R.A.P. Interview: Yaman Coskun

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JV: So a lot of what happened at SoundByte was bringing in talent and producing commercials?
Yaman: Exactly. One of the most important roles that I played in my position at SoundByte was to help orchestrate these sessions, direct the talent, and do some creative suggesting to the author of the script if one was coming from the agency. Those with open minds would welcome the collaboration. Somebody would come with a script, and I was lucky enough to have the privilege of having a discussion with the Creative Director of an agency and say, “Hey, what if we did this?” They would listen in most cases, lucky for me, and they would ultimately help enhance the end product. And that’s how we were able to find our niche in a major market like Philadelphia, not just being a production house where you just go in, there’s a guy pushing the faders and we just hand you the CD and say, “have a nice day” and collect the check. It was more of a creative collaboration where we were able to utilize our experience in radio and hopefully make that a resource for the client who’s using our services.

JV: What’s something you learned at SoundByte about coaching talent and directing sessions that you think the average producer in radio might not have the opportunity to learn?
Yaman: Well, some of the best movie directors are also actors. Despite the fact that I told you I wasn’t allowed to go on the air in my early years, I managed to sneak my way on and do some voice acting myself, becoming a signature voice for some of the clients in Philadelphia, particularly one called Egypt Nightclub, for ten years, and I’m still doing some work. Having said that, the more we understand and respect the talent, the more effective we become in getting the best out of them.

What I learned is no different than what effective leaders learn in their day-to-day business operations to get optimum performance out of their employees. Encourage consistently. Direct clearly. Reward handsomely. Working with a voice actor is like buying an awesome house. You may have your pre-conceived notions and plans on how you will decorate the house, but a great house comes with its own built-in inspiration, and it will add wonders to your game plan, changing, adding, deleting, but ultimately enhancing your life overall.

So in directing sessions I have a specific plan and sound in my head when I go into them, but I embrace the creative wisdom an actor brings to the session, because ultimately it enhances the script and helps it become a great spot.

JV: How long did SoundByte last and what happened next?
Yaman: I was there for about four years, from the conception of After Midnight Productions. SoundByte is still there today, strong and powerful and doing a great job in Philly. In 1997 I got a phone call from Glenn Kalina who was the Program Director at Q102. While I was at SoundByte he asked if I would be interested in becoming the Creative Director for Q102 because their Creative Director was about to leave for Los Angeles. That same passion and state of delirium that I mentioned to you earlier that brought me from LA to Philly for a radio job also caused me to turn to Frank and say, “Hey man, looks to me like things are going great here. I can continue to do freelance jobs for you, but if you don’t mind I’d like to take this gig.” Not to mention the fact that of course Q102 had a special place in my heart, as I helped to launch it in the late ‘80’s. And the guy whose position I was about to replace was one of my mentors, David Jay. I learned a lot from him in terms of production techniques. It was a great opportunity and one I certainly did not want to pass up, so I said yes, and that’s when I became the Creative Director of Q102.

JV: How long were you at Q102 and what came next?
Yaman: Q102 continued to 2000 when I decided it was time for me to start my own business, which was called Yamanair. We all know about the unreliable waves of radio that come and go; the sense of security sometimes isn’t there 100%. So I thought now that I was a married man settling down and no longer being the kind of guy who could just fly by the seat of his pants, that maybe it was time for me to stabilize my life even more so by starting my own business. I felt confident that I had racked up enough ammo both creatively and otherwise to start my own business.

My intention was to make this strictly a radio commercial production business working the suburbs of Philadelphia. That was the intention, and that’s how it started. But it evolved into more of a full-service boutique. I hate to call it an agency because I have too much respect for the full-service ad agency; it’s too sophisticated and requires a lot of talent and a lot of savvy to run a major ad agency. So by no means was Yamanair an ad agency. It was sort of a small-business specialty boutique mainly focusing on radio.

It eventually evolved into Internet, billboards, direct mail, print, and a little bit of television. I was able to create a client base of maybe a dozen accounts, all local Philadelphia accounts, mostly in hospitality and some in retail. These were all regular accounts that utilized radio, print, direct mail, and a little bit of everything else. I kind of surrounded myself with a network of people who specialized in the areas I didn’t. For Internet I used an IT specialist. For print I hired a very talented graphic designer. For television I made a deal with a freelance crew. And for radio obviously I handled it myself. They say the smartest business people in the world are those who surround themselves with people who are smarter than them. I try to do that whenever possible to give the client the chance to get the kind of result they are looking for. Yamanair became quite exciting. I would say comfortably that it was the most exciting project I ever took on in my radio career.

JV: Why would you leave it then?
Yaman: We’re going to have to go back to that state of delirium again. That innocent, unadulterated, sheer passion that started at the age of nine once again came into play when a fascinating phone call came from Washington D.C. from a name you will know now that you’ve heard the story. It was Jeff Wyatt, the man who gave me my first shot in radio back in 1983. He was now the VP of Programming for Clear Channel Radio in the Washington D.C./Baltimore region. What he was proposing was more than just the position of Creative Services Director for a new CHR station that they had just launched. He also wanted me to bring with me the experience of running Yamanair and turn that into a resource for sales, becoming sort of, for lack of a better term, an in-house ad agency for Hot 99.5, imaging the station while serving the sales department on special projects.

That was a very exciting concept to me because with running your own business comes the challenge of gee, what next? What if I lose this account? Then I will have to do this and I will have to do that. As much fun as it is, the level of stress that comes with running your own business, especially within the first two or three years, is dramatic. So I was just ending the 14th or the 15th month of the Yamanair adventure and here comes this big pie in the sky from an old friend who I respect dearly. Here’s an opportunity for me to kind of reunite with a guy I have always wanted to work with again since the days of Power 99 FM, with a position that offers a great level of excitement, keeping one foot in imaging and one foot in sales. I am like, “Wow, this is ideal.”

So the biggest challenge was to turn to my wife and my two-month-old baby and say, “You guys want to relocate to D.C.?” And my two-month-old had absolutely no problem with it. We arrived in August of ’01.

JV: Were your responsibilities limited to just the one station? Clear Channel has quite a few stations in the market.
Yaman: Yes, just one station. The job was no different then a typical Imaging Director position for any CHR station. The only addition was that I would be assigned certain local direct accounts by the sales manager, and then I would work with the account manager and the client to help design a custom campaign for them.

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