Prod212-Logo 2014 webBy Dave Foxx

I got a very concerning email a few weeks ago from a friend in Canada who was just about to give up on this screwy business. Her radio station recently changed hands and the new owners made some changes. No… made a LOT of changes, and some of them were really major. This kind of event can really mess up your universe. I know, as I’m sure many of you know, that a big upset in the workplace can really distort your perspective on life. I am certain she wrote hoping that I would help her regain the long view and stop her death spiral into depression.

When I responded, I think I messed up a bit. I was feeling a lot of angst at the moment because my own karma was out of whack. Not a good time to be giving advice on career or life in general. The picture I painted was really dark and instead of doing the right thing by saving it as a draft and coming back to rewrite the whole thing, I hit send. No, she didn’t jump off a bridge, but I’m pretty sure that for a few days at least, she contemplated selling perfume at her local department store as her next career move.

Right about now, some of you are wondering why my karma was out to lunch. Read on.

Things ARE dark right now in this business; way too many of our brothers and sisters are out there sitting on a beach, wondering what happened. Most of us are juggling two, three or even more radio stations’ imaging, trying to just stay employed.

This business has contracted SO much in the last few years. Only one in three producers I know are even working in radio any more. It was something I saw coming some time ago as the bean counters started gaining control… of everything. They were eyeing our business as a cash cow. After all, here’s an industry that produces nothing physical that you can hold, drive or wear; a business that makes nothing more than coherent noise. To them, it seemed like a pretty straightforward convention of playing hit music, talking a little and raking in the money for saying a few kind things about the clients. They completely missed the magic. They still make the all-too-common mistake of thinking most of the audience wants to be informed and entertained. On the surface, it would seem to be that way. It makes total sense! And it is so wrong.

Radio is the narcotic of choice for millions of people every day. Oh sure, some listeners want to know what’s going on in the world around them; they’re all tuned into the local news/talk outlet pretty much all the time. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levine make a handsome living catering to that audience. But, the vast majority of listeners don’t use radio that way. Most listeners don’t want to know anything about war and pestilence, why gas costs so much or even who the Vice President is. They would much rather glide through the day slightly buzzed by the latest hit or giggling madly about some movie star’s weird escapades. Mostly, we serve as wallpaper to decorate their otherwise drab existence. If that sounds bleak, don’t be alarmed. It is the natural order.

This begs the question, “How do you sell to an audience that’s NOT listening carefully to every word we say?” These people are having full-on conversations while we’re talking, doing homework as we perform and not listening at all to our commercials! We’re the soundtrack to their barbecues, a buffer to their traffic woes and a companion for their lonely ride home. If the person on the air is insanely funny or fantastic in the advice to the lovelorn department, they are doing a morning show, or should be. All of that seems pretty clear to the bean counters – a very cut and dried approach to broadcasting. It’s when they get to the person who fills the gaps between the records who is not the deejay that things get fuzzy.

Bear in mind that these “bean counters,” as I’ve been calling them, come from a completely different culture. The business models they are familiar with don’t include a magician. People who mainly concern themselves with the bottom line try to keep things uncomplicated. Hire someone with a pleasant speaking voice who can add a touch of music and the production department can pretty much take care of itself. This is simple, clean logic to them. How much time does it take to make these recordings? Well, a one-minute commercial should take a couple of minutes, at most. This person can cover all of our stations! No need to have 5 people for 5 stations. Bonus time! Many of them tend to look at production people like workers on an industrial conveyor belt, doing their job like an auto-assembly plant worker. They feel we’re all interchangeable parts, like cogs in a wheel. If one cog wears out, they can replace it.

But you and I both know they’re wrong. 

Let me interject here that these are not universal truths. I know a LOT of bean counters and some are hip to what we do. A very quick clue to the mindset of any corporate type you encounter is the level of micro-management. If they are instructing you about how to put together a commercial or promo, something they have never done… beware.

I was fortunate to have landed in NYC at the tail end of the era when radio was built around the heart, rather than the wallet. People like you and me were considered valuable commodities that are hard to find. By saving so much money by slashing budgets and cutting back on the workforce size, the corporate guys and gals have slit open the belly of the goose that lays the golden eggs. They’ve cut out the heart in the name of efficiency. Now they can’t understand why the goose isn’t laying golden eggs anymore. Revenues are down, almost across the board and they keep wondering why. When they first started investing in radio, they kept hearing how radio is “recession-proof.” All through the 20th century and into this one, it was. Businesses (our clients) knew that if they wanted to get past a downturn in the economy, they’d have to prime the pump with advertising dollars. Today, the more they put in, the less it seems to work.

What we do is so much more than record some words and music to sell for our clients. We are trained to reach out, through the airwaves, and tug the heartstrings of the listener, to get the listener to pay attention for just a moment, allowing us to simply plant an idea… your idea. We don’t sell your cars; we get the listener to want one of your cars. We don’t sell pizza; we just get the listener to crave your pizza. We put them in a certain mindset that will eventually lead them to your door. When the listener feels like pizza one night, they’ll think about you, not the other guy. When the listener realizes that he or she needs a new car, the first place they’ll go is your dealership. Once they are there, it’s up to you to get them to purchase your goods or services.

Promo work is even subtler on a piece-by-piece basis. It’s not until you take in the totality of all the imaging that an overall feeling starts to resonate with the listener. A feeling of comfort, a sense of fun and commitment begin to take hold of the listener, until eventually, you become their radio station. True success in radio imaging happens when the listeners don’t tune out for commercials because they just don’t want to listen to any other stations. You rack up quarter-hour after quarter-hour and you become the market leader with double-digit ratings. Your radio station’s commercials are actually heard! Your clients get real, tangible results.

Whether you do commercial work or promo work, if it’s for more than one station, I’m really not sure how much time you can devote to crafting that little mental bullet for the listener. What we do is more art than science, and the art is what’s missing after all this bloodletting that’s been happening the last few years. I do the imaging for 2 radio stations and I am constantly struggling. I can’t even imagine what it would be like with 3, let alone 4 or more.

When I wrote back a second time to my Canadian friend, I told her that in the end, talent wins. Real skill absolutely wins. The next time your PD or OM starts to micro-manage you, know that there is a very good chance that he or she is being micro-managed as much or even more. I’m sure you know the time-honored saying about excrement rolling down the hill. It’s true. And there you stand with a big ol’ catcher’s mitt.

For my sound this week, I present three music image promos. If you are using Production Vault, I’m sure you’ll recognize the beatmixes. I was in a panic getting all of the Z100’s Jingle Ball promos together with the biggest lineup we’ve ever had, in both quantity and quality. I contacted Andy Jackson at PV and explained my predicament, asking whether he could crank out some beatmixes with some breathing room to drop in listener comments. Less than 24 hours later, they were waiting for me. (It pays to have friends in high places… or is that high friends in places?) I present them here, complete with listeners, all legit by the way, for your dining and dancing pleasure, with a tip of my invisible magic hat to Andy for a job well done.


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