Bill Schultz, Creative Services Director, WBEN/WPEN, Philadelphia, PA
By Jerry Vigil
It’s been nearly two decades since we last checked in with Bill, who at the time was putting a CHR production touch to a country station in New York. We find him now in Philadelphia, imaging two of Greater Media’s stations in the Philly cluster, where he also served as Operations Manager for several years before taking the Creative Services Director position. With a career spanning over 25 years, Bill has managed to spend them all in just two markets, New York and Philadelphia, working with some of the best in the business – nothing like starting at the top. If there’s anything Bill has major market experience at, it’s imaging, and that’s exactly what we picked his brain about this month. We also get some insights into his time as an Operations Manager who wrapped up his days in the production room, and we get some great audio from Bill for this month’s RAP CD. Dig in!
JV: When we last visited, it was 1995. You were holding down the production at WYNY in New York, putting a CHR style of imaging to a country station. How long were you there, and what came next?
Bill: The following February of 1996, we flipped the format to rhythmic CHR, and changed the calls to WKTU. We relaunched WKTU, which had been a legendary dance-disco station in the market in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Evergreen Media, headed by Jimmy de Castro, put together a team of folks: Steve Rivers, Guy Napoleon, Bev Tilden, and created a team of people to relaunch ‘KTU on the 103.5 frequency. Because of my history of having worked at HOT 97 in the market, I was able to be included in that whole process. That was a very interesting and fun time, to be going to secret meetings and looking over research and being part of a project like that, and to work with Steve Rivers, who has since passed away, who was a tremendous programmer and a fun guy to work with, and a great guy to learn from.
I stayed with ‘KTU for seven more years. I left ‘KTU in January of 2003 to go to work at Infinity Broadcasting in New York. They were launching a station called Blink 102.7 on WNEW, which was to be an entertainment news-focused music station. There were four imaging guys who were hired to work at Blink because we had anticipated that there’d be a tremendous amount of production that was going to be involved in the presentation of the radio station. It was a large undertaking at first, but it eventually ended up being scaled back to more of just a music-focused station. Then it just became a hot AC station by the end of that year. I ended up staying there for two and a half years.
JV: Four guys to do the production for one station. That sounds pretty intense.
Bill: Yeah, four great guys to work with. Initially, the thought process was that that we were going to have a tremendous amount of content to generate, and then as the concept continued to evolve, I think we realized that it wasn’t going to be quite as production-intensive. But it was actually a great concept. I think it was a little bit before its time. I think now, with so much more going on with the Internet than there was in 2003, you could actually create a lot of interesting synergies with the Internet and radio. But at the same time, so much of that content is available everywhere now, so I don’t know about the necessity of a radio station being part of that.
JV: From there you went to Greater Media?
Bill: Yes, in 2005, when all the Jack FM stations were launching and Adult Hits was popping up around the country. My old general manager, John Fullam, who I knew from WKTU, was the market manager at Greater Media in Philly, and still is. He and I had spoken about the possibility of going to work in Philadelphia to work with BEN-FM, which is Greater Media’s Adult Hits radio station in Philly. I actually went down to work at BEN-FM as the Operations Manager and Creative Director, so I was overseeing programming and marketing and doing the imaging at the same time. I’ve been there for eight and a half years now. I worked as Operation Manager for the first three years and then we acquired another radio station, which is now an FM sports station. I then segued back into doing imaging for those two radio stations and not being involved with BEN’s operations as much. I’m now the Creative Services Director for WBEN and WPEN -- the Adult Hits station, BEN-FM, and the FM sports station, 97.5, The Fanatic.
JV: Greater Media has at least a couple other stations in that market, right?
Bill: Yes, we have two more in the market, WMMR and WMGK, a rock station and a classic rock station. But they have their own Creative Director. We interact a lot, but we all take care of our own stations.
JV: How was the experience as an Operations Manager? What are a couple of key things you learned from the job?
Bill: It’s really neat to be able to have the big picture idea of the radio station, from a branding and programming standpoint. It was interesting to actually be doing imaging and just answering to yourself on the imaging, where you could take a concept from idea to on-air and have complete control over it. I had some great people working with me. I had a Program Director and a Marketing Director who both were terrific at what they do.
But to be able to be involved in the entire process, from research through creative brainstorming, through the promotional efforts and the sales efforts, to be able to gain that level of understanding of everything that’s trying to go on, and also to be able to see that all the departments had that synergy, that everybody was on the same page and everybody understood what the station’s brand was and how we could best advance the station as a business, it was great.
The way I basically broke up my day was I spent my time in the morning in meetings and such, and then I would usually go into the studio in the afternoon and do the imaging, which was so much fun.
JV: Doing it just the way you told yourself to do it…
Bill: Exactly. You definitely get spoiled when it’s time to move on from that. You’re like, “Wait a second.”
JV: We interviewed a gentleman in Australia many years ago. He was the Imaging Director and he actually did the imaging much like you just described. He would decide when it was time to change the bumpers, and he would decide what to do with them. He said that the programmer just basically gave him a direction, but he was the one responsible for the creative from the concept. I thought that was really special. I wonder how many creative production people there are out there who could actually single-handedly do it, but probably won’t ever be given the opportunity. You had that opportunity, and I’m wondering if you think that Creative Services Directors, Imaging Directors out there, at least in the States, are capable of doing what you did, taking it from concept to on air.
Bill: I really think they are. I think that the brand really benefits from that. It’s funny because when I was at ‘KTU for all those years, Frankie Blue was our Program Director. ‘KTU was another situation where it was very collaborative. Frankie dictated the vision of the radio station, but then from that point, the marketing people took the marketing reins. When it came to the imaging, definitely Frankie gave direction, but it was one of those things where once we reached a comfort level with one another – like where I understood what he was looking for and he was comfortable that I was going to be able to take it in a direction that he was comfortable with -- then we would just let it fly. It definitely helps the situation when you feel as though you can create something. You obviously take direction and you incorporate all the things, but I think in your mind, the level of the work is just so much better when you feel like you have a little more ownership of it.
JV: Amen. I hope programmers out there will heed your words and think about giving their creative people a little more freedom. I understand being in charge and wanting to oversee every detail, but there’s a lot of creativity out there that programmers may not be tapping into.
Bill: Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of pressure, too, with being in charge, where regardless of what level you’re at, there’s always somebody that you need to answer to. I think that sometimes it might make you timid to hand over something as essential as the imaging of the radio station to somebody. But that’s why I think it’s important that a programmer and their imaging person have that type of relationship, where they can mind-meld and get on the same page, and understand.
It’s funny, as you’re working on imaging, every time you do something, you obviously want to feel like you’ve made it the best it can be. But that might not necessarily be what the Program Director was looking for, so you have to have that relationship. But still, you have to be comfortable that things are going to be a little bit different than you might envision them.
I think a Program Director should let the Creative Services Director surprise you from time to time because they’re listening to a lot of other Creative Services Directors and listening to a lot of radio. They’re sitting there in the studio and may get a good vibe for something creative. If someone is just strictly following instructions, you might never get that potential golden nugget of imaging that really takes the station to the next level.
JV: In an email exchange earlier, you mentioned the cookie cutter stuff that’s out there, and how stations don’t seem to be any worse off because of it. You wondered if that was a testament to the diminished importance of imaging, or the lack of competition to set the stations apart. Elaborate on that.
Bill: Well, I don’t think the importance of imaging has diminished across the board, but I think there are going to be some stations where the imaging almost sounds as if it might be a placeholder, or it might be the second or third station in the priority line of whichever Imaging Director is in charge of doing it, where it might not have as much uniqueness or as much stationality to it that it could possibly have. Certainly, like in the big markets, you’ll hear some of that on certain stations, but as you move outside of the city, I think it’s a lot more pervasive. You used to be able to take car trips during the summer and go around the dial and hear what was going on in some medium markets. Every once in a while, you’d hear some great ideas. You’d come back and say, “Wow, I can’t wait to get back to the studio because that’s a cool idea, and I wouldn’t mind doing something that’s similar to that.” You get the feeling that you don’t hear as much of that any more. You just hear a lot of imaging that says, “Here are the decades of music we play and we make you feel good.” I can think of a few stations that may have had more real local stationality to them in the imaging in the past; you turn them on now, and you don’t hear that as much, and yet the station is still doing great. So it’s one of the things where you look at the numbers and you say, “Wow.” But it could also just be a function of the fact the business has changed and the audience has changed, and the expectations have changed.
Imaging has always evolved. There was a time in the late ‘80s where it was so technical-sounding, and then in the early ‘90s it became stripped down and basic, and then we went through times when it was a combination with some judicious use of effects and some non-effected material. Depending on the format, the imaging can be high tech or not. It used to be a discussion of what was the newest piece of equipment you had on the rack, and how was that going to change the sound of your radio station. Then it became a discussion of, what are the newest plug-ins that are out there, and how’s that going to change the sound of your station. Now, it seems like everybody’s got just about everything. There are so many libraries and sounds and things out there, it really does come down now to, “Okay, we all have the tools at our disposal. What can we do with them?”
JV: It comes right back down to the copy, right?
Bill: I think it really does. I used to joke -- probably right around the last time you and I spoke -- people would ask what my favorite program is for production and I would say, “Word” because that’s where it really all starts. Getting the words down on paper and touching emotions with people. Then everything else is there to help you create that.
That being said, I think there’s terrific imaging out there, and I think that the challenges have been in the PPM world, brevity, and then incorporating it. I think maybe years ago, the emphasis was on what we were saying and what brand we can put out there and what we can pound into people’s heads as the message. I think it’s more of enhancing the radio experience now. I think it’s what you can convey to people through demonstrating -- through music promos and through the power intros, where you actually have vocals with the name of your radio station incorporated into the songs, which I think are terrific.
Basically it’s just heightening the overall listening experience because there’s so much competition for people’s hearts and minds out there. The imaging -- more so than pounding the brand into people any more -- I think needs to just heighten the experience of listening to that station.
JV: You also mentioned you were reading an old RAP interview with the late Brian James, trying to remember the mindset that he and Rick Allen had back in those days when imaging seemed to play a much bigger role. Did you get any ideas after reading that?
Bill: Oh, for sure. Rick Allen was the first person I worked with in radio, at HOT 97. Rich Boerner actually was the person who hired me at HOT 97, and he said, “I’ve got to introduce you to Rick Allen.” I remember walking into the studio and seeing Rick with keyboards and all the gear he had in there. It just opened up this whole world of a side of radio that I didn’t even know existed up until that point, going back to the time when you would watch him turn the keyboard on and you always got the sense that there wasn’t anything he wasn’t going to be able to create in there.
My first job working at HOT 97 was doing the commercials. We had very strict policies with regard to the commercials, what could be said in the scripts, what type of music would be used. It was very strict. Then Rick would coach me on imaging, and he would always say, “Okay, here are the rules. There are no rules.” He said, “Just throw the rules out.” No matter where you’re working or what you’re doing, you always settle into rules, even if they’re your own rules. You create your own guidelines. To read about those guys and to think about the things that they were doing at the time, you realize that once in a while you just need to approach something from a completely clear mind.
The Program Director I work with now at BEN-FM is Chuck Damico. He’s great at coming in and saying, “Hey, you know what? Just do something completely out there. Don’t worry about the formulas and things we’ve been doing. Just do something completely out there.” It’s good to reset every once in a while. It’s not a guarantee that everything’s going to be great, but at least it opens you up to try things that you might not try otherwise.
JV: How are you applying your imaging skills at those two stations there?
Bill: The sports station is a lot of fun because it’s a fast-paced, high-energy kind of imaging that doesn’t really have any musical constraints to it. Coming from the music radio side, you usually have some sort of lanes you stay within, whether it’s a rock station or a hip-hop station or a Top 40 station. With the sports station, nothing’s off-limits. It can be a promo that has hip-hop flavor, or it can be a promo that has heavy metal flavor. Usually the sport that it’s for will dictate that.
Then there are the actualities you can use. There’s actually a lot that you can learn from working in the sports environment that you can take back to the music environment because some of the actualities that you use in sports really evoke an emotion -- a great piece of play-by-play from years ago that won the playoff game or whatever. You can use that effectively in a piece of imaging. You can tell the response it brings from people. That emotional response is such a great thing to be able to do, in any format.
JV: WBEN - how crazy is imaging that station?
Bill: BEN-FM is a lot of fun because there’s really two sides to the imaging. The main voice of the imaging of the radio station is John O’Hurley, the actor that played J. Peterman in Seinfeld, and he’s done Dancing With The Stars. We have a few different writers that contribute to the sessions when we voice with John. Basically, the concept is really just to be unpredictable and out there. John is not the slogan guy. John is the guy that reinforces to you that wow, this is a crazy place. He’s been voicing the station since it launched, so I have a pretty good library of Peterman-isms to use. But we still do sessions with him.
He was in Philadelphia taping the dog show two weeks ago that airs on Thanksgiving, so he came by the station for lunch and we had the staff in. Just a terrific guy. He really gets the character that the station is trying to portray. We don’t portray him as being Ben. He’s just a character. But it’s a lot of fun. Those are great lines, when you can have things that are completely out there.
JV: I’ve always liked that style of imaging, like the Jack FM style, the out-of-the-box comments you wouldn’t expect. It stands out more than “the best variety” and “the most hits” stuff you hear so much of.
Bill: What’s neat about it is that, even though the words of the lines may not be saying anything strategic, the fact that they are unpredictable and the fact that it keeps you on edge, that is reinforcing the station’s strategy. With the Adult Hits radio station, the idea is you’re throwing out the rulebook and you’re being unpredictable. In theory, you play everything. So anything could play at any time.
Like I said, we have two tiers of imaging. There’s John and then there’s the strategic imaging that’s currently voiced by Amy Brooks, who is one of the personalities from one of our Boston stations. She’s a terrific voice-over person, as well. She does our week-to-week promos for events and topicals and things that we do during the course of the week because we don’t have access to John frequently.
But yeah, the Jack FM stuff... I actually got to work on the launch of Jack in Dallas when I was still with Infinity in New York. I did a bunch of that imaging. The idea was, we don’t take requests, we don’t follow anybody’s rulebook, we’re not The Man. We’re going to do anything we want. So it wasn’t pounding the genres of songs -- “We play this and we play this and we play this” -- it was more just creating that image that, “No, we’ll play anything.”
JV: We had a Q It Up question about a year ago on imaging, and one of the responses talked about imaging way outside the norm and doing things like not even mentioning the call letters in the sweepers. This guy had an idea that really intrigued me. He was talking about how commonplace it is to go to a restaurant and see people videotaping each other on their phones. People are not afraid to have cameras pointed at them anymore, or microphones for that matter. He was suggesting going out there with your microphone and just getting them to share thoughts rather than spit out station slogan lines. Then take these out-of-the-box but carefully selected comments and put them in between songs without call letters. What do you think of that concept?
Bill: I love it. I love the idea of using listeners on the radio because I think the voice of real people is going to resonate much more with real people than the voice of The Man, the corporation who’s putting a message in front of you, especially this day and age. But it’s one of those things where you identify certain listener reactions that resonate with people and then before you know it, you have libraries offering these listener reactions and now other people are using them and they become just generic. “Oh, you play the best music!” and things like that. But I think it’s great if you can get out into a market with a recorder and get real people with the local accent talking.
I do like to mention the name of the radio station, though, when possible, even though it’s just out there. Like with BEN-FM, we have listener reactions where they say, “Hey, looking good, Ben!” and things like that. I like to have the name of the station in there because I think one of the things with a lot of the listener reactions you hear, and even the artist drops you hear around the country, it’s clear that they weren’t custom-done for that radio station. That just contributes to the blandness of a lot of the imaging.
And if you’re going to do promos that talk about the music you play, I’d rather just do a promo that has three clips of the music you play. On BEN, we ran what we call “music menus” where instead of saying, “Hey, we play songs of the ‘70s and the ‘90s, and even today’s songs,” we would actually just say, “BEN-FM, you hear this” and a clip, “or this, or this”, just tightly put together and then go right into a song from there. That way, it’s quick, less than nine seconds. There wasn’t a lot of verbiage, where you’re saying what you’re doing and expecting people to care. It’s just more an example, if you’re just turning it on for the first time, that those are the kind of things you’re going to hear.
But yeah, the listener reactions that you’re talking about… this is just complete theory, but it seems to me like they would resonate with people -- and definitely saying things that are not them reciting slogans and such, just them being real and saying real things.
JV: I agree, the station should be identified from time to time, but with PPM, I still think you don’t need the call letters mentioned every time you open a mic or every time you drop something in between the songs. If you take away the call letters from the jocks, for instance, I think they become more human and less “radio announcer”, you get more personality out of your personalities when you take away that crutch of the calls. I think the same would apply to the pre-recorded stuff, the imaging, if you don’t have the listener saying, “And my station is.” They could just talk about, “How great it is to be alive in the city of Philadelphia, and I love it here”, and that’s all that they say. It’s in between the songs, and it’s someone from the street, your streets. I believe that creates an image for that station that sets them apart, which is the idea, right? So I’m a big fan of that concept, and that’s probably why I’m not running a radio station anywhere.
Bill: Well, I go back and forth on that a lot. In order to get ratings, you don’t need to say the call letters because there’s nothing going on with the recall. It’s going to be people that are actually being exposed to the signal. So that part is cool. Like you said, a lot of times the call letters just become wallpaper, they become a crutch that you’re saying and not necessarily integrating into your lines. We do have imaging on the air that does not mention the call letters.
But, the other side of that, too, though, is there are people that are going to be exposed to the radio station when you’re audience-building. There are people that are going to be exposed to the radio station in an environment where they have not chosen to put it on, but they might like it. In that situation, you do want them to know what it is. Radio in general spends money on marketing to get our message out. So I think for us not to actually use our own medium to get our name out there could be a risk.
I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on it from consultants over the years. There are probably an equal number of people that say, “You don’t need to say the calls” as there are people that say, “You should say them every time.” One of the analogies that was brought up was if you go into a Costco or a Sam’s Club and you buy a case of Pepsi, when you open up the box, each can still has a Pepsi logo on it. It really doesn’t need to, at that point, because you already bought it. It doesn’t really matter whether it says Pepsi on it or not. But they still have the Pepsi logo because you’re going to hand it out at a party and you want people to know they’re drinking Pepsi.
So, I’ve heard that analogy, and I think that it’s sort of in between. I think that if you can eliminate it as being just wallpaper, then it’s good. But as an old school radio guy, I guess I get nervous when the call letters aren’t there.
JV: That’s probably the Operations Manager in you coming out! Imagine this: You’re in a car, as a listener, and you’re scanning the band and come across something you like. What do you do? You look at the display and you go, “Oh, that’s 107.5,” and maybe the call letters pop up, too. Then you hit the preset. So you already know what it is without them saying anything, and that’s pretty much the case on any device anyway. But I certainly see your point.
Bill: There are other ways to bring your brand across. At BEN-FM, I think when people hear John O’Hurley, they know it’s BEN-FM. You don’t need to say BEN-FM every time he’s going to say something.
JV: Yes, and that’s the beauty of the potential importance of a station voice right there. That’s a station character, and I think if you get your station voice to be a character, to some degree, that’s a lot like what you’ve got right there and it can be applied, I think, to any format. I think Brian James did that pretty well. He had a character. Even the stations that he voiced, that character kind of came across.
Bill: Yeah, and Keith Eubanks, too.
JV: Oh yes!
Bill: Those were the types of imaging styles where you would actually hear people going around quoting it. You would hear just regular listeners quoting something that they heard Keith Eubanks say, or something that they heard Brian James say on the radio. When you and I emailed initially, that’s part of the thing I was saying that I think you don’t seem to hear as much anymore -- at least I haven’t been exposed to a lot of it as a listener, driving around listening to different markets. I live exactly halfway between New York and Philly, so I can listen to both markets.
JV: Prior to Philly, your whole career was in New York, right?
Bill: Yeah, I was in New York. It’s funny. I grew up at the Shore, so I actually grew up being able to listen to Philly and New York stations. When AM radio was big, I was listening to more New York, WABC. When FM started taking over, I listened to more Philly with WACU-FM and WMMR. Which is kind of cool now, working at Greater Media and WMMR. Pierre Robert is the midday DJ and was someone I used to listen to. Even though I’ve been there almost eight and a half years now, I still get a kick out of seeing Pierre Robert in the hallway. That novelty’s not lost. It’s like, “Oh my God, that’s Pierre Robert!”
JV: Give us a quick rundown of what’s in the studio. You’ve probably got all the plug-ins and all the tools, but what’s your software of choice there?
Bill: Pro Tools. It’s funny. The last time that you and I spoke, I was an Orban Audicy guy, or maybe it was even the DSE-7000 at that point. Actually, I’m in my home studio right now, looking at my stack of Orban Audicy Jaz disks that are probably loaded up with some great audio I may never get to hear again. Every time I see a Jaz drive somewhere I’m like, “Oh, can I borrow that for a little while? I have to hear some things I forgot I have.”
But it’s all Pro Tools now. I have Pro Tools at home, Pro Tools at work. The Waves plugs -- whatever bundle we have at work – to me just sound the best. I’ve experimented with a lot of other plug-ins to try to create the same things, and I always just feel best about the things that have Waves plugs in use.
But it’s funny... my studio at work in Philly still has this great big console and I still have all the gear in the racks, but we haven’t powered them up in years because it’s all in the computer now.
JV: Are you doing any VO work?
Bill: I do VO work for commercials locally, and also some freelance work. I do some imaging VO work on the radio station and we voice for each other’s radio stations, but it’s more commercial-based for me.
JV: Is that what the home studio is for, the freelance?
Bill: Yeah, that and sometimes material for our sports station. So much stuff happens after hours that there are times when it’s easier for me to get things done at the home studio, either first thing in the morning or in the evening. But yeah, I do some imaging for our other radio stations, as needed. I’ve done some work for one of our Detroit radio stations. I do work for our AC station in North Jersey. Pretty much, if something is needed, I’ll chip in and do that.
JV: You’ve enjoyed a good long run in radio, especially in the majors. What would you attribute your long-term success to and what advice would you pass on to others looking for that kind of run?
Bill: Never stop learning. Just stay open-minded and never stop being a sponge for as many things as you can learn, whether it’s production-related or gear-related, or whether it’s just about the business. Any time you have an opportunity to talk to anyone -- sales managers, consultants, anybody you can talk to -- where you can absorb their mindset and their goals, and what they’re trying to accomplish, do it. It just gives you a greater understanding of the entire brand. Just always be a person who is somebody that they feel that they can go to.
I’ve also been very fortunate to have worked with some great people, from Rick Allen, Steve Rivers, Frankie Blue. I’ve been so fortunate to cross paths with so many great people in the business that I could learn from, that have always been very forthright with what they do and what they know. Jimmy de Castro for example, people that have a passion for the business and an excitement for the business, I just think I’ve been very fortunate to be around folks like that.