JV: Was this a national contest or just for the Toronto market?
Chris: One market. And herein lies some of the fun that we’ve had over this. Regular people don’t think or talk about this stuff, but in terms of industry people, we, of course, promoted it as the biggest prize ever awarded by a radio station to one listener. And we got an e-mail from a radio station out in Edmonton saying, “We gave away $1 million back in 2001” or something like that, but it was one of those insured contests. Our claim is that it’s the biggest single prize we ever guaranteed to give away to one listener, because we said at the beginning, “One person will win $1 million cash, guaranteed, tax free.” It was absolutely huge, and it was the neatest thing for me, or anybody. It was one of those once-in-a career kinds of experiences. And the truth is that I didn’t do a whole lot in terms of the imaging for that contest. We have a bunch of producers here, and each of them are sort of responsible for the majority of imaging on each of their radio stations. I dabble in a little bit of each of them, but not a whole lot. And they did a great job with this $1 million contest.
To pick the winner, we had a breakfast at the top of the CN tower, which used to be the world’s highest or tallest free-standing structure. The breakfast went from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Being it was CHFI FM 98, they had 98 listeners on hand, and it was a reverse draw, where if your name is called, you get pulled out and you no longer are in contention to win. They kept drawing names all morning long until 8:20 in the morning, and then they had somebody win it. And for a big chunk of these people, they had produced profiles about them, about what their lives were like, what their kids were like, about the tragedies, the hopes, the dreams. It was just unbelievable radio. The Program Director for that radio station, she’s not only, I think, the youngest Program Director in Toronto ever, I think she’s the best Program Director in Toronto ever. Her name is Julie Adam. Smart, smart lady. I worked for her at CISS Country as well. So that was a real fun thing to be involved with and certainly the biggest promotion I’ve ever been involved with.
JV: Back to the hundreds of artist songs you mixed back at CISS Country; did that experience influence the kind of imaging you do today in any way?
Chris: It’s hard to say if that was sort of the catalyst for anything I do now or not. Certainly, I love to do those song jingle things that I sent for the RAP CD. We certainly weren’t the first people to do them. We originally had bought the package from Z‑100. We had four of them produced for us, and I remember at the time I had said that I wanted the a cappellas to all the jingles. The full mixes they produced were good, but they just didn’t quite get to where I thought they would go. And I remember I had written out four pages of instructions of what I had hoped for for these particular songs. And so when I got them back I remember calling up Jam Productions and saying, “I really wanted the a cappellas, all of them, so that I could work on some of these myself,” because otherwise it just felt like an awful lot of money to spend for what we were going to end up getting. So they sent me the a cappellas, and I just started to play with them. I love doing that. I love sitting down with my little Mickey Mouse piano keyboard, which has the notes written right on it. I’m somewhat musically inclined; I took drums and bells for years, but really I can’t play a song on a piano if you paid me to. But with my Casio keyboard I can figure out the notes of the beginning of a song and then start to build the a cappellas on top of that, lay in maybe an artist saying our calls or saying something nice about the radio station or maybe take a little chunk of the chorus of the song and lay it in as part of the intro, sort of mixed together with these a cappellas and do something sort of fun and interesting. That might be one of the few places that I think some of that recorded music stuff has influenced what I do. I really love working with promos from a sort of musical angle. Sometimes it’s possible, sometimes you don’t have enough time or it doesn’t work, or sometimes I’m guilty of forcing stuff into promos or even into 30-second splitters that really is more about me than the radio station. Sometimes I need to stand back and listen to it again a day or two later and go, “You know what, it’s too much.” You've got to pull it back. It’s not right for the radio station.
JV: You have a large department to manage. How much time do you actually spend working in the studio?
Chris: Forty percent of my day is probably administrative. Sixty percent of my day I spend producing. That other 40% is spent dealing with clients, reps, PDs, GMs or distributing the 500+ pieces of work that come into my department each week to the other producers. And if not for these other guys, who are all so good at what they do, and so competent, I would never have time to do anything except for administrate. But these guys have all been doing this a long time, and I couldn’t have a better bunch of guys to work with.
JV: What advice would you offer to Program Directors who want to get more quality creative product from their imagers and their producers?
Chris: I think there are two things you need to accomplish great imaging. One is you have to find somebody who’s just got that imaging bug, and somebody with great ideas. I can listen to 50 demo tapes, and I’m going to know the one guy who’s going to be great at imaging. And it’s not because his is going to be the slickest or the most polished necessarily, but I’m going to hear ideas with sparkle in it. You need to hire that guy, and then you need to give him time to do it well. And you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that, stateside in particular, imaging guys have so much stuff to do, sometimes including commercial production, that they rarely get to spend enough time on promos. As it is, I spend probably 9 or 10 hours a day working here, and it’s because I need to. If I’ve got a project, and I think it’s got the potential to be great, I’m going to spend 4 hours on it, and sometimes that’s Friday night until 10:00. You just have to give what the project requires. A great director said once that films are never completed; they’re abandoned, because you run out of time or money or both. It’s the same thing in production. And to me, 50% or more of the genius in production is time. If you’ve got the time to spend on it, I think most good producers could do great work. Those are the two things.
As for a producer like me, all I do pretty much is imaging when I am producing. And you hope for the stars to line up. Everything I do is okay, or decent. Regularly I guess, they’re pretty good. And sometimes all the stars line up, and it’s great. And that happens once in a while, when you’re working on something and you just know everything is working the way you need it to. The writing is great, the voice did a great job and brought something to the table, and the production is coming together as good as you could have hoped for. You need all three of those things to happen in order to have a great piece of production. And if you’re having one of those lucky days, those are the days I live for.