Q It Up: How did the radio production bug bite you? - Part 1

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: What happened when you first learned that radio production was something you wanted to do for a living? What was the turning point for you? When did you realize this was your path? How did you wind up living your dream? And how has it turned out for you? Has it met your expectations?

Richard Stroobant [bigdick[at]cjay92 .com], CJAY 92 /VIBE 98.5/AM 1060 CKMX, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: I, like every other person that gets into radio, wanted to be a jock. And I mean REALLY wanted to be a jock, more than I wanted to breath I wanted to be on the air. But no matter how hard I worked, no matter how many air checks, no matter how much help I got, I was only a marginal jock at best. Whatever “it” takes for being on the air, I didn’t have “it.” BUT, each day before my on air shift, I had a production shift. And each day I would do my production. I was consistent. I knew what sounded good and what to do if it didn’t sound good. I really didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about production; after all, I wanted to be a jock. But I had this damn production shift to do first.

Without even realizing, I had “it” for being a producer. People would always comment on how tight my show was. They never told me how good a bit was or how “I” sounded on the air, only how the show was produced. And in production, they would comment how well that spot turned out, or that promo or ID. Then one day after another air-check, my PD stopped the tape and said, “You want me to tell you the truth, or just blow wind up your ass?” With a dumbfounded look on my face I said, “tell me the truth.” He replied, “You are not a great jock, and even with a whole lot of work, you’ll never be a great jock.” It felt like he ripped my heart out, stepped on it and threw it down my throat. With this emptiness still in my chest cavity, after hearing my dream would NEVER come true, he then uttered the most important words my radio career has ever heard: “If you would put even half the amount of effort into your production as you do on your air shift, you would be a fantastic producer.” This came from a PD who really never gave out many compliments, but I respected him A LOT for his knowledge and for his track record. And that was the turning point. I started to realize that I had “it” in production. 6 months later I accepted an evening production position at a cross town station, and I have been here for16 years. I have never regretted my decision or looked back. Radio is in my blood; it just took a very perceptive and blunt boss to tell me where I belonged in radio.

Joel Moss [JMoss[at]webn.com]: Growing up in New York City (actually, Queens), I was immersed in media at a very young age, and was absolutely captivated when my mom took me on the NBC studios tour at Rockefeller Center. That was it; all the heritage, network radio control, sound effects studios, microphones!! The Golden Age revealed right before my eyes, and I could touch it. They actually gave every one on the tour a piece of 2-inch videotape as a little memento. (I wonder if it was an old Carson tape; he said most of the early NY shows that were on tape had been ‘erased...’)

Soon after that trip to the city, I built a little radio station in my basement (WJKN). In addition to my being completely enamored with New York radio, I used to DX at night, listening to far-off signals. What a shock the first time I heard the famous WABC Pams jingles, with DIFFERENT CALL LETTERS! Quite an ear opener. I knew very early on that I wanted a career in radio or television, and in fact studied Communicating Arts at New York Institute of Technology; the list of those I went to school with is incredible. Many still hold fabulous jobs in both industries. I guess those that actually graduated with a degree.

I never did much radio production until it became clear that being a DJ wasn’t my thing, though I had done it at a variety of stations for more than a decade. Just, not very well. After the obligatory ‘70s drug experience, I returned to the real world and in 1983 found myself at “The Lunatic Fringe of American FM,” WEBN. Finally, I was ready to take full advantage, and I was given an opportunity, and with all the influences and the passion for the medium, a place to play, experiment, create.

To this day I have an obsessive on-going relationship with my studio, only now I have one in my home in addition to at the radio station. I love looking at the editing program on the dual-monitor flat-screens, and I still get totally amped playing with sound. I’ve seen a lot of change in every single aspect of the industry, from razor blades to mouse clicks, carts to digital delivery systems, and now jockless studios—the entire digital universe. One thing has remained constant: the creation of compelling content. And I still get charged listening to a fireworks soundtrack or a really sick promo. Finally, I know my career is a gift, a dream come true, and I’ve never forgotten that. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the fact that working in a field that provides you with so much definition, is skating. It is an incredible bit of good fortune. I certainly have worked hard, but as many of us know, this is hardly working.

Chris Adams [ChrisAdams[at]Clear Channel.com], Clear Channel Audio Design, Boise, Idaho: As a young jock, like most of us, I was used to doing a fair amount of production. And I loved it. As I got a little older, I was fortunate enough to be offered programming positions…WITHOUT doing production. I missed production but I enjoyed programming, until I stumbled upon the dreaded “C” word…CONSULTANT!! As we all know, consultants have absolutely no business completely programming stations; they should only be allowed to SUGGEST and HELP implement ideas. But I digress.

Up against a know-nothing consultant and the fact that I was having a steamy affair with the lady working for me 7-midnight, I resigned my position with no idea of what I was going to do for work. Luckily a friend who owned an actual RECORDING STUDIO offered me a job as studio manager. He said that I was one of the only jocks he knew whose audio skills hadn’t been ruined by doing broadcast production (I’m still not sure what that means). He then proceeded to teach me how audio production works outside a radio station…in the real world. This was in the ‘70s. Since then, I’ve never looked back. I have learned to combine the best of both recording studio and production room methods. That knowledge has allowed me make a decent living for my family and myself for many years.

Even though I work FOR a group of radio stations, I don’t look at myself as being IN radio any more. I think of myself as a production professional, an audio guy. I couldn’t imagine being a full-time jock or even a programmer again. I LOVE this job!

In these times of uncertainty, I believe it’s nice to know that even as jocks, programmers and consultants come and go, there’s always going to be a need for solid audio people.

God, I LOVE this job!

Michael McGurk [mmcgurk[at]earth link.net], KRTY/KLIV: It probably started about 24 years ago when, even after nine years of working on air, I was teamed with a guy who was a lot funnier, a lot quicker, a lot more topical, ad nauseum. After our first show, his sum radio experience amounted to three hours. I overheard the boss telling him how good he sounded. Panic. About that same time, our station was doing a Star Wars promotion with a local theatre, and I put together a knock-down-drag-out-bells-and-lightsabers promo. The local theatre hack thought is was the greatest thing since Freberg and sent a copy to the Lucas people. (I’m still waiting to hear back from them.) This got me to thinking, “Apparently I suck on air, but I’m pretty good with a razor blade and TM sound effects package.” I started concentrating more on the production end of our show, and the partnership really paid off. After a major format change, I landed a production gig with a station that prided themselves as a production house, too. They had a 2" 8-track and a U-87. How cool was that?

That’s where I found out about “free-lance.” It’s been a wonderful ride since then. I have been blessed with longevity in the market and a close relationship with an up-and-coming agency with lots of accounts outside the market, and greatest of all, digital audio workstations. What a miracle the DAW is. Especially for those of us who grew up with Magnacorders and yes, even 78s. The thought that you can put tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of recording studio in a box that costs only a few thousand dollars is mind blowing. One thing that really excites me is the free exchange of information and toys over the Internet. Various forums are goldmines of information. And I can’t believe the number of free plug-ins that are available. Some are worth exactly what you pay, but others are great little tools. I learn something new nearly everyday. Not only have my expectations been met, but so have my dreams.

Chris M. Potter [Chris.M.Potter[at] abc.com], ABC’s Country Coast-to-Coast Network: I first discovered that I wanted to do radio production while in Jr. High. My friend Kevin Kidney and I listened to old radio programs, and I was fascinated by the way the sounds in the background could bring out drama, comedy, terror, any emotion. The seed was planted and grew until I got into college and learned Computer Science wasn’t going to be my future. On a whim, I visited Arizona State’s college radio station, and was hooked in less than two minutes.

The thing is, I never got into radio to be a jock. I knew that I couldn’t compete on-air, but I did know I could do the production. When I got my first job with ABC’s Real Country network and told my boss what I really wanted to do, I can still remember him shaking his head and saying, “As hard as it is to get a job and keep it as a jock, what you’re looking to do is even harder.” I took his words as a bit of a challenge, and worked every on-air, programming, or promotions job I could that used some sort of production. I kept at it, bringing projects to my boss over and over again. I worked with Garry D at KNIX in Phoenix, and used him as a sounding board. I still do. About four years later, my boss made me Creative Director for ABC’s Country Coast-to-Coast network.

It’s been a dream come true, yes, but there’s still a lot of work involved. Instead of being challenged by management to out-perform, I’m able to challenge myself to get more creative. And the funny thing is that I just found out that my friend Kevin realized his dream as well, working with Disney in LA. Creatives have a wonderful way of making problems into challenges. I just hope I’m able to make this one last a long time.

Rich VanSlyke [richvs[at]bellsouth.net], Rich VanSlyke Productions, LLC, Suwanee, GA: My radio production adventure began in college. I’d spend all day in the production room, with cart machines and turntables. As soon as I combined voice with sfx and music and made my friends laugh, I was hooked. My first full-time job was still during college, at WKRT Cortland, NY. I couldn’t wait to get my air shift finished so I could get spend all day in Prod A. The turning point was at WCMF Rochester where I had my first chance to do creative rock imaging. And I sold my first jingle. Now, thanks to the help of many friends, I am realizing a lifelong goal, being a voice guy on 25 stations and producing jingles from my home studio in Atlanta. I always wanted to do this. Has it met my expectations? Beyond. Great $, no boss, no commute, and I’m still in the production room all day.

Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com], Rogers Media, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: I realized fairly early in high school that I wanted to do something with music for a living. Unfortunately, an extreme lack of talent prevented me from becoming the next Eric Clapton. Those that can, do; and those that can’t, talk about it. So that led me to radio. I figured out that I couldn’t do an interview to save my life, so news was out. And I don’t have a big enough ego to need to be a jock, so I got into Production.

Perfect fit. I get to work by myself and use sound to paint what I hear in my head. Sure, when I got into it, things like deadlines, revisions, and laundry list scripts weren’t even on my horizon. I thought we’d do award winning promos and line up for our yearly Clio... even though I had no idea what a Clio was. Oh yeah, I thought we’d get paid enough to enjoy life! It would be a beautiful land of milk and honey... only with speakers. Oh how little I knew.

So my expectations were never reached, but then they were just a little optimistic to say the least. I certainly enjoy what I do despite the built in limitations of deadlines and other stresses. When I listen to my friends and family bitch and whine about their jobs, I always realize how thankful I should be to be doing something that gives me some pleasure, and how lucky I am to get up in the morning and look forward to getting into the studio and get paid to play with someone else’s toys... rather than look forward to retirement in 25 years.

Dean Tyler [Deansvoice[at]aol.com], Voice & Vision Productions, Ft. Myers, FL: I went into full-time radio production kicking and screaming! Took the job because it was the only full-time position available, thinking at the time it would lead me back into a morning jock position again. So I took the prod gig and it slowly led to more and more voiceover work outside the station. Then one day the light bulb went off in my head, “Hey, I think I’ll charge for my voice and production and start handling myself and my work as a separate business venture!” Well, it just got better from there. I started introducing myself as a “voiceover artist” locally, and if you think it and walk it, it becomes you. I was soon referred to as “the voice guy,” and my business started building from there.

Of course, it looked and seemed much easier than it is, but it took me from being a potential radio burnout looking to sell cars and real estate, into being truly excited and hungry again to learn this new craft and business in voiceover. I am now close to opening up my own local full video and production facility and feeling good about what I will be doing for the next 10-20-30 years, and not being stuck on the weekend at a local car dealership at 50 hocking free pizza and T-shirts if you buy a car.

Part 2 next month!

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