R.A.P. Interview: Jeff Thomas

JV: But you eventually got back into the U.S. and stayed in LA for a while, right?
Jeff: Yeah, we lived there for about two and a half years.

JV: What kind of a task was it, imaging a monster station like KIIS?
Jeff: Well, I came in on the back of a bit of a void, as far as KIIS production. They had been without a full-time imaging guy for I think it was at least six months. They were getting Eric Chase to help out from Florida. I think he was already over in Tampa at that stage. It was about his fifth station as far as his list of duties goes, and he did a great job; but he was snowed under and had a lot of things going on at once, so it wasn’t something that he could devote his full attention to. When I arrived and they showed me the imaging studio, it had basically been turned into a storeroom There were carousels of  carts and old masters, and they had all just been dumped into that room because nobody was there working to say, “No, go and put that shit somewhere else.” So I wasn’t walking into a place that was, production-wise or imaging-wise, very well-organized. There was no, “here are our promo masters of what we’ve been doing, and here are our voice tracks,” or “here are some good KIIS shouts” or “here are the sounds we use.” There was pretty much nothing, because it had all been done off-site. So initially, it was kind of starting from scratch, even though KIIS had this amazing heritage that even lowly producers like myself from Australia had heard about.

So the task was in front of me and luckily, at the same time, a new PD, Dan Kieley, had just started at the station. Dan and I hit it off quickly and were singing from the same hymn book pretty much off the bat. Dan was the first PD that I had ever come across that would sit me down each morning, or we’d go out and get a coffee or something, and he’d basically say, “What problems do you have today that I need to fix so that you can spend the day in the studio and make me sound good?” And this is coming off the back of me having my suspicions that most other PDs would wake up in the morning and think of ways to kind of screw my life up. So having Dan there at that time was a blessing. I guess the only problem I had for him at the time was the immigration thing, but we got through that and started to look at ways of setting a mark and raising the bar.

I think whenever you’ve got a PD and an idea within the radio station that we don’t want to just be the best in this market, we want to be the best in the world and we want to set a new benchmark for the format and for imaging, I think that’s the kind of thing that I’ve always appreciated. From there, we started to develop what the philosophy was going to be.

JV: Did you use other imaging libraries while you were imaging KIIS, or did you create all of the effects that you used?
Jeff: From memory, when I arrived at KIIS, I don’t believe they had licensed any packages except for Killer Hertz 1, my first CD, and that’s kind of how the initial connection started. And when I got there, they were using Sandy Thomas as the voice.

JV: So most everything you used, you created?
Jeff: Yeah. I started developing some new effects and sound design. In a lot of ways, Killer Hertz 2 was kind of designed around the music that was happening on KIIS at the time and also the processing that was happening on KIIS at the time. We were getting very much into this concept of even if we played a sweeper in between two songs, we didn’t want the music to stop. We started to develop ways of letting the jocks know what part of the sweeper or production piece was fully produced and what part wasn’t. As a result, in the production studio, they didn’t sound like necessarily completed pieces, but when you heard them on the air – and because the jocks at the time were so good at this at KIIS – it kind of became a completed piece when it was played out. As a really basic example, as the music was fading out, we might start the ID either dry or at the very least, in a neutral key. Then in the middle of the sweeper, where it was fully produced, the jock would know to have the previous song gone by then. Then on the cart label, he would also know when the fully produced part of the sweeper stopped to know when to bring in the next song.

We spent a lot of time looking at that and ways of making that work, and I learned pretty soon that because of the processing and with tracks like “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and fully-produced intros like that, any kind of  big impact or crushing kind of starts to IDs or promos would freak out the on-air processing to the point where it would more often than not completely duck the previous song. So with a lot of the sounds, that’s when we started getting into things that used different frequencies, higher frequencies, and short-wave stuff that would cut through that fading song without killing it.

JV: Is everything in the Killer Hertz collection produced solely by you, or have you brought in a partner or two along the way?
Jeff: On CD 3 and a little bit on 4, I had my assistant at the time at KIIS, Chuck P, help out. And now that we’re doing it full-time, I’ve brought a guy on here, Alex Mills. He’s a young guy. He was born the year I started in radio, which is something we don’t talk about. But he’s a great guy and he’s got a really good ear. So, between the two of us now, we’re working on stuff for 5, which isn’t a CD anymore; it’s online delivery and it’s full-time.

JV: Your tenure at KIIS, you said it was about two and a half years after you finally got situated there. How long did that gig last?
Jeff: Well, two and a half years was how long I lived there. Basically, at the end of ’99, my wife had given birth to our first daughter and we were still, believe it or not, even in our third year, jumping through hoops and hurdles for immigration. It was the end of ‘99, and I had just finished making Killer Hertz 2. My wife and I talked, and when you consider that the LA gig had come off the back of a three-year stint in the UK, we had been away from home, away from Australia, for about six years at that point. And I could see that this was going to be tough to keep my wife and daughter comfortable living in the valley in LA, and still do the KIIS job properly. So I basically started devising a plan to take the work off-site. At that point in time, I had been in radio for a long time, even though I hadn’t been in America for a long time. And in all honesty, I was really getting to the end of my tether as far as working at a radio station. I still really loved the work, but I hated the way – and it wasn’t malicious or anything – but I hated the way that my time would be wasted for me in meetings or whatever happens at a radio station that takes your eye off the ball. So I developed a plan to see if they would consider at least the idea of me producing for KIIS and imaging for KIIS back down from Sydney. And I guess to some extent, the fact that I had done it for those five months at the beginning kind of made it a little bit easier for me to convince the PD that this could work, and not only could it work, but by me being in more of a sheltered environment, with my family happy and not on my case, that I could take the work to a new level.

So I sold the PD. I then had to throw myself at the feet of Tom Owens and go through the same thing with him and say look, “I guarantee you that this will improve our sound rather than hurt it,” and he said yes, eventually. I think this was about October of ’99. I had 30 days to find somebody and get them up to speed to act as my LA ears and eyes, which was Chuck P. So I hired him in the beginning of November and we had the 30 day intensive training period. Then I think it was New Year’s Day 2000, I got on a plane and came back to Sydney. They’d allowed me 60 days to find a studio and get set up and start working again, but also, in the meantime, be on the phone ready to hold Chuck’s hand with anything that came up in the first few weeks of the year. And finding a studio from scratch down here was no easy task, but we eventually found something just to get us up and going and put my gear in, and I had to buy a bit more gear. Then two months in, we were up and running, and that lasted full-time up until the end of last year. So in all, it was seven and a half years full-time at KIIS. I’m still doing some stuff for them now on a monthly basis, but out of that seven and a half years, five of them were done from Sydney.

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