By Dave Foxx
Let’s pretend for a moment that I am handing you a small stack of old vinyl records, some LPs and a few 45s. On top of that, there is a 10-inch reel of quarter-inch Scotch-444 mylar tape, a grease-pencil, several razor blades, an Editall block with some splicing tape and let’s throw in a couple of Tomcat carts. Then I tell you to make a promo…oh, and “Make it real creative!” Ha!
Unless your history pre-dates digital, there are a couple of items on that list that don’t even conjure up a picture because you have no clue as to what they are or how to use them. Don’t feel stupid, or unenlightened. There is no reason you should know those things. I know what they are, and once upon a time, was quite proficient in their use, but I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through that process again. It was painful then, it would be excruciating now.
The point is, the process then was laborious. You haven’t lived life to the fullest until you roll tape with one toe, start an LP with one finger, while being poised to start a cart with a finger on your other hand and quickly move your LP finger to the console to adjust the level after 1.5 seconds, then reach up and start a tape cartridge. Crazy as that sounds, that kind of stuff used to happen all the time. If you screwed anything up, you had to start over… completely. Typically, it would take me a few HOURS to make a promo, rather than the 20 to 40 minutes it takes today.
Back in the day, you could always tell when somebody was just phoning it in by rolling tape, starting a record and reading the promo. Certainly an argument can be made that this was the prudent way to handle at least some pieces, saving all that time and gymnastic effort for the really important promos. I would even BUY that argument except for one fact: people are still doing it today. What’s wrong with this picture? In the age of digital production, why would anyone just phone it in like that? I call this kind of production, ‘bathroom light’ production. Just like the bathroom light, you turn it on… do your business… flush… then turn it off. So simple a child can do it.
I’ve been hearing a lot of ‘bathroom light’ production lately. It has nothing to do with me living in the heart of Texas now. (Actually, Austin radio is more vibrant than I would have expected. This is a pretty rockin’ radio town!) You might recall in this space a couple of issues ago, I suggested you should spend time listening to stations via the web, and ever since, I have been indulging a lot. It’s really tempting to stick to the big guns like Z100 and KIIS, but I’ve purposely been skimming stations in medium to large markets. Whenever I hear ‘bathroom light’ production, I do a quick double take to see what market I’m listening to. I am sad to report that it happens a lot in good sized markets like Richmond, Milwaukee and Salt Lake City. I’ve even heard some in the third largest market, Chicago.
After doing some research, I discovered that usually, the station in question had recently undergone a Reduction In Force. We all know that one of the first victims of a RIF in radio today is the imaging producer. I just blogged about this a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into why this is so wrong for the future of radio, because I pretty much covered all that there. What I WILL do now, is offer some unsolicited advice to the people left behind.
Don’t do that.
Most of the time, those imaging producers are being replaced by commercial producers. ‘Bathroom Light’ production might be acceptable when you’re cranking out 30 to 50 commercials a day, but on the imaging side, you don’t have that kind of volume. And as important as ‘that really big client’ might be to sales, they all pale in comparison to your new client… the radio station itself.
In every appearance I’ve made over the last several years at TV, radio and production seminars, shows and symposiums, I get one question, the SAME question every time: How does Z100 keep killing the NYC ratings? Book after book, year after year, Z100 fends of challenges by 65+ signals in the New York ADI, and consistently dominates the money demographics.
It’s not the music. Of all the other signals beaming across Manhattan, at least a dozen have very similar playlists. While some would point to how the list is played as a major reason, that’s not nearly enough to make a long-term difference. It’s not dial position; ‘dial’ is a non-factor in the digital age. It’s not outside advertising. Although it works well, Z100 seldom uses outside advertising.
If you think it’s the personalities, you are absolutely correct. The AM-Drive show is the quarterback, setting the mood and pace. Afternoons are almost as critical. A good mid-day show can bolster ratings with good ‘at-work’ listening. And on a CHR station like Z100, Evenings can really set your station apart. However, in my view, there is one personality that all too many managers and directors overlook way too often: The Station Personality.
The single consistent factor through your entire broadcast day is the imaging. By definition, the imaging on your station makes your station unique. One or two, sometimes three voices, tell the life story of your radio station in little, 8 or 9-second chunks, every 3 to 9 minutes. Every promo, whether imaging or contesting, displays your radio station’s personality. All of the bumpers, rejoins and Top Of the Hour stagers give your listeners a small glimpse of the heart and soul of your radio station.
Now… if you’re going to play something a dozen or more times every day, shouldn’t it really be something extraordinary? Shouldn’t it put all of your station’s best traits in the best light possible? What goes through your mind that says it’s OK to plop down a bed, read the copy, cut and post it?
Whenever a neighbor or new acquaintance would find out that I worked at Z100, first they’d get pretty excited, then they would ask, “When are you on?” They got very confused when I told them that I’m on every hour of every day. In a very real sense I could honestly say that, “I am Z100.” The sense of humor and goodwill, the fun and excitement are all based on things I say and produce. (Keep in mind, a lot of what I say is pre-determined by several people, not JUST me.) The end impression is that I am the station itself. The jocks are all my friends or family, the music is what we play to amuse ourselves and our friends, the listeners.
When a PD or GM fires an imaging producer, they are basically firing the personality of the radio station. If they do so because the personality isn’t working well and they plan to hire a “new personality,” they’re probably doing the right thing. If they are firing the imaging producer because of money, they are just being shortsighted. Far too often, they view the imaging guy or gal as a cog in their giant money producing machine that can be easily replaced, for probably a lot less money. On the ledgers that might sound great, but in real life, they’re yanking the plug on the one thing that holds all of the parts together in the listener’s mind. Without a strong station personae, their station becomes a juke box with deejays, and their production too often becomes ‘bathroom light’ production.
If you follow my writing on the net and are a regular reader here, you know that I’ve been on an extended rant about this for a few weeks now. While this trend of ‘get rid of the creative guy’ started with mega-ownership, it will need to end with you, the imaging producer. You MUST be a strong advocate of personality-driven radio, including the station’s personality. Steve Martin, comedian/writer/actor once gave the advice, “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.” Every piece you crank out needs to be filled with humor, humanity and hype. You need to work closely with your PD to develop the personality of your radio station. That personality will knit all of the different pieces together and make your radio station larger than life. This… is how Z100 kills the ratings year after year.
For my sound this month, I present a secret project (up until just over a week ago) that I’ve been slaving over for several weeks, dating back to before my move to Austin. Romeo and his crew at Saturday Night Online for various reasons had to completely reinvent their show from the ground up. A new name, new website and new graphics to really home in on their show’s raison d’être: to interact directly with their audience through the internet. From Twitter to Facebook, Snapchat to Instagram, Skype, SMS and probably smoke signals, they open up every channel to gather requests and make good on them. So, Saturday Night Online Live with Romeo is now Most Requested LIVE with Romeo.
My audio features several stagers, sweepers and Top Of the Hours, plus one promo for a Shawn Mendes flyaway to New York. I hope you enjoy it.