I swear by it now. I did go through a phase of using Cool Edit Pro, and I really loved that. I even think it’s better than SADiE. The stuff you can do on that is amazing for the price it costs. But when I moved out here I started using Pro Tools, and I wouldn’t use anything else. It’s the TDM 6.1 on a Mac.
JV: What do you like most about Pro Tools over Cool Edit and SADiE?
Steve: I guess Pro Tools is the most stable thing I’ve worked with. The program itself is really straightforward. You can learn it right away. The plug-ins you can get for it are absolutely amazing, and it can just make anything sound massive.
JV: What are some of your favorite plugs?
Steve: I use Pitch Blender quite a lot on voiceovers, and also the plug-in called Maxim, which is good for playing with on the overall final mix.
JV: When you started out doing imaging production, did you have some mentors, some producers that you listened to and tried to emulate, or did you just kind of develop your style on your own?
Steve: I’ve tried to develop my own style over the years, but I guess in the days before I even started at Hallam FM I was influenced by the guy that did the imaging there. His name is Anthony Gay, and he eventually became my Program Director at Hallam FM as well. But I always looked to the stations in the U.S. – Kiss in Los Angeles always does some good stuff. Jeff Thomas does the imaging out there. He’s always good to listen to. And also a lot of Z100 stuff from Dave Foxx. I was quite a fan of all the K-Rock, Los Angeles stuff as well, although it’s not the kind of thing that I’d like to develop. It’s very story-based with lots of sketches and stuff like that, which is not what we’re about. But it’s fun to listen to and it’s good to get ideas from. And there’s also a guy called Andy Roberts who is now the group Program Director of all the Emap stations, so he looks after Kiss. He’s the guy that employed me here at Kiss. I’d listen to his stuff and he’d give me ideas.
JV: How would you describe your style of imaging at Kiss?
Steve: It’s very edgy, lots of attitude. We try to make it as big as possible. The London market is very, very competitive, and you need to sound the best all the time. You need to sound the biggest. We try to be clever as well by using clips out of songs, building sentences and things like that.
JV: Do you handle all the imaging for Kiss?
Steve: No. It’s shared with a guy called Matt Lomax. Matt was here before I arrived, and I used to work with him at Hallam as well. So we’ve known each other and worked with each other for quite a long time. I learned quite a lot from him at Hallam, and it’s just great to work with him again.
JV: There must be a lot of imaging production to require two of you for one station. Do you work different shifts and share a studio, or is he in another studio?
Steve: We both work during the day in separate studios. We just get the day’s work or the week’s work and split it down the middle — you do this, I’ll do that. It’s a 50/50 split.
JV: And it’s just that one radio station that you’re both working for?
Steve: Yeah. We work just for Kiss mainly, but there are other stations in this building that we do the odd bit of production for. We have radio stations coming out of here that go on Digital Radio and Freeview which is like satellite television that goes out across the UK. The stations on there are Heat, Mojo, Smash Hits, Kerrang and Q Radio; and we also pipe Kiss on Freeview and Digital as well, so Kiss is now really a national station. We broadcast TV stations out of the building as well, music channels, and Kiss has it own music channel. It’s just the videos back to back with no presenters, and some of the imaging that we produce for the radio gets played on this channel as well, but it’s all stuff that was produced for the radio station.
JV: There may not be a station in the US with more than one person doing imaging for just one station. It’s usually one person doing imaging for two or more stations. Is your case unusual or is this type of staffing typical in the UK?
Steve: It’s unusual outside of London. In London there is usually a production team for the imaging. But Kiss is very production intensive. The output is very well produced. Many of the songs have power intros on them and it’s all built in so it sounds as slick as possible. We also work on the network chart show, The Smash Hits Chart, that goes out across the UK, which takes up quite a bit of time as well.
JV: How many people handling the commercials at Kiss?
Steve: Just one guy for the commercials.
JV: What kind of music does Kiss play?
Steve: Kiss is Rhythmic CHR. In the daytime it’s quite commercial, and then in the nighttime we do the specialty shows. One night we’ll do hip-hop, the next, R&B, and so on. So the daytime everyday is pretty similar, and then we have the specialty shows in the night.
JV: What production libraries and/or services are you using for your imaging there?
Steve: We get a lot from Reel World. Sung jingles and the top of the hours come from Reel World. And we use the Cracked Radio package, which is like a sweeper service that we get quarterly. They take bits of songs and play around with the lyrics, and there’s lots of useful samples in there too. But we don’t use it the way that they suggest on the CD. Basically we get a CD and there’s a demo on there on how to use it, but we just cut it up our own way and make our own bits with it.
We also use some of the AVdeli stuff — they do a lot of good stuff. Killer Hertz is always a good one, and we do actually make our own elements from time to time as well.
JV: Who is the imaging voice for the station?
Steve: It’s Sandy Thomas of New York. We do one session a week with him on ISDN.
JV: Once you get the track for, let’s say, a promo, how do you build that promo? Where do you start?
Steve: It depends what it is really. If it’s something for a movie, I’d listen to the trailer and maybe get some ideas from there, maybe find out what clip I’m going to use in the promo. Then basically I just build it from scratch. I never really have an image of how I want it to sound. I just start from scratch and then see what the end product is, and nine times out of ten it works.
JV: About how much time will you spend on a promo, let’s say, for a movie promotion?
Steve: Once we’ve got the voice recorded, we probably knock something out in a couple of hours. If it’s something really big, if it’s going to be the biggest thing on the station, then it might take half a day. Whatever it is, we’re basically given as much time as we need to make it sound good.
JV: How much time would you take for a top of the hour ID, something that’s going to air every hour, every day, for a few weeks?
Steve: For a top of hour ID, I’d probably not go out there and finish it all in one stretch. I’d probably do a little bit every day so I could keep going back to it and seeing how it sounds at different times. We do get a lot of time to do stuff here, which is good.
JV: That’s rare. At most places, it seems when the idea comes to the Program Director’s mind, he wants to hear it on the radio right away. How do you explain that you’re given that much time to put together an ID?
Steve: Because Andy Roberts is the boss and he used to do the job himself, so he knows exactly where we’re coming from.
JV: You’re off to a great start. What goals do you have in mind?
Steve: My ambition is to work in the U.S. eventually. That’s where I really want to be. However, working in London, and especially at Kiss, is great—definitely the place to be right now.
JV: What’s the attraction in the US? Two guys imaging one station sounds like a good gig!
Steve: Yeah, definitely. But I’ve been to the U.S. many times. I’ve got friends over there, and it seems to be a great place to work. The lifestyle seems much more relaxed. Plus, the weather stinks here.