R.A.P. Interview: Matt Bisbee

JV: How did the move to the Bonneville stations come about?
Matt: Chancellor and Evergreen merged, which became Clear Channel. So Jimmy de Castro and Tom Hicks both got out of the business at the same time. I believe they kind of cashed in their chips and said they were going to go into different directions. I think Jimmy ended up at AOL, and now he’s got his own company called Nothing But Net where he provides content for other syndicated radio programming. But Jimmy was in charge at that time and Jimmy got out of the business, and they sold The Loop to Bonneville, owned by the Mormon Church. So it was kind of a strange transition at that time, having the Mormon Church running this AC/DC rock station. I don’t think they were very comfortable with the format from the get-go, but they took it and made it their own, and it really was a successful rock station for the 2, 3 years that they owned it after de Castro left.

Obviously, we didn’t have people like Jonathan Brandmeier on the station — we were more music driven — but I was able to sit in the production studio and still do a lot of humorous promos in Loop fashion that still fit with the station, since my voice was still identified with The Loop, even though the personalities were gone. I suppose I was kind of like the running thread of personality that still went through the station. We had people on the air like Eddie Webb who was very humorous in the afternoon, and I was able to still do promos with him. But mostly, Bonneville ran a pretty tight ship as far as their on-air presentation. It was more subdued and not as irreverent as the old Loop, but it worked really well and they hung onto The Loop for, 2, 3, maybe 4 years.

The Bonneville ownership got more involved with charity work, so we did a lot of “Make A Wish” broadcast-athons where we would help out sick children. It all seemed to work. I mean just because we were playing this harder music didn’t mean the listeners didn’t care about sick kids and weren’t willing to give their time for charity and all. So surprisingly, the Bonneville ownership with The Loop really worked. I was surprised.

JV: You eventually moved over to some other Bonneville stations as far as your imaging tasks go.
Matt: Yeah. At the time we had The Loop, Bonneville purchased a classical station in town and they turned it into The Drive, which was an older version of The Loop. They wouldn’t play any AC/DC on The Drive. They would play things like Simon and Garfunkel and the Doobie Brothers, mellower Doobie Brothers. It was kind of a mellower adult station. So we had The Drive and we had The Loop at the same time, and we were in the same building, the John Hancock Center here in Chicago. I started doing production for The Drive. Nick Michaels was the voiceover imaging guy for The Drive, and I would write things for Nick to read. We would write stories about the bands and the artists on the air and things like that. I was able to do a lot of production for The Drive while I was working at The Loop, and so when The Loop was sold to Emmis, I was able to transition right over to The Drive without any hesitation. It was a real natural fit at the time.

At the time, I was also working for The Mix, which is another Bonneville station here in town. Eric and Kathy have a very popular morning show, personality driven, a lot of talk. They used me for promos on their show. So I was able to work for them, The Drive, and we also have a station called Love FM which plays kind of Motown “feel good” songs, sing along songs, Earth, Wind & Fire, things like that. I have a love for soul music anyway, so I was able to do all the imaging for that station using other voices. Right now in Chicago, my voice is pretty much on The Mix, but I still do commercials for The Drive as well.

JV: So you’re imaging three stations and doing a little bit of commercial work.
Matt: Yeah, and I also do imaging work to help out some of the other Bonneville markets. I do work for the Arrow in Salt Lake, which is owned by Bonneville, the Arch in St. Louis, and one of the stations that we had in Washington, which they just sold so I’m not working for George 104 any more. But any time they have special projects and want me to help out, I do.

JV: Are you still using humor as pretty much the key ingredient in most your imaging?
Matt: Yeah, I do. It’s natural for me. I grew up watching Three Stooges and Laurel & Hardy and W.C. Fields and all those classic comedians. I would even watch Jack Benny on TV. I would pick up things these guys would do as far as humor. It’s a learning process and I think I always had a personality for it, for finding humor in things and not always stating the obvious. I’m more subtle in my approach, I think. Sometimes you can bang people over the head with something that you lay out as a joke: okay, this is a joke; here listen to this, this is funny. And then other times you can do it more subtly. Again, I think it’s something learned, and not everybody has that in them.

When I talk to college students, I always say, “Know in your gut if you’ve got the ability to do production and how you approach production.” I tend to approach it in a humorous way sometimes, but then sometimes I don’t. It all depends on the situation. But kind of know in your gut if you’ve got it in you to do humor in a station promo. And if you don’t have that, well fine, use another tool or go in another direction. But I always felt comfortable in that pocket of humor, finding humor in something.

JV: Well you’ve obviously been very successful at doing that, but unfortunately a lot of people fall flat on their face trying to do the same thing.
Matt: Yeah, I sometimes hear that on promos on other shows, and I say to myself, you know you don’t have to say that; you’ve already said it without saying it. You don’t have to say to the people, “Isn’t this show dumb?” You don’t have to say that. It’s obvious. The listener is not stupid; they understand. You can kind of guide them along, but you don’t have to, like I said before, bang them over the head with a statement that says what you have just said without saying it. I hear promos a lot where the announcer will say, basically, isn’t this a ridiculous situation you’re listening to? Well yes it is; you don’t have to say it.

So again it’s a learned experience. You try it and you listen to it and you ask other people in the hallway, what do you think of this, and they’ll tell you. “I don’t think you have to say that.” “Really?” “No, just leave that out.” “Oh, okay.” And that’s how you learn — trial and error.

JV: What are some of your sources for creative inspiration?
Matt: Usually it’s walking outside of the production studio. I’ll tell my wife sometimes, “I’ve got nothing,” I’ll say to her, “I’ve got absolutely nothing. I go to work and I look at the computer and I try to write some funny copy or try to find humor in something and I just got nothing.” And she laughs and says, “Well you know you’ve got to walk out of that production studio sometimes and go talk to people.” And that’s what I do. I walk outside the room, and I’ll talk to someone. And that person, it doesn’t matter who they are — salesperson, Continuity Director, Program Director, anybody that’s walking the hall – maybe it’s an engineer who will say something to me, “Hey Matt, what’s going on,” and I’ll say, “I don’t know, what’s going on in your life?” And they’ll tell me some story that just happened to them, a real situation, a real person telling me a real story, and it doesn’t matter what the story is: “…some guy flipped me off today on the way to work and I spilled my coffee...,” whatever that story is. I use those stories for inspiration.

I try to use those real stories and put them into my promos, because if it happened to them, 9 times out of 10 it happened to a billion other people in Chicago at the same time. They experienced some guy cutting them off in traffic. They experienced spilling their coffee. They experienced talking in a conversation and then forgetting what they were about to say and, oh boy, the embarrassment they felt by that. Anything that happens to real people, I use those stories to provide inspiration and it always works and it always gets me creatively going again.

So I always tell people that: if you’re getting a writer’s block or you’re getting a creative slump, go talk to people outside of your little world, and you’ll all of a sudden get all of this stuff that will start coming in, and you’ll use those little stories for inspiration.

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