Production 212: Where the Men are Men and the Sheep are Scared

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

This time, I wanted to share an email I got from a broadcasting student in New Zealand and my response. I hope you find it entertaining and interesting.

Hi Dave,

My name is Kieran Bell, I’m currently studying at the New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch, New Zealand and am beginning my level 3 Thesis research project. I am conducting an applied project on ‘what makes good CHR Radio Imaging’ then I am going to apply my research findings to create an imaging package for ZM here in NZ.

The reason I am contacting you is that I have ALL the RAP Magazines back to 2001 and was wondering if off the top of your head you can recommend any issues that may be of some aid to my chosen topic OR even better, any literature about building a brand image for CHR formats or literature on imaging specifically.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. I love production and always look forward to reading your Production 212 article in RAP. Thanks so much.

Regards,
Kieran Bell

Sadly Kieran...the utter LACK of good reference materials on CHR imaging is one of the main reasons I started writing the RAP Articles. (That and the massive amount of money I make doing it... NOT! LOL)

Honestly, I can’t claim to be an expert, although I’ll admit that being at America’s biggest CHR for 20 years gives a certain amount of gravity to what I say. That’s not to take away from other powerhouse CHR stations in the world. Lord knows, the work I’ve heard over the years from stations like KUBE93/Seattle, WFLZ/Tampa, Star94/Atlanta and KIIS-FM/Los Angeles very often makes me feel pretty humble about what I do here at Z100/New York. Sometimes I just don’t feel worthy. Even work I hear from ZM is as amazing and fresh as I’ve ever heard.

I don’t know that any one issue of RAP would be particularly helpful to your thesis. Each issue contains several little ‘nuggets’ of information and guidance that I find very defining to the question of what makes good CHR imaging. I AM, however, just cheeky enough to tell you directly what I think is important. So I’ll tell you here, and then use this email as the basis for my next article. Perhaps you, and some of my readers will find it useful.

Two words come to mind immediately: Entertainment Value.

There is a widespread belief in the industry right now that our listeners clump promos into the same category of ‘interruptions to the music,’ I won’t dispute that here, even though I think that it’s a lot more complicated than that. Interruptions to the music are generally believed to be bad, really bad and worse, especially by the bean counters that are running radio these days. To that, I say baloney. I would say to them, that they are missing the point of radio. Radio is NOT here to provide a jukebox to the listeners. If potential listeners only want music, they already have iPods, the Internet and, if they’re willing to pay, satellite. That’s a battle we can never win, no matter how hard we try. Radio is, and always has been, an entertainment resource. For most stations, music is the main ingredient. It’s usually what gets the listener in the door. But, what keeps them listening, quarter-hour after quarter-hour, is the entertainment. A lively blend of music, fun patter and/or relevant information is the lifeblood of radio, especially CHR radio.

To those who say commercials and imaging are bad for ratings, I say, “You’re not paying attention.” Listeners do NOT object to commercials. Listeners object to BAD commercials. Commercials that do NOT entertain or inform are like poison to listeners, and the second they sense a time-wasting 30 or 60 seconds of information they don’t care about or that is simply dull or boring, they’re hitting the buttons on their radio. Listeners also object strongly to being harangued or yelled at, and yet radio stations do it, usually in their commercials, all the time.

Think for a moment and remember what the single number one television show in the USA is, year after year. The appeal of this show should be limited to two markets, with some interest elsewhere, but just about every time, The Superbowl is top dog. Why? The commercials! People who don’t give a flying fig about (American) football tune in every time to see the new, funny and sometimes weird commercials that run for the first (and sometimes only) time during the big game. I’ve been to several parties where the sound is turned down for the game, but pops back up when it’s time for a break.

I’ve actually had listeners call and request promos and commercials that I’ve done! And how often have you realized that while watching TIVO, you have forgotten to zap the commercials because something came on that captured your brain for a moment? It happens to me all the time. Sorry, I will never be convinced that promos and/or commercials are BAD for Time Spent Listening. As long as you have plenty of entertainment value in your commercials and imaging, I guarantee the audience is going to stay put.

How do you do that? I have three more words for you: Rhythm, Flow and Clarity.

Rhythm doesn’t mean music, necessarily, although it’s certainly a contributing factor. Rhythm has more to do with speech patterns and phrasing. The more natural the rhythm is, the more people are seduced into listening. Pregnant pauses have a tremendous impact on the rhythm of a piece, which is why I rate them so highly as a tool to be used whenever possible. A really good pregnant pause is that moment when everything stops and the audience begins to anticipate what will happen next. An awesome pregnant pause is when they’re wrong in their expectations, because once they find out what IS happening, they’ll laugh out loud nearly every time.

Flow is critical to every piece of production you do. The forward momentum will carry the audience along so they can sample whatever information you’re trying to pass along. Again, it has a lot to do with natural speech patterns, but in this case, music becomes a major factor. A few months ago, I wrote about being able to dance to your work being a sure-fire way to know whether the flow is working. If you can’t dance to the mix, it becomes important for the wrong reason, as it becomes a distraction.
Clarity should be an obvious desirable factor. The message is the single most important part of what we produce. If it isn’t clear, you’re spinning your wheels and the audience is GONE. The building blocks for clarity begin at the base with clear writing, followed quickly by a clear delivery on the VO and a strong mix.

Five words that describe good CHR imaging then, are Entertainment Value, Rhythm, Flow and Clarity. Let me give you a few words that do NOT describe good CHR imaging.

Loud – Having your imaging cranked up a few notches over your regular programming material is a silly notion that I used to buy into not so long ago. Sure, you want it to stand out, but you don’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb. Show a little restraint and your audience will get along with your imaging much better. They tuned in because of the music you play remember? You want your imaging to blend with the music in terms of energy. Loud is simply obnoxious.

Effects – The days of overloading on lasers and other zings, zaps and zoodads is over. It is SO ‘80s. Use these effects to help accentuate what you’re trying to say, to make a musical transition ‘pop’ a bit or to separate your work from commercials. If you’re promoting an “All ‘80s Lunch,” knock yourself out – otherwise, subtle is much better.

Ear Candy – I’m not sure who first coined this phrase although I’m pretty sure I was somewhere nearby. Imaging, particularly CHR imaging, needs to be in tune with the lifestyle of your target listener. If you make your imaging super sweet all the time, your audience will go into diabetic shock at some point and crave something entirely different… probably at a different frequency. Sometimes, plain is a much better route. Save the sweets for dessert, my friend, when they are much more appreciated.

Theater Of The Mind – Don’t misunderstand, I LIKE Theater of the Mind, but too many people spend way too much time trying to ‘create’ a place in the listeners mind, complete with all the little details. I’ve often said that a 16-story monster will always be scarier in the head than it will be on the TV. It’s true, because you don’t need to fill in every little wart. Use a couple of key words, perhaps some sound effects and then let the listener’s mind take over. They’ll make the monster a lot scarier than you ever will. Use the listener’s memories of an experience to set your stage for you.

Funny – I’m not against funny promos or commercials at all. But before you take a comedic approach, you’d better make sure it’s funny to your audience. There is nothing worse than a so-called “funny” promo that is anything BUT funny. Humor is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. If it’s supposed to be funny and it’s not… you’ve really screwed the pooch.

Well, I’m sure I’ve probably missed some things, but that’s MY definition of good CHR imaging. Chances are, as soon as I send this off, I’ll think of something really important that I left out. That would be the other reason I write this column. If I don’t get it right the first time, there’s always next month! LOL

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