R.A.P. Interview: Casey Van Allen

JV: So in a case where a salesperson comes in at 4:30 or a quarter to five, after a day full of rejection, with an order that he says has to start in the morning, where do you draw the line between doing what’s right for the client and giving the production person more time to crank out a decent commercial, and doing what may be best for the station or the salesperson and rushing the spot through so you can take care of those avails that are there in the morning?
Casey: Well, the one thing about radio that we can’t give up the ghost on is our sense of immediacy. There is no greater sale than being out and telling the client, “Yeah, I can have this on the air in an hour.”

JV: Thanks a lot! [laughs]
Casey: I know you’re going to say that. But, you know we can’t give up the one thing we do best. Yes, there are elements of quality. Yes, there are elements of just respect. “Come on guys. You can’t ask me to build a big building here in 30 minutes and get it on the air!” I mean there are limits, but the salesmen are always going to do that. “You have got to change this tag for a bar. They got a new band coming in tomorrow night and they want it on right away.”

JV: That’s understandable. I mean, if they come in at a quarter to five and say, “Hey, the club wants to change this 10 second tag,” that’s fine. I’m talking about the new client that the salesman finally snared, and his closer was, “What if I say I can get this on the air tomorrow?” And the client says, “Okay, you got me.” Then he comes back to the station. You want to give this new client their money’s worth and have the spots work for them. You’ve got to write a spot from scratch. You want it to be something more than a laundry list, don’t you?
Casey: Well, you really want to educate your salespeople. I allow all of my salespeople the privilege of doing production. I have taught all of them how to use the software myself. And you know what? I’ve got some salespeople that are pretty darn good. But the reason I taught them that is because now they understand how much work it takes to do a commercial. Knowledge is power. I think that when they know how hard it is to cut up a voice track and to make it all time out right and to add the music and find the right piece of music and go search out the sound effects… when they understand it, it’s not a problem. Chances are they’re only going to pull that ace when it’s absolutely necessary. 

JV: No doubt many of our readers have had at least a daydream or two about owning their own radio station. Their first thoughts are probably going to be things like, “Oh, that’d take more money than I could come up with,” or “That’s way too much work.” How feasible is it for the average creative guy or girl to become a station owner?
Casey: It’s not hard at all. I can tell you the creative people just need to take a chance and believe that they can do it. Believe it because it’s not that difficult. It’s not any more difficult than buying a house. There are many deals out there. There are many radio stations that you can buy today, especially today. And you’re not going to start with a 100 kilowatt FM. I didn’t start with a 100 kilowatt FM. When Ken and I started our first station, it was in 1976. I was 24 years old. I went to the bank to borrow $60,000 to put this thing on the air, and I thought my whole world was ending.

But if you believe in what you can do — and you should because everybody could do it — running a radio station is not difficult. It really isn’t difficult. The regulation the FCC puts on you is difficult to understand, but it’s not difficult beyond that. You can buy a radio station for two, three hundred thousand dollars in some markets. Start there and build up that revenue. Once you build it up and make it sound really good, like only creative people can do, someone will hear it and come along and offer you some money for it.

But you see, creative people are the only people that can do it. A guy that wishes just to be the General Manager can’t do it because he’s not an idea generator. He’s not at the root of radio. A Program Director could do it if he’s smart. But if that’s all he’s ever done and he’s never been a disc jockey, he really doesn’t have the creative energy.

And engineers… many engineers have tried it. Many engineers have fallen. They know how to put the transmitter on the air, and they know how to get the signal in the air, but you ask them how to create a program and then go out and market it, and they can’t do it.

So really, the creative people are the ones that can do it, and I say to them, “Do it. Take the chance. Do it. Test your ideas. Do it.” It’s not difficult. You may find an owner that wants to retire and just let you run it in exchange for a profit. Take the profit and put it back into the radio station as a purchase price. There are a lot of deals out there, but you can’t find them unless you go look.

JV: You mentioned in one of our email exchanges the idea of having five creative production people producing everything that went on the air, instead of having five jocks, and just running the whole thing by automation. Tell us more about that idea.
Casey: Well, that’s really my ultimate idea. I would like to have a radio station where I would get five or six really incredible people together that can produce product at an alarming rate. And instead of having disc jockeys, you insert this content. Maybe don’t even have music. The ideas are open. The ideas are countless. But I’m talking about producing product for the radio that is really listenable, and then just let the automation fire it off. Now isn’t that what television does?

That’s exactly what television does, and maybe we could learn something from them. Instead of playing the same thousand records over and over and over and over and over and over again, maybe we need to develop some sort of idea for radio. Whether it’s talk or something else, I don’t know. Maybe it’s features. We need to find out what the people want to listen to and then use the creative mind to create it and then put it on the radio and invent something new, something different, something to listen to rather than some Led Zeppelin records.

I’m kind of thinking that it would maybe be something like Osgood’s deal that he does on Sunday morning on CBS. Maybe it’s something like that. Maybe it’s music features. I don’t know. There are so many things that we could create that are listenable.

JV: Are you currently experimenting with this idea a little bit?
Casey: Only in my head. The problem is that it’s a very costly kind of radio to do. But I’m putting some ideas down on paper, and I’m moving. I hope that sometime, somewhere, someone will give me the bank account and the opportunity to do it. I know the guys from the old Brown Bag, Mike Lee and them, they’re  putting it together. He’s kind of working in the same thought process as I am, I guess. He’s a great creative mind, and I think that the future of radio may come from that, or something like that. It has to come from great creative minds.

That’s where I’m so dismayed by all the negativity among my brethren in the creative industry. They’ve been dumped on by these major companies, and it’s not the company’s fault. It’s really not. We want to blame the company, but we can’t. It’s the state of radio. It’s the state that the FCC has put radio into by allowing the rules to change. The corporation doesn’t want to get rid of people. These radio stations would love to have 200 people on the payroll if they’ve got the income to support it.

JV: Is this your next goal, or are you pretty happy doing what you’re doing for a while?
Casey: I’m having a pretty darn good time right now, but I would welcome the opportunities because this radio station is running itself. It really is. We’ve got a finely tuned, finely greased machine, and we have people in place here that I am so proud of. They need very little direction from me.

Maybe I’m looking for those five creative people, find some company that wants to take a chance and work to create something that people will talk about for a long time, something creative.

JV: Any final thoughts you’d like to pass onto other GMs and station owners on dealing with their creative people or staff in general?
Casey: Well, as I mentioned earlier, the station is as big a success as the quality of people inside the station. I remember how it was when I was the creative person. You feel like you are the only one sweating over the details and feeling unappreciated. I have a plan to fix that. When the station meets its sales goals, which we always have done, I take everybody in the station on an all-inclusive vacation to Mexico. I take half of the 20 employees to Cancun and the other half to Puerto Vallarta. If they don’t want to go with us, they can take cash. After they have been with me for one year, they are eligible. The great thing about this program is it forces everyone to work together for a common goal. It’s not just the sales department that gets the rewards. It also sends a message out into the community what we do for our employees. An added bonus is that it is now easier to hire people because they know what we do for them. I’ve often wondered if it has any effect on the competition. It’s nice to all go on vacation together and celebrate our success. Every year we come back with stories. By the way, I get to go on both trips.

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