R.A.P. Interview: Howard Hoffman

JV: With so many guys in the voice market, with the guy-next-door and the movie trailer voices, do you find yourself somewhere alone out there with the character stuff, or is there quite a few guys out there doing that as well?
Howard: What’s funny is that most of the stuff I do book isn’t character stuff. It’s usually announcer stuff, or it’s usually dad stuff — the dad or the downtrodden father or the frazzled employee. Every once in a while the gruff boss. I don’t think I’ve really been pigeonholed as one form. Movie trailers, there are guys who do that who are always going to be much more magnificent than I can ever bring myself to be — John Leader, Ben Patrick Johnson, of course the late great Don LaFontaine. And there are guys who can just nail a normal guy voice and just book so many spots using that plain voice, one of which we just recently lost; his name was Tom Groener. He and a guy by the name of Ken Campbell did a Sears campaign that lasted about five years. These are people who can just get in front of a microphone and be absolutely natural, and normal, and low-key, and get the message across brilliantly. That is something I admire in people, when they can do that.

The other guy I mentioned, Ken Campbell, you hear him all over the place, too. He’s on Raisin Bran Crunch. He’s got kind of a high voice, and he’s from Chicago. Well, not really a high voice, but a very charactery voice. I think he’s doing Orchard Supply spots now. Anyway, there are some really wonderful people who I just watch and learn from. I’m also very fortunate in that I share an agent with some very, very talented people and some really good, helpful people, too, and that helps a lot.

JV: Who’s your agent there?
Howard: My agent is DPN — Danis, Panaro & Nist. That used to be ICM, and when ICM decided they didn’t want a voiceover department anymore, then they just fired off on their own and opened up their own agency.

JV: Has this economic turndown affected you in any way?
Howard: It has affected everyone. There’s just no denying it. And not just in voiceover but also in the economics of radio. So we’re just trying to make do with what we have. I know I certainly can’t get a brand new workstation right now, but we’ve got stuff that works fine, and as long as I keep working fine I guess I’m going to be okay.

JV: Lots of production people have lost their jobs over the past year. From your perspective on the west coast, have you noticed any trends? What do you hear these people are doing?
Howard: There are people who are opening up essentially their own recording studios. I guess they see it now as an opportunity to finally do what they say they’ve been wanting to do all along and that is, “Someday, I’m gonna open up my own studio.” Well, a lot of people are finally getting their chance to do that, and some are succeeding, some aren’t, and some are still getting their feet wet.

The state of the radio business right now is something which I don’t think anybody has ever seen. One report from the R&R Convention is that all these people that were heavy hitters in the business are now walking around with their hat in their hand, saying, “I’ll be a board up. I’ll do whatever you want me to do.” It’s kind of sad to see so many people on the street, and I just feel very blessed that I’ve been able to dodge the strafing fire and survive.

JV: How much of what you do would you call work, and how much would you call play?
Howard: That’s a good question. I don’t know. It’s definitely one of those situations where I like what I do, and I really enjoy it, and I’m very happy that it gives me an outlet for doing what I like to do. But during those times when I’m under deadline, during those times when I have to get stuff on the air, during those times when they give me all the last-minute stuff, that would be the work, and that would probably be 30, 40 percent of the time. The rest of the time, I’m just turning on the thought machine and trying to come up with some new stuff.

JV: Has the PPM affected you or what you’re doing?
Howard: No, no really. It’s funny because since PPM started, we’ve had a change of Program Directors and a change of management. They’ve had different philosophies on how production can work with PPM and so on and so forth. I think where we are right now, I think they’re putting more of an emphasis on the programming to help with the PPM numbers and the production to just essentially aim people towards one segment of the radio station that we would like to really promote hard. Right now, our focus is on the morning show, which has taken on a new direction, and it seems to be working out very well. So now that we’re there, it’s kind of like the restaurant that finally has its menu in place; we now want to promote it, to really push it and really try to make it happen. So we’re promoting the morning show in the Dodger games; we’re promoting the morning show in the afternoon show; we’re promoting the morning show all day long. Then once we get that moving, then we’re going to start promoting other aspects of the radio station that we’re also going to be working on.

As I like to say -- and I’m sure I said this the last time I spoke to you -- but production people are definitely the in-house advertising agency for their radio stations. So they have to come up with good campaigns. They have to come up with sound campaigns. They have to come up with campaigns that will definitely get attention and draw listeners to whatever it is you’re promoting. There’s so much of being clever and self-deprecating, which I love doing by the way, but somewhere in there you also have provide the message.

JV: Promoting the morning show throughout the day -- a lot of stations will take a clip from the morning show, do a “what you missed” kind of promo, and play it once every couple hours throughout the day. Is that about the extent that you go to promote the morning show, or is there more than that?
Howard: Oh, no, there’s more. Although we do have those, we run them 50/50 with another series of promos. With these promo, we’re in the imaginary KABC super-secret research center. “Behind this door is where we play clips of the McIntyre in the Morning show…,” and of course, while I’m talking, somebody comes out of the door, and I talk to them and say, “Well, what did you think?” And then one of them will say, “Well, it’s very erudite, and it’s very high-brow, and it’s very upper crust.” And then I’ll reply, “Nah, nah, you got it all wrong. Throw him back in.” And he goes back in, of course under protest and duress and fighting and screaming and kicking the entire way. Another one is where somebody comes out, and I go, “Oh, and so what did you think of the McIntyre in the Morning show?” The guy just goes, “[babbles incoherently].” “Another satisfied listener!” So there’s a series of those, there’s a takeoff on a breakfast cereal commercial, there’s a testimonial spot, just a whole series that’ll run 50/50 with all the highlight spots that you’re talking about.

JV: Sounds like you’ve had a good 12 years since our last chat. What do you see for yourself over the next dozen years?
Howard: When I think about what age I’m going to be in a dozen years, I just completely freak out. I have no idea. I hope I keep doing what I’m doing, because I totally enjoy it. Whether or not they’re going to want a Production Director my age at that time, I don’t know. It’s totally up to them. If I can keep on turning out this kind of product without my voice going bad, I am going to just keep doing what I’m doing. Very few people can say that. I know at this stage in his life, my dad wasn’t able to say that; but at this stage in my life, I can, and I’m very grateful, again, that I do what I like doing. I’ll just continue to do it until somebody tells me to shut up and go home.

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