Ricky Roo, VP Creative, TM Studios, Dallas, TX, and former Creative Services Director, KDWB-FM, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
You might have seen a story in the trades a few months ago, about the legendary KDWB in Minneapolis finally hitting #1 in the ratings again, after some 30 years. And this is a PPM market. That was enough incentive to try and find out who was doing the imaging at this Clear Channel CHR monster, and perhaps have a chat with him or her. At the time, it was Creative Services Director, Ricky Roo, who has since moved to Dallas to take on the VP Creative duties at TM Studios. This month’s RAP Interview checks in with Ricky to find out what was brewing in the production room during KDWB’s very successful past year in the PPM world. Be sure to check out the RAP CD for some awesome audio from Ricky’s KDWB days, starting with some of the dry imaging he talks about in the interview, then on to some of the custom intros he mentions, and finally a montage of promos. Turn it up and enjoy!
JV: How did you get your start in radio? How did you spend those first few years?
Ricky: I got into radio through a friend of mine who was in radio already. I was working in a night club as a club DJ. I’d always wanted to be in radio, and it was actually radio that got me into being a club DJ. So this friend of mine at one point just said, “Why don’t you come in and cut a demo?” and so I did. I gave it to the PD and the PD called me in and said, “You start this weekend.” This is in Fort Myers, Florida at WXKB.
I started there part time, the overnight weekend shift, the graveyard. I would run the disc shows. I ran Rick Dees and Casey Kasem. I think Powerline was the religious programming that aired before Casey Kasem, which was always full of fun. I then just kind of worked my way up through production and on air.
I eventually became the night talent in 1998, and along that time, I was helping the production department out a lot with tags and such. I really liked the production aspect of what was going on there. The more I was in radio, the longer I was there, I started to not want to be a DJ anymore and really wanted to be behind the scenes. I was just really annoyed by the little kids that were calling, and I couldn’t take that. It wasn’t for me. But I really liked the production aspect; I really liked what was going on and how we were able to do lots of cool things in the production room, even though it was a pretty ghetto production room. It was a lot of work with the razor blade and tape. I started old school, old school. Still have some scars.
I was also working at a production company at the same time. It was Advantage Productions. I took a job there just doing some editing with them, not really anything major. I was brought in as an editor, basically the guy that chops up the vocal tracks and then the big guys come in and they all do the production. But I was getting brought along by the people that worked there. That helped me out with the production aspect my duties at the radio station.
Then I got a call from Mike Kaplan, who was at WJLK in New Jersey, the Jersey Shore. Somehow he had heard my stuff. I guess he was looking for an imaging guy and someone had sent him my stuff. I was unaware. He asked me if I wanted to come up and do imaging for 94.3 The Point in late 1998. So I of course jumped at it.
JV: You were into imaging pretty early in your career. How long were you there?
Ricky: I was at WJLK for about a year and then I flipped over to WBBO, which was the Top 40 station for the same company, Nassau broadcasting. I was there until 2001. Then it was off to Dallas, Texas.
JV: How’d that come about? That was a long stay here in Dallas.
Ricky: It was. I got the job here in Dallas by another act of somebody playing my stuff for someone. John Cook was the PD of KRBV here in Dallas. It was Hot 100 at the time, and he had given me a call and said someone had played him my demo and that he was interested and liked what he heard. He wanted to know if I was interested in taking a job in Dallas. I said, “Of course.” You don’t turn down market number five.
So I took the job here in Dallas and we flipped the station to Wild 100 about a month or two after I started, which was in April of 2001. We flipped to Wild 100 and had a pretty good run until, of course, September 11th when CBS took all of our money away. It became very hard to compete with no tactical money. We kind of just struggled for about a year or two.
But we did fairly well. I got a lot of compliments about the radio station. Two of the biggest compliments were the night show and the imaging. I was pretty proud about that. It’s hard to go up against the legendary KHKS. They had some great people over there and it felt really good to be able to compete with such a big station like that and be recognized for it.
I stayed there through 2008. During that time, we flipped to the Jack FM format in July of 2004. I was kind of brought in late on the game with that one. It was the typical situation where I walked into work on a Tuesday morning and was given a CD and they said, “Load this in. You still have a job.”
I was pretty worried that day, watching all of my friends get pink slips. I felt good that I still had a job, but I felt really bad – I mean the entire staff was let go basically except for me. So it felt really weird. Then I actually became very, very involved with the Jack FM format. It was something that I really kind of held onto. I liked the process. I liked the attitude. I liked the style. It was very stripped down, it was very clean, and it was very direct.
Prior to the Jack format signing on, I had started to think that imaging had gotten very, very noisy, and I really liked where the Jack FM brand was going. I took hold of that, and eventually CBS signed on a number of Jack FM stations, and I was responsible for a majority of those sign-ons. It was cool to be able to sign-on Jack New York and Jack LA. It was a pretty cool time for me. I thought that was pretty awesome.
JV: Did you do the imaging from here in Dallas, or did you spend some time in New York and LA?
Ricky: Actually, for the New York station, Steve Smith was originally brought on to launch that station, and he flew into Dallas and we sat for a couple days and wrote out material. Then we signed on Jack in LA with Kevin Weatherly and Mike Crank, who was the imaging guy at the time – he’s still there, actually. They both came out to Dallas and we sat in my little studio closet for two days and just banged out the work.
JV: From CBS Dallas, where to next?
Ricky: CBS Dallas to on the beach for a couple of months. I was let go as part of the big CBS layoffs in February of ’08, and I just sat down for a few months and took a look at what I really wanted to do. I was pretty big into music at this point.
I guess I should go back a few years. In 2003 I was part of the DF Dub record that the night DJ of Wild put out. His name was Billy the Kid. He put out an album, and I was a big part of that album. I was always into music prior to that, but that really jumped started me. The money that was made from that, I invested into studio gear and jumped right into music feet first from that point on. When I was let go from CBS in February of ’08, I thought to myself, well, maybe that’s the path I’m going to take. I really want to get into music. I really want to do more in that respect.
So I focused on that for a few months, did some freelance gigs to keep my fingers wet in the radio world, so to speak, and then took a job here at TM Studios in May of 2008.
I came in as just a basic engineer to bounce down material and help out where needed. Then I found that the music business is harder than it looks, and I really wasn’t doing what I’d thought I was going to be doing. I really enjoyed working here at TM and I really enjoyed radio imaging still, but I really missed the creative part. I really missed the writing. I really missed the coming up and conceptualizing with projects and promos. Then I noticed the opening at KDWB, and so I of course applied for that and subsequently got it.
JV: So it’s off to the legendary KDWB. How long were you there?
Ricky: About 18, 19 months.
JV: How long had PPM been in place when you arrived?
Ricky: It had just started when I got there.
JV: So over the months after you arrived, and eventually in the May 2010 PPM, KDWB beat out their competitors and were number one for the first time in three decades. They’ve since dropped down to number two the past couple of months, but they’re clearly in the fight. Was it a pretty good climb that occurred over those 18 months that you were there, or were they already in the top five?
Ricky: I think we’d always been top five to the best of my knowledge. It’s always been a well-performing radio station, very influential around the country. It’s one of those stations that you mention the call letters and everyone knows that that’s a big station -- similar to Z100, ‘FLZ, Kiss here in Dallas, and so on and so forth. But it’s never really been like just solid number one. It’s mostly just been number one in teens. There was competition -- I think it was B96 or whatever was across the street. It was kind of an urban station, and it picked away at our teens a little bit. So it was never just a true solid number one, but we’d always win, we’d always have good numbers.
When PPM started we were pleasantly surprised that we had actually been doing better than we thought we were, to the point where B96 sort of flipped formats, went a little bit more Top 40 mainstream and called themselves 96.3 Now. With that, of course, Clear Channel really jumped behind us and said, “What do you need? What do you need to win?” So they gave us some tactical, and we did some really great promotions, and as you saw, managed to pump out a number one rating, which they hadn’t done in about 30 years.
JV: Were you focused on just that one station?
Ricky: I also did imaging for KTLK, which was the FM talk. Not a whole lot of creative on that side. It was basically just putting the shows together and getting promos on the air. We relied a lot on Production Vault from ReelWorld.
JV: What key points do you recall on the programming and the imaging strategy there during your year as the station was performing well in the PPM, and who was the PD?
Ricky: Rob Morse was the PD. I remember when I got there, one of the points that they liked about me when I was interviewing was that I thought that radio was very, very noisy. It was just that a lot of imaging and promos and the like are just a couple seconds of noise and then a lot of crazy writing and then more noise. I thought it was really cluttered. The research that I was being given about PPM was that listeners pretty much convey everything as a commercial. If it’s not a song, they don’t want to hear it.
So I said, let’s take that and let’s put that into our imaging. I said, let’s clean up everything. I don’t want anything on the air produced unless it has to be. Let’s put all of our imaging over the intros of songs; let’s make it dry. We can produce the vocals up and make them punch through and whatnot, but I don’t want to stop the music down. I’m really against that. As far as promos, I’m on board with the 30 second promo, but I’m not on board with the “it has to be 30 seconds.” If you have to go to 33 seconds, then go to 33 seconds, as long as what you’re saying is saying something and not just a bunch of noise.
So Rob backed me up on that, and I pretty much switched out everything that was on the air that was long or overly produced and replaced it all with the dry material, and the station seemed to flow a lot better. It sounded cleaner. He was instrumental in getting the jocks to shut up a little and talk less. It cleaned up the station a lot almost overnight.
JV: I know a lot of stations will add intro time to songs to give them room to drop these dry promos over. Did you do that?
Ricky: That was a big focus of mine. We would get a song, and if it had anything less than a 4 or 5 second intro, I would go in and extend it to 6 to 10 seconds.
JV: When you say you’d “produce the vocals up,” are you talking just your basic little reverb and EQ type stuff?
Ricky: Yeah, it was very basic. I kind of stayed away from a lot of the stutters and reverse reverb type stuff and everything. I just kept it really plain.
And, I enjoy creative writing, but at the same time, you have to write the way people talk. There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve heard, that I still hear today on radio stations where I think, no one talks that way. It just makes you seem like you’re talking at them and not talking to them.
So I didn’t do a whole lot with vocal effects. Occasionally you want to filter it just to kind of break it up a little so it doesn’t get so monotonous, but nothing crazy as far as a lot of robotic stuff or crazy stutters like that.
JV: What would be an example of the kind of writing that you would do to talk to the people?
Ricky: Very, very, very basic and plain. Much the same way you would tell your friend something. If we had a promo for Lady Gaga September 5th at Target Center, that’s what it would be. We’d open up the promo with the frequency and call letters, and then it would just be maybe a clip of Gaga or a piece of her song, and then the facts: “Lady Gaga, you need to see her Saturday…” whatever, whatever at Target Center, another piece of Gaga, get your tickets here. So it may seem like it’s not that creative as far as you’re not coming up with cool words and you’re not breaking out your thesaurus, but it’s what speaks to the listener. You don’t have to come up with “It’s a Gagarific Weekend” or whatever. I mean, no one says that. You don’t walk with someone in the street and go, “Gagarific! She’s going to be here Saturday!” You don’t say that.
JV: Any other cool imaging stuff you recall doing while there?
Ricky: When I got there, the ReelWorld One jingle package that the station subscribed to had these cool things that they did with these logo intros in front of songs where it was just like a little sound effect and then the logo of the station. Then it would go right into the song. The logo was in the same key as the song. The KissVille package that TM Studios offers does that really well.
But I was thinking to myself that’s still pretty noisy, it’s still stopping the music to put that kind of branding in there. So I tried to come up with a way to get that logo in there subliminally, where you could still brand the radio station, but yet not have to stop the music. So I played around with a couple of the songs we were playing and I managed to come up with a way to kind of subliminally put the logo into the record. I just found the same instruments that the producers used, found an instrumental and extended the intro, and then basically played the logo into the song. So it really sounds like the song came to us from the label like that, like the artist went ahead and did the logo for us. In fact, we had a couple of complaints from our competition. I heard from a record guy our competition was pissed because they thought the label was supplying us custom logos from the artists, and in fact it was just me doing it. So that kind of felt good.
JV: Tell us a little more about your musical skills. Did you have some formal training?
Ricky: High school band. That’s about as informal as it gets, I think. I don’t read music so much anymore. I used to in high school and then kind of got out of it. Now it’s basically just playing by ear and mimicking, just playing what sounds good.
JV: What are you playing?
Ricky: I used to play baritone trumpet, and I was in the drumline as well. Now, I just pretty much play whatever is on the computer screen with my midi keyboard.
JV: Had you been applying your musical skills to your imaging work all along?
Ricky: Yeah, all along. One of my big things when I was at WBBO on the Shore was doing a lot of beat mix promos. I wasn’t the first one to do them, but I kind of had a cool take on them because I had not only a musical background that helped when I mixed the songs together, but I was also cognizant of what key they were in and the accurate BPM’s. And my skills as a club DJ helped there as well. When I did my beat mix promos I wanted it to sound like they were in a club and not just somebody putting three songs together because they have the same tempo. So it helped me in that respect.
When I got to Dallas, one of the things I started doing more was a lot of these cool vocal stutterings and music stutterings. That also comes from understanding time signatures, 4:4 time, and then again knowing what key a song is in and making all that kind of mesh together. You could put any songs together, but if they’re in the same key, or if you can get them in the same key, or at least figure out a way to transition them from one key to the other, it’s just going to sound a lot cleaner and better.
JV: What about the non-music guy or girl that wants to enhance their production a bit with some musical tweaks. Are there some software packages out there, or some things that they could do to get their feet wet in the application of music to their work?
Ricky: I don’t know if there’s anything that will do it for you so to speak, but some of the stuff that I use is actually pretty basic. There’s a program called Reason made by Propellerheads, which is basically just a giant instrument rack with tons of sounds that you can plug in. In fact, Pro Tools 8, which launched a little while ago, comes with a real cool bank of sounds, and it comes with a couple of synths and drum machines built in that you can use right in Pro Tools if you’re a Pro Tools user. Those are really, really great.
A couple of friends of mine in the business have found a couple websites that I don’t recall the addresses of, but you can pull up a keyboard on your screen and tap out notes and everything. A friend of mine actually was doing his logo type stuff like that, because he couldn’t afford a keyboard or anything.
But Reason is one of several sound programs that I use. It is probably the easiest to use. Very intuitive interface. It comes with a loop player which is great for producers without midi experience. I generally start an idea in Reason then take it as far as the software will allow. Then I’ll migrate it into Pro-Tools for completion.
JV: And now you’re putting your talents to work in new ways, as the VP Creative Director at TM Studios. What are you responsibilities at this point?
Ricky: Basically, the job is kind of all-encompassing. I’m responsible for making sure everything that goes out the door is top notch and sounds good. Make sure it’s top quality for the consumer and our clients. I’m also responsible for creating new products. I’m responsible for making sure that we have the right fingers for the right packages, the right musicians for the right packages. It’s hard to put your finger on exact things that I do because there are so many duties that come into this title. A lot of my day is approving drum tracks, or approving instrument tracks, or approving fully produced packages.
JV: Sounds like fun!
Ricky: I’m having the time of my life.
JV: Tell us about your company, Roomixx Productions, which has been around for most of the decade.
Ricky: It’s gone through some changes. Roomixx Productions started off basically as just my side imaging business, doing radio stations for freelance and whatnot. It eventually evolved into a music company where I just write songs, beats, tracks. We do writing sessions. It’s not really a company that I’m making a lot of money with. It’s just kind of there; it’s my side project so to speak. When I release music, it will fall under that umbrella along with my publishing company, which is Ricky Roo Publishing.
JV: Are you releasing a lot of music on your own?
Ricky: Yeah. I mean none of it is anything mainstream. There are local artists that buy some beats from me, or a couple guys will come in and we’ll sit and have a writing session. Should anything of that be released, it will fall under that umbrella.
JV: What other services do you offer?
Ricky: If someone wanted to come to me for voice talent stuff, I kind of dabbled in voice over starting at KDWB. When Bryan James passed, we were stuck as far as needing a voice. I’m certainly not a voice talent of that caliber, but I put myself on the air to get us through the rough period where I had no one to go to. I put my voice on as a sweeper voice and a quick little promo accent voice. A couple people in the industry picked it up and thought I was decent enough to put on their station. So I picked up a station in Harrisburg and I picked up a station in New Jersey as their voiceover talent.
So if someone thinks that I have a voice that they might want, then that would fall under that umbrella, but as far as radio imaging I’ve kind of given up all of that on the move here to TM. I want to focus solely on TM. Plus I don’t want to burn any bridges or step on anyone’s toes. It would be kind of weird if I was imaging a radio station and their competitor bought a product from us. That would be a conflict of interest. So I pretty much gave that section up.