By Trent Rentsch
Hang around long enough, and all those old sayings you’ve been hearing your entire life start making sense. Recent chestnuts that have resonated with me include, “It’ll shine when it shines… Don’t have too many irons in the fire… Clean underwear is its own reward.” (I seem to be the only person who ever heard the last one growing up. Uncle Harv used it a lot. He had a point). The latest one to slap me in the face? “What goes around comes around.” It took my youngest to point out how true that is.
April is a big birthday month in my family. 2 of my children, 1 of my step-children, my brother and my father-in-law were all born in April (my wife reminds me to include myself in that list). Out of that group, there’s one, maybe two each year who are easy to find presents for. The rest… ahh… the rest. Of course, as the kids have grown into their teens and twenties, cash has become an easy and needed option. Easy… probably needed… but hardly personal. That’s why I was glad my youngest actually had a suggestion for his 19th birthday present. “I’d like a turntable.” I thought my cell connection had gone bad, or time slipped into a conversation in the ‘70s. “No, really, Dad. I want a turntable! I’ve got some friends that have bought some old vinyl and I really like the sound!” Wow. What goes around, indeed…
I was a year younger than my son is now when I got my first “good” turntable, and by the time I stumbled into radio a couple of years later, I was well on my way to a collection of LPs that eventually topped 600… and don’t get me started on 45s. Of course, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to other radio friends, many of whom had several station’s worth of vinyl in their collections. Then, as those of you who weren’t in diapers at the time remember, things began to change, quickly and radically. First everybody was dumping their vinyl for cassettes… then dumping cassettes for CDs. Of course now even CDs seem quaint and old-fashioned, with so much audio being delivered via MP3s and other, more “lossless” audio file formats. It seemed like we all jumped on the “smaller and sexier” media delivery bandwagon, ignoring the cries from audiophiles that we were sacrificing audio quality in favor of style. “Who can tell the difference?” became our battle cry, and we all believed it. But the truth is, the music that was produced to be pressed to vinyl does not sound the same when you record it to a cassette, CD, or MP3, and the next generation is coming around to the idea that music sounds pretty damned good on vinyl… warts and all.
Of course, the shift in audio media is only one of the changes in the way we do this business of radio. Carts and reel-to-reels were dumped for Minidiscs and CDs and DATs, which were shortly trashed in favor of a computer. Hard to imagine a radio station without computers these days, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was begging for even one computer for continuity and traffic… the owner of the company didn’t see the need. After all, they already had the best typewriter money could buy… yep, still remember that conversation.
At the risk of sounding like some stereotypical Grandfather yelling, “Well, in MY day…” I would like to suggest that the way Creative was accomplished 25, 30 years ago was, in some ways, better than the way we Create today. I’m not saying that I’ll lose sleep if I never see a cart machine again, and Lord knows the only way you’ll take away my Pro Tools system is to pry it out of my cold, dead fingers; but looking back, it does seem like the things we “lacked” were an asset.
Think about it. Back then, you might have a control to vary the speed of your reel-to-reel, but if you used it, it was to sound like an elf or a slow-talking, creepy ghost. If the copy was too long, there was no “time squeeze,” the copy was simply edited to make it work in :30 or :60 seconds… and the spots sounded better for it! You also didn’t have endless tracks available to produce a spot. I was lucky enough to have a 4-track reel-to-reel in one of the studios, and that was a lot for a radio station… most places were lucky to have a pair of 2-track reel-to-reels and a couple of turntables to produce with. That meant that you had to get Creative about the elements you added to a spot… you couldn’t throw 18 elements into every second. And you know what? The message came through loud and clear… not convoluted and confused.
“Gramps” is not suggesting that you ask your engineer to haul that old gear out of the basement. I am, however, convinced that a lot of radio Creative gets sped up and over-produced to the point of absurdity. Is the message effective if it goes by too fast or gets lost among a billion audio tricks? I don’t think so.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should… and sometimes, less is more.