JV: How do you position the music in the imaging? Are music image promos an ongoing thing there?
Ross: The imaging kind of breaks down into a few different categories with a lot of attitude — topical attitude, pop culture attitude. With the music imaging, we try to position the depth of our core artists with imaging that is designed to get out the simple message that we go deep with quality, heritage artists. The idea behind our music imaging is to position the variety without using the variety word, or the “V” word. And we have sweepers for every core artist that highlights very fast “nano-hooks,” if you will, interrupted by copy that reads like, “You know Led Zeppelin has more than one song; so do we,” or, “Lots and lots of Fleetwood Mac,” or, “Your Steve Miller favorites are our Steve Miller favorites,” “You know this one from REM – and these, this, oh, and this one, too,” “The Police have lots of great songs,” and we use really, really fast hooks. And the hooks I use aren’t necessarily a predictable part of the chorus. I’ll mix it up with memorable vocal-isms that are recognizable flashes from songs and put them together, and those are immediately followed by a song from that core artist. That’s how we handle usic positioning.
JV: What’s the station’s current positioning statement or statements?
Ross: The station’s current positioning statement is, as it always has been, simply, “The Island’s Rock.”
JV: What are some new ways that you’re creatively getting that across to the listeners?
Ross: Right now, we are running a campaign that lays claim to that rock position by saying, “You can’t be a part-time rock station,” and “This is what a full-time rock station is all about,” interspersed with song clips from big songs from our core artists.
JV: What fun have you had with pop culture lately?
Ross: Well, when Paris went to jail briefly, we took advantage of that and tied the radio station to that with a liner that read, “100.3 The Q – more songs in a row…than Paris Hilton days-in-jail in a row.” I think it aired maybe three or four times before the judge ordered her back. That is one of the conveniences that my PD Mark Adams enjoys – the immediacy of the creative. He can write a line or ask me to come up with an idea for something going on and doesn’t have to wait a week for the next session with out-of-town talent, he doesn’t have to explain the relevance of the local gag to someone who has to look up Victoria on a map, he doesn’t have to wait for the production guy to finish with his retail priorities. As our Ops Manager John Shields likes to say, “We can turn on a dime.” Mark is my most prolific writing partner – very funny, very smart guy, always great to go to when my mental well has run dry. But ideas can come from all over the building. Contributions are encouraged – it makes my job easier.
Prior to Paris, Britney had her issues, and after K-Fed and Britney split and then Britney went a little behaviorally challenged and buzzed off her hair, we had a topical self-deprecating parallel that went, “The Q’s announcers, now sporting easy-to-maintain, combat-ready spring haircuts, courtesy of our new staff stylist, Britney Spears” — not particularly funny, but timely and visual.
But you know, comedy burns really fast and topical comedy burns quickly, so you have to gauge when to get it off the air very carefully. Something like that might run a week, maybe two, if the story’s in the news cycle. Sometimes just a weekend. It all depends on the topicality and how high we will put it in the rotation. It’s kind of a gut-feeling thing, the way things are gauged. If it is local and topical, I go with my gut. If it is a topical pop-culture thing, I’ll see if it’s still getting some talk on Dave’s or Jay’s or Conan’s monologues, or ink on the newsstands. If it is a generic attitude line, of which we have a large collection, I’ll cherry pick which ones I want to fly in and out of activity – it’s a little like being a music director. How many spins has that one had? What’s the penetration? Does it still have legs? If the sweeper has served its purpose, I’ll take it off duty. I would rather have a simple positioning liner on the air, rather than run the risk of continuing to air something creative but tired.
The length of service is not the point. What matters is how fast we can react to a topic that is getting talk and somehow tie it in with the self-deprecating culture of the radio station.
JV: What about your sweepers and IDs that are not so topical, that are a little more generic; how often do you refresh stuff like that?
Ross: We have a pretty huge inventory of stationality liners, attitudinal liners, and if there are really current topical things to take advantage of, we will rest some of the more undated liners and troop in the topical; and then when that burns, we’ll get that out and troop back in the undated material. And if there’s not a lot going on, there’s nothing wrong with taking out anything that’s verging on burnout and replacing it with simple reminders of the station’s position. I would rather run a simple positioning message than run a tired, fun liner. So some of our IDs may be in the inventory for months, and some of them may take a rest and come back six months later. It all depends. There’s no rule.
JV: What are some memorable promotions you’ve done recently?
Ross: We’ve had some really memorable promotions. One that sticks out in my mind is “Little House on the Prairie,” where we gave away a house, and we kept the location of the house a secret. We never, in any of the promotional material, said it was a house actually in Victoria or on Vancouver Island or in British Columbia for that matter, and it turned out that it was a little house in a little town in the middle of Saskatchewan somewhere, that I think we paid $10,000 [Canadian] for. That was really fun. And then when we got the qualifiers together for the final unveil, it was revealed where the house was, and because of the heritage of the personality of the station, it was almost expected that there was going to be this switch at the very end. What’s the gag? People were waiting to see what the catch was, and the catch was that the house was a couple of days’ drive away. They didn’t know until the very end, and the winners and the runners-up were all flown out to this little house in small town Saskatchewan, where the morning show did a broadcast from. The keys to the house were given to the new owners. I believe we ended up giving the house away to the local community, and the winners took a cash reward, but the theater of the whole event was priceless.
Other fun promotions we’ve gotten away with recently? At Halloween we completely dress up the radio station as The Boo! It is a ton of work, using a completely different inventory of imaging and retagging every on-going promo with the alternate station name for just that one day. The music is all Halloween-themed, even the website and the URL changes just for that one day. But our listeners love it and totally get into it. I get into two or three different cheeseball Halloween characters to voice the imaging. All of the air staff change their names and buy into the act; for example, our morning guys transform from Ed & Cliff to Dead & Stiff. It’s one of those things where if you are going to do it, you have to really commit to it.