JV: You’re in the midst of the “less is more” thing with Clear Channel, yet you’re talking about putting comedy clips on the air. How are you balancing the entertainment and the clutter?
Brian: We’re constantly fighting the battle of editing them and making sure they’re as short as possible. With the morning show, their bits are usually 40-second bits to four-minute bits, but we can search through a list and sort it by time. So on overnights when we have less spots, you can run that four-minute bit, and in the afternoon when it’s tight, you can grab that 40-second or 1:15 bit. Our constant challenge is to make sure that what they are putting in there truly represents the best of what they do. If they’re doing something that was really funny, but it was 3½ minutes, we’re constantly working with it to make it a little shorter. We always try to edit, edit, edit.
JV: How has “less is more” been applied to the promos and the sweepers and IDs? Are they shorter than they were before?
Brian: Yes, they are shorter. I never realized how long some of our promos were until I would go back to some of our old production. For benchmark promotions that we might do every year, I archive my Pro Tool sessions. So if I want to, I can go back and dig up a couple of work parts and recycle them the next year. I’ll open these sessions, and my god here’s a 45-second promo! This one was 52 seconds! Now we’ve been told that they really shouldn’t exceed 30 seconds. ‘DVE has set the bar even higher; we’ve tried to make them between 15 and 20. Of course, with a promotion that is a little more convoluted and needs a little more detail, I’ll try to keep those at 30. But if it’s a promo for a feature where we might have five, six or seven different promos all rotating to talk about the same thing, and it’s something that’s been established, those I’ll keep anywhere from 10 to 16-17 seconds. What I’m finding is that there’s not a lot of room for creativity there. That’s the huge challenge right now. It’s tough. They always say here, “Sell the sizzle,” but that can’t be done all the time in 15 seconds.
They did a study where everybody in our company prepared this sampling of breaks from jocks – maybe them reading a liner, maybe them back-selling an artist, whatever – all these different things that at any time a listener could hear. And they were asked some questions: “Do you consider this an interruption? Do you consider this a commercial? Do you consider this a tune-out?” Those sorts of questions were asked. The bad news was that just about everything was perceived as an interruption, a commercial, whatever. The good news was that they weren’t tuning out. Of course, everybody gets back from this seminar and they see this data: “Our listeners think these are interruptions! They think these are commercials!” My bone of contention is, if you would have done that survey ten years ago, they probably would have said the same thing. Listeners don’t know what else to call it. When they hear, “‘DVE Rocks,” they don’t think that’s an imaging piece; they think that’s a commercial for the station. And if they’re not tuning out, to me, that’s a good thing. And I don’t think they’re sitting there with a stopwatch saying, “Well, it is a commercial, but it was only 12 seconds.” I’d rather hear a 30-second interruption that gives me more room to be compelling, a little more creative. If you have a little more compelling writing involved in the thing, I think it can be worth listening to. It’s tough with 15-second pieces though. I think I’m a good year away from having a demo of 15-second promos that can be montaged together where you can say, “That was pretty good, and that was pretty good.”
JV: So your approach to producing a promo these days is probably more about key points and keeping it short.
Brian: Constantly editing, and it’s a process that is constantly evolving. We did a listening day for ‘DVE about six months ago where we literally sat in my Program Director’s living room and listened from 6:00 in the morning through 6:00 at night. What we found was that everything that we were running was textbook; it was by the book, perfectly executed. But it sounded stale. It didn’t have any personality to it any more. All these restrictions that we’d put on ourselves – making sure to say it quickly; get in and get out – had, I felt, removed the fun factor of the station. So I went in and started re-cutting things and tried to boost that upward a bit. That’s the sort of thing you don’t notice when you listen for 45 minutes; but when you listen all day, it’s like “wow.” We’re saying who we are, we’re getting the message out there as to what station they’re listening to and what show they’re listening to, but it’s just the facts. There’s nothing fun about it.
So like I said, it’s an evolving process, and it’s one that I’m going to be constantly fighting with my bosses, to make sure we don’t get boring. That’s the sort of thing we can’t afford to do here. We’ve always been a fun station, and that’s a big part of why people listen to us. Fun is still very much a part of our overall stationality. And it’s not just hearing a comedy cut, it’s also subliminal. When you hear an ID in between songs, and it’s got a cool funny line in it, I think that helps.
JV: When you want to get creative, where do you go to get the ideas? What’s been your fountain for creativity over the years?
Brian: We’ve all been through TV and movie drops, everybody has. I still have to try to gather sound in that way because it’s always good to have some of those nuggets available. But I try not to rely on them like I used to. One of the things that we started doing a few years ago was actually going out and getting listener sound. Now for a lot of stations, that’s no big deal; they’ve been doing it for years. I was always hesitant because I thought it would sound kinda jive. I don’t want to put words in people’s mouths. But what we found was that when we phrased the questions a certain way, we were getting people to open up and talk honestly about what they liked about the station. So I’m getting these really solid unrehearsed comments. It takes a while to build up a library of that, but I’ve been using that for an audio drop as opposed to something from a sitcom or a movie, and it’s even more effective. To have a guy say, “Yeah, I’ve listened to ‘DVE since I was a kid. Man, you guys are great,” is much better than something from a movie I just watched last week. But it takes a long time to dig that stuff up. I can come back with a MiniDisc filled with audio and end up with like 10 little clips that I might be able to use. I cut them up, label them, stick them in a folder, and then database them so I can search for them.