JV: What would you say is the Q’s strongest weapon in its imaging arsenal?
Ross: It would have to be its local topicality. That’s what really makes it a local favorite, I think. I’ll give you another example: last summer there was a problem with the water supply at a destination town called Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Essentially, the town reservoir was not keeping up with the growth of the town, so the mayor decided to close all of the resorts and cancel reservations on the biggest weekend of the summer, and it was a huge controversy, with huge potential revenue losses; and it was a great local imaging opportunity, but you had to be here to get the joke, and there were many jokes. One went, “100.3 the Q salutes people who don’t plan too good – the guy who wrote Paul McCartney’s pre-nup, the guy who put Gary Cherone in Van Halen, and the current mayor of Tofino.” We did a series of those. Local topicality.
Here’s one thing that’s going on right now. The local police department spent millions of dollars on a new emergency radio system, and it doesn’t work very well. So we have a sweeper that’s running right now, where it says, “100.3 the Q, now broadcasting on the Crest Emergency Radio System,” except I took out every second consonant and replaced it with radio noise. And again, this has been front-page news, and it got to the point where several local police officers have contacted us wanting a copy of it. So it’s kind of fun to be able to say your imaging is wanted by the local police.
Here’s another example and a good example of reacting quickly to something hugely local and topical. A few years ago, the Premier of the Province of British Columbia got busted for DUI while on vacation in Hawaii. We live in the capital of the province, so that news was doubly huge. The news conference happened on a Sunday, I think. Of course, there were calls for his resignation. He refused. That night I wrote a parody of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” called “I Won’t Resign.” I called my wife into the studio at about 10pm to belt it out in her pajamas. It hit the air Monday on the morning show. It ended up being featured nationally on CBC public radio, and a bunch of other stations picked it up. It won a “special programming” creative award from the BC Association of Broadcasters and got The Q a lot of laughs. The Premier, by the way, survived, prevailed, and is enjoying a very healthy second term in office.
One of the things that the Q also tries to do to keep our image consistent in the community is keep our outdoor advertising in key with what’s on air, and it’s often self-deprecating and fun. We did a bus board campaign last year, for example, where we purposely defaced our own bus board campaigns with Photoshop spray paint by our in-house art department, and we took a bunch of Wal-Mart variety over-used radio slogans and defaced them, along with a photo of our brilliant morning guy, Ed Bain. Phrases like “More Rock, Less Talk” became, “More Rock, Less Talent.” We spray-painted over the “K” in “talk” and replaced it with an “ENT.” Or “More Rock, Less Talk” became, “More Spock, Less Talk,” with a spray-painted “Live long and prosper” hand sign and Spock ears. We had calls from people saying, “Oh, you guys must be really pissed off at those guys who wrecked your sign on the bus.” And we just dead-panned and said, “Sign on the bus? What?” We always just try to have fun, not so much be funny, but have fun.
JV: Kind of like a bunch of high school kids running the radio station!
Ross: Well, yeah. Take Mother’s Day. We try to get the audience involved as much as possible. We’ve always built the radio station on the premise that the audience is the star of the show, the listener is the star of the show, and we try to involve them in as many ways as possible. A recent Mother’s Day promotion was called Nacho Mama, and it was for ladies only, for moms only, and it turned into a nacho eating contest in our parking lot, and all the nachos were covered with liquid cheese. The prize was a trip to Mexico for Mother’s Day. It gave a good excuse for a bad parody of “Macho Man.”
JV: What approach do you take with the production of The Q’s imaging?
Ross: It’s not so much the production of the sweeper as the timing in the storytelling. A pause can be more effective in delivering a line than a bucketful of effects and plug-ins – if the idea, the concept, the script is smart.
Part of the signature sound of the Q’s Imaging is sourcing production music that is a detour from the Classic Rock/Triple-A feel of The Q. I’ll use show tunes, accordion music, surf rock, big band, acid jazz, lounge, 1960s or ‘70s Strip Mall MOR… whatever. My style tends to be fairly musical. I often let the time signature dictate the framework and pace of the delivery, but I always do the read first and look for music second. I’m always hearing the read in my head while auditioning music, so I know what style or beat might lend itself to supporting the piece.
I also like to put some negative space into things, allow punch lines to marinate and breathe for an extra beat. Negative space is a component of good print advertising design. I think it is a valuable tool in audio design as well. I’m a big fan of hitting the disc brakes in the middle of a piece for a full stop-down, make the punch line, allow the station to quickly take credit for the smile and get back to the next song.
There was an interview with Jamie Watson in a recent RAP. That really struck a chord with me because I like to do what he likes to do, and that is to find inspiration from everything. Sometimes I’ll lock myself in the sound effects library and just listen to random files to force the setting of a scene and go from there, as well. That also provides you with a good starting point from which to write.
JV: You’ve been the imaging voice of the Q for most of your term as Imaging Director. Describe the style of your read.
Ross: I have a bunch of different reads which get switched up, depending on the setting. Most of my Q stuff is very guy-next-door, sometimes over-the-top cheeseball, sometimes apathetic or disinterested, and sometimes something my friend Garner Andrews describes as “atmospheric,” which I think he means when I’m attempting my best intense movie-trailer guy. Anyway, I like to mix it up. I had one client tell me that I test well with soccer moms, which I suppose means that I’m approachable and non-threatening. We don’t scare people at The Q. At least, we try not to. We dial down the bombast, but it has its place.
JV: It’s the “Less Is More” movement down here in the south. Have you shortened your promos?
Ross: We try to keep our promos short – fifteen to thirty seconds. Rarely will you hear a sixty anything – spot or promo. Unless the concept has legs and we need a little more real estate in which to explore the concept, deliver the back-story and bring it home, we try to keep everything brief so that we can get back to the music. It’s always about getting lots of music into the hour. Of course, we sometimes have to make compromises to meet the demands of sponsors, but I always try to keep the Programmer and the needs of the listener in mind when editing down my own work to make things as short as possible..
JV: What advice would you give management in general about getting the most out of their Imaging directors?
Ross: It’s very important to understand what the personality of the radio station is that you are trying to convey, what the message is that you are trying to get across. We have had a consistent soul at the Q over these 20 years, and we’ve always tried to work within the framework of our established personality. That helps in your writing; that helps in the execution of the imaging because we know where we need to go. Management gives us the freedom to pursue that. Occasionally, we’ll step outside the lines – I mean, we always try to stay within the confines of good taste, but creativity is always encouraged. Use of technology is encouraged. Management at the station understands that I work well from my home studio, so it’s not an issue that I’m not actually in the building all the time. I am more productive because there are fewer interruptions, and yet they enjoy the immediate availability of my input. I’m just a phone call away, and because of that we can react to local events with immediacy. Something can happen in the morning, and we can have a fun liner on the air that afternoon or that weekend. We’ve always enjoyed the ability to turn on a dime, and it’s encouraged by station management. We’ve enjoyed people in managerial positions who are very open-minded over the past few decades. That’s been hugely beneficial in allowing people to rise to their creative potential.
JV: By the way, congratulations on your healthy collection of RAP Awards. Only Joel Moss has more trophies than you.
Ross: I’m stunned. Not just by the number, but by hearing you say Joel Moss’ name in the same sentence as mine. I’ve always been a huge fan of Joel’s. I think he’s a Vegas user as well. RAP has been incredibly kind to this place over the years. That it is a peer-voted process is probably the biggest reward. Because of that, I’m finding this interview to be intimidating. And there’s no way I’m going to take all the credit. I think the official count at the station is nine RAP trophies and fourteen RAP plaques. My name is engraved on six of the big ones and thirteen of the plaques. The others recognize the talents of guys like Steve Shippanoski, Matt Friedman and Rick Everett. And there are lots of good people who have contributed some ideas and scripts to that collection; Ed Bain, Garner Andrews, Shellene McConnell, Angus Noble, Doug Bidwell, Dan Kahan. I’m probably forgetting someone. It’s been a long time. Don’t hit me.
JV: You’re approaching your twentieth anniversary at The Q. You produced the sign-on. That’s a long time to stay at one place.
Ross: I’m not alone. One of the things that has kept The Q strong over the years is that there has not been much turnover in key positions. The flame of the sound, attitude and culture of the station has been kept lit by a fairly small core of stubborn people who refuse to leave. Some of the original architects of the sound, in particular, who have departed, are Garner Andrews who is now doing mornings in Edmonton at Sonic 102-9 and Dave Farough, who is now managing a four station cluster for Corus in London, Ontario. Our morning guy Ed Bain signed us on. Our GM Dan McAllister is still in the same position. I should poke him and make sure he’s okay. People tend to stick around because this is a very nice place to live. Unfortunately it’s also a very expensive place to live. But, hey, we get free health care. They stay because of the creative freedom that has long been encouraged by management. That and because of the electronic ankle bracelets.
JV: Some parting advice?
Ross: If you want a station to sound fun on the air, it has to be fun in the hallways.