JV: You mentioned the Heart brand in both the East and West Midlands. Are there other Heart stations?
Ian: There are three Heart stations, plus a Heart digital that just goes out in DAB format. We here in Birmingham, the West Midlands station, were the first. Then London came online a year later, and we’ve just taken over a radio station and turned it into a Heart over in East Midlands. So we now have this real group of stations, and the East and West Midlands, that whole middle section of Britain, is covered.

JV: Is the programming on these stations independent, or is some of the programming simulcast?
Ian: All the program content at the moment is independent. We have one network show on a Sunday evening which is a network show that goes across lots and lots of stations in the UK, but the rest of the time, we’re completely independent. But the advantage obviously of all being called “Heart” is that we can now start pooling resources in terms of production and idents and jingles. We’re just launching a new jingle package in fact, and that same jingle package is running across all three stations.

JV: How would you define your style of imaging?
Ian: You know, so many amazing people read RAP Magazine and you hear so much amazing stuff on the CD every month that I feel like I shouldn’t even talk about my imaging. But, I’d say my style is deliberately clean. It’s deliberately very simple. It’s there to be quick and functional and get the message across and really not intrude too much. There’s enough clutter going on throughout people’s lives and throughout radio stations without the imaging getting in the way of that. So, hopefully it’s clean and neat and simple, but effective.

JV: You mentioned “quick.” Are you guys producing promos as short as you can make them, 15 seconds, 20 seconds?
Ian: It’s very much about the quick in, quick out. If we can get away with 20-second promos for the programming led items, then that’s great. And we try to do that. With the S&P [Sponsorship & Promotions] stuff, generally clients have paid for a 30 second ad, so we need to fill the 30 seconds. But it’s very, very rare that it’s ever longer than 30-seconds. And because of the way we build the promos and write the promos, there’s imaging content at the start to introduce the promo and some imaging at the end to end the promo, and the client there in the middle gets around 22-seconds or so.

JV: Twenty and thirty-second promos don’t leave a lot of room for “Theater of the Mind” storytelling.
Ian: No, it doesn’t. It’s been a real challenge actually. I’ve always kind of written quite short. I’m a fan very much of getting to the point, and “Theater of the Mind” is something that you sometimes just don’t have room for. But wherever we can squeeze some in and tell a little story, we’ll try and do that. But you’re right; it’s hard to kind of crowbar everything you want to do into a 30 or even a 20, and make it interesting, compelling, and effective.

JV: What do you do under those constraints to make the promos stand out?
Ian: I think it comes back to this very clean style. In our marketplace, particularly here in Birmingham, we have Kerrang Radio which is imaged and produced by a guy called Chris Thorpe, who is amazing and very into the big whiz-bangs and a lot of production. It’s really product focused and very charged at the younger audience. And then we have another station that is kind of halfway between that and us, but still very noise intensive with lots of zips and zaps and loud music. I think what I’m trying to do to make us stand out is be much cleaner and much more conversational and much more real in the production. People are getting really good with their bullshit meters, as has been covered in RAP mag several times. They can spot it a mile off. Keeping it clean and to the point I think has really paid off. Certainly, we’re the market leader at the moment, so we must be doing something right.

JV: Plus, it’s an AC format, so you’re not talking to a bunch of 18 to 24 year old males.
Ian: Yeah, our core audience is 30 to 39 year old females. So you’re always kind of writing for that kind of demographic, and our style of production really seems to work.

JV: What’s your audio software of choice?
Ian: Pro Tools is what we use. I’ve got a really nice TDM Pro Tools running on Windows XP with a couple of screens in the studio. We just changed over to that a couple of years ago. Before that we had been through Sadie and Soundscape. But Pro Tools is great. I was a bit resistive to the change at first because I’d hear some not great things about Pro Tools amazingly, but since using it, it’s great. I just wish you could bounce out of it faster than real time. When you’ve got a three or four minute long song edit, you have to sit and wait three or four minutes for it to bounce down to a stereo file.

JV: How’s Pro Tools behaving on the PC?
Ian: It’s really good. I think at first it was a little bit clunky. It was clearly a transfer from the Mac format. But on the PC now, I’m on Version 7.1 just about to go to 7.2, and it’s really stable.

JV: You also have your hands in some video work. Tell us about that.
Ian: Well, the video work has been really great. It’s another one of the strings on my bow, without wishing to be too big-headed about it. It was one of the things I fell in to. I did some freelance camera work for TV news crews, and I did some freelance editing for TV news programs. I kind of kept it up you know, editing home videos at home on the software you can buy now, which is amazing. Then one day I had a presentation to do at work, and I added some video into it. People were like, “Wow, I didn’t know you could do video!” And it’s really taken off.

So, on the same computer that runs Pro Tools, we have a video editing software package. I can flick from one to the other and chop up video that we shoot. Whenever we go out to events, we film and put a little package together that can go online. We do a lot of stuff for internal presentations and presentations that go to clients. We shoot a little video or make a little montage. And we just started looking at content for the websites and what we can do in video content that compliments the radio that we do. I think I’m quite lucky in that I’ve got the video skills that I can really relate it to radio. You know we don’t want to become a TV station, but we do want to do video content that relates to what we’re doing on air. So, that’s what we’re trying to develop now. Its things like, rather than just kind of sticking a camera in the studio and watching a guy do a radio show, it’s finding a balance that is one of our DJ’s doing a piece to the camera but introducing a pop video. It’s kind of like an MTV but a more radio-focused version of it. So the links are short and snappy, and the station name gets said at the top and at the end. It’s almost like making a little TV clip but using the station style and the station format and the station sound to make that work as part of our overall imaging.

On the Soundstage

Whyte's Flowers
Ryan Hunt, Riley Barton, Brandon Smedley


May 01, 2003 3161
Ed Gursky, Operations Manager, VOA Music Mix, Washington, D.C. By Jerry Vigil The Voice of America is a government funded, international multimedia broadcasting service with a weekly audience of some 94 million people around the...