R.A.P. Interview: Franklin Raff

JV: When and how did the imaging/executive producer gig for the Liddy show come about?
Franklin: Radio America brought me aboard to work on The Michael Reagan Show, and the focus of the work was imaging — that is to say, the intros, the bumps, etc. Joseph Farah, of WorldNetDaily, was also here at the time, and he is a beloved friend and mentor to me. We developed an unusually complex but thematically consistent emotional signature for the show, and it serves Mike reasonably well. He is an extraordinarily hard-working broadcaster with – I swear it – an amazing ability to distil big ideas into highly entertaining visual pictures, some of them outrageously funny, some of them heart-wrenching. I once disliked his show. I like it very much now. It would be ridiculous for anyone but Mike to claim any major stake in the show’s affiliate explosion these past years. The show, and his success, is very deeply his. The job of an imager is to fuel and focus the fire and accelerate or foil the emotional temperature of the host. Radio America puts the right people on the job; Mike makes it distressingly easy.

When G. Gordon Liddy came to Radio America, I became the Executive Producer of the show. This title is a bit of a misnomer, in that it implies a certain degree of authority and control. Nobody controls G. Gordon Liddy in any imaginable way. I can happily say, however, that Gordon is doing well here, in that the show is adding affiliates to the tune of one or two a week and is re-accumulating the big-market flamethrowers, but, again, the work is Gordon’s. I produce the audio elements, engage in a certain degree of banter and interaction on and off the air, book guests, and work with Gordon and the gang on the grand design of show execution and affiliate service. I know this sounds terribly boardroom bingo, but unless someone needs to be fired, I never feel as if I have, or am, a “boss.” Teamwork is the key to success, and in some cases, to wildly successful accelerations in affiliate recruitment, ratings, and sales. There’s a reason, by the way, that such sayings as “teamwork is the key” become clichés; they are worthy of careful study, revision, and repetition. Here’s another: we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Make a habit of innocuously covering for your coworkers’ weaknesses – no matter their job title – and help them optimize their strengths. I’ve found, when I make a conscious effort to do this, they do the same for me.

I can tell you that Gordon is shockinglyintelligent and sensitive. I like him personally, and I enjoy working with him. We also share a certain level of cultural and historical literacy – his trumps mine, of course! – and this complimentary relationship has, I think, had a positive effect on the air product. Gordon has a sense of the theatrical as well, and this he brings to work with him. Furthermore, he has assiduously tapped every telephone at the network. On the day of Gordon’s arrival, after various and sundry logistical complications had been worked out with regard to parking a few of his terrifyingly exotic personal vehicles so close to the White House, and after our palatial studios were further improved to his satisfaction, a certain embittered, unwary veteran talker at Radio America telephoned her husband to complain about “the egomaniacal alpha-male who wants everything just-so…” That was shortly before her well-publicized accident with the neckerchief and the cart-machine.

JV: As an imager, do you have a favorite piece, or body of production work?
Franklin: I’m a heavy audio element layering kind of guy. I like explosions, pitch-shift matches, custom compositions and elements — I have a Yamaha Motif 8 in my home studio: a remarkable toolbox — and those tantalizing beats of “think-about-it-for-a-moment” negative space accelerations. I also use a lot of archival speeches and audio to create thesis-antithesis-synthesis sort of conflict theory opportunities to let the listener come to new conclusions. Listen, for instance, to Lindbergh’s 1941 speech on the futility of war. He sounds just like Howard Dean. The History Channel website has some great stuff.

But the Reagan Tribute stands out as a meaningful favorite. Mike called me in the middle of the night sometime before his father passed and wanted me to have something special ready for when the time came. It’s not a technically complicated piece but there’s a purity to it and I approached it with love in my heart. 9/11/01 changed me irrevocably. I became less interested in the Ford account and more interested in communicating big ideas — the inalienable rights of the individual, the importance of a limited government, the perfectness and fragility of our original constitutional principles. So Reagan’s legacy is really at the heart of my heart, and I wanted to tell the story of his presidency in a few minutes. I hope you’ll listen to it.

JV: What’s your imaging philosophy, as applied to production and programming?
Franklin: I could answer this question for hours, format specificity be damned. But let me try to get as much as possible in, and throw in a magic-wand wish or two. I believe that we need to hearken back to the blood-and-guts, high-density, “no air failure” mandates of guys like Bill Drake, who was at the helm of CKLW in the seventies. Breaking news. Comment. Opinion. Audio from the field. Music. Surprise guests. All on one mind-bogglingly successful 50,000 watt AM. We have two extraordinary tools that were not available then. The first is digital editing. The second is the cell phone – a Marti in the hand of every listener. Think of a million, or thousand dollar annual listener prize, not for calling up on line ninety-seven, but for giving us the best audio of the year. Congratulations; your ten thousand new reporters are presently filing sixty-second local stories into voicemail. Pick one.

We have these tools, but they do not quite make up for the one thing that radio has largely forgotten: the importance of quality people on the air side. We need a No Station Left Behind initiative. Standardized testing for PDs, producers and talent. I don’t care if your relationship problems and love of primetime TV drops make for giggle-fodder on the morning show. If you don’t also have an intimate grasp of the names, dates, and events that shaped the history of the world in the last century, you’re out. How will we win your replacement over to radio? Literate, creative soldiers don’t work for money. They work for freedom. We need to give them the freedom to create, maintain, and organically reinvent from time to time that thematic consistency we call “stationality” rather than have two-bit consultants like myself foist it upon them between books. Stations don’t have personalities. The word “stationality” grows from our mistaken belief in an interchangeable-parts HR culture on the air side. People have personality. Listeners don’t want to be bombarded by some consultant’s idea of audio branding. They want a meaningful, interdependent relationship with you. Give it to them. Give them your best. The brand is you.

We need programmers and managers to experiment with visualizing radio as an audio canvas, a Laundromat bulletin-board, and an eyewitness, in tears, in the middle of the night. The last Neighborhood in America. In an age of nationally declining audience share, where we, on the aggregate, are losing millions of advertising dollars not just to cable television but to outfits with names like “Fred’s Yellow Pages,” we need to re-think the nature of our product. Dollars follow brains, and brains follow hearts. How hard are we willing to work to make sure that what we’re producing is emotionally engaging? Station by station, we need to utterly rethink the scope of what we can do. Why, for instance, are we letting TV stations – networks, no less - break the news? Why are our jockswatching TV all day? Our vetting and preproduction time is a fraction of theirs, the internet breaks everything a day ahead of time, and for pennies we can put a college grad out on the street with a police scanner, an mp3 recorder, and a cell phone. We are now at somewhat of a disadvantage, in that radio has for some time neglected to attract the sharpest tools in the shed. So I, too, will be blunt: there are too many people in the trenches who are here because they’re contentious, complacent copycats. I’d like to blow those “radio’s no fun anymore” types out en masse, recruit a whole new batch of creatives from art colleges and journalism programs, train them to use the equipment, and give them just as much freedom as they need to keep them up late at night thinking about new applications for their unlimited audio palette. What do we have to lose? National audience share?

Franklin-Raff2JV: Sailboats. Beautiful women. Cutting-edge studios. Riding Harleys with the G-Man. Do you have advice for new producers and imagers?
Franklin: My father, Samuel Raff, who is now eighty-four, once gave me the simplest, wisest piece of work advice I’ve ever gotten. Wear a tie. Now hold on; you get used to it after awhile. It simplifies your wardrobe, and you’re always dressed as nicely as that client or Senator who might pop by the station. Also, you see, there’s some natty middle manager from Newark, Delaware who is thinking of blowing out five guys at your duopoly. He doesn’t know you, he doesn’t know your work, and he doesn’t care that your wife is pregnant. What he does remember is that you’re the guy in the tie. Blow out the guy in the tie?

No way.

I’ve never been fired.

I never blow out the guy in the tie.

Comments (1)

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Dear Franklin,
I lived down the street on Half St, NW around 2009, & am wondering how you & your family are doing. Moved to Huntington, LI following a death in the family, but remember fondly the kind neighbors in DC. Your Mom was always especially nice to me as were you. If you don't remember me, that's OK --- I'm the neighbor who consistently called you Kendall. Hope all are well --
Mary

Mary Elizabeth Fellman
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