R.A.P. Interview: Sheldon Hovde

Sheldon Hovde, 100.3 The Q & The Zone, Victoria, B.C., Canada

SheldonInStudio

By Jerry Vigil

Each year, we like to shine the spotlight on at least one of our RAP Awards first-place winners, especially our first-time winners. Sheldon Hovde picked up the trophy for Best Commercial – Small Markets this past April, his first, with a spot he did for a local fishing derby in Victoria. This may be less of a surprise when you notice the station Sheldon works for – 100.3 The Q. Yes, the home of the RAP Awards second most winningest individual, Ross McIntyre, who has recently repositioned himself in an effort to further his freelance business. In the meantime, Sheldon shares writing duties at the 2-station cluster, produces all the commercials, and handles the imaging for the other Jim Pattison Group station, The Zone. Though Victoria is a small market of six stations and some 300,000 people, the competition is tough, with radio stations from neighboring Vancouver and Seattle clearly penetrating the Victoria market. Perhaps one reason why the caliber of writers and producers at The Q and The Zone is anything but “small market.” Be sure to check out this month’s RAP CD for more awesome audio from Sheldon.

JV: How did you get started in the business, and what were some of the highlights along the way to your present position?
Sheldon: I was working as a cook in my old man’s restaurant. I was a musician and passionate about music and all that kind of stuff, and looking for a way to make some money while still being involved in music. So I thought the local radio station would be a good place to start. I went to go bug the local Program Director, and he said, “Well, we don’t really take volunteers...” and that kind of stuff. But lo and behold, about a week later, they had an entry-level position open up, where they just needed an operator to come by and push some buttons for the commercials during the hockey games and that sort of thing. So he gave me a call back, and I started there working just a couple of nights a week, pushing buttons for the hockey broadcast. This was in Prince George at CKBG, probably in ’98 or ’99. I was 17 or 18.

Then I decided I wanted to move to the big town. I had gotten a little sick of the smaller city. So I moved to Vancouver – with my girlfriend, who is now my wife – and did the same thing. I phoned up one of the local radio stations and told them I had a little bit of experience doing that kind of thing, so they hired me on as an operator for the talk shows, just pushing the buttons at the commercials again.

I did that for a while, until I got kind of bored of that, and started to look around for something a little more fun. I saw the guys in the big Vancouver production studios at Corus Radio there. That looked pretty impressive and looked pretty fun, so I started bugging the Production Manager and asked if I could come in during early mornings or nighttime and just play around and see what I could do. I did that on my own time and just made spots and promos and pretty much just goofed around, until it came time when they actually needed somebody to do some fill-in whenever somebody took a holiday through summer or Christmas or needed some extra work done.

Eventually, they hired me on part-time to do fill-in and extra work and that kind of stuff in Vancouver. I did that for a while and then thought about how they had four producers there for the four stations, and they were pretty solid in their jobs. They weren’t going anywhere. They had a great job in a great big market.

So eventually, I decided to move to a town called Lloydminster, Alberta, and took a pay cut so I could actually be full-time doing production, and also took a part-time writer gig as well. So we moved out to a small town in Alberta, and I worked doing production and writing for a small station there, which actually turned out to be a pretty great station, as far as creative is concerned. They had a big value on getting great creative on the air, for such a small station. I was there for about a year until we decided that we wanted to move back to the West Coast. We wanted to be back near the ocean.

So I saw a posting on the Internet for a Production Manager here in Victoria. I couldn’t help but apply for that. I had an interview, and they ended up hiring me. I’ve been here in Victoria, at The Q and The Zone for about the last four years now. I started as a Production Manager. Then their Creative Director actually ended up getting out of radio, so they ended up hiring me as the Creative Director, and I’ve been doing that for the last year.

JV: Did you do any on-air work during any of this time?
Sheldon: Never. I never went to broadcast school. When you go to school, they force you to be on the air. So other than piddling in the studio and jumping on with the announcers every once in a while during one of their breaks, I’ve never been on the air. I’ve never done a show.

JV: How did that creative side of you get started? When did you start putting the emphasis more on the copy, rather than just playing with the tools and having fun on the production side of it?
Sheldon: When I moved to Alberta, I had never written a commercial before, until I took that job as a producer and a writer. They told me, flat out, they hired me just for my production skills. But if I turned out to be able to do some writing as well, then fantastic. I guess I ended up excelling at writing as well, just because I had a passion for trying to make the commercials sound as good as they possibly could. So that’s when I discovered that I actually had some skills at writing commercials – in Alberta. After that, after I started doing it, I couldn’t stop. When I moved over here to Victoria and started just producing fulltime, I wanted to write. I couldn’t help it. I had to scratch that itch. So I would go to the Program Director and ask, “Can I start writing all the promos? Can I start writing all the imaging? Can I start writing something?” Ever since I started writing copy, I’ve had a huge passion for it.

JV: When you first arrived at The Q, it was as Production Director. What were your responsibilities at that point?
Sheldon: At that point, it started out with me just doing retail commercials and nothing else. Ross McIntyre did the imaging for The Q. Then there was another guy, who was my predecessor, Steve Schippanoski. He did the imaging for The Zone from Edmonton, actually, where he was working with the same company. Then after about a year, they ended up getting me to do the imaging for The Zone. So Ross is The Q Imaging Director, and I am for The Zone. Ross held the creative direction quite a few years ago, and then he decided to just be the The Q’s Imaging Director, while also focusing on his own voiceover production business from his home.

JV: So that’s when you started getting your feet wet with the imaging?
Sheldon: Exactly. Yeah.

JV: And then Ross left, and you became Creative Director around that time?
Sheldon: Yeah. About a year ago, a fellow named Doug Bidwell, who was our writer and Creative Director, he ended up leaving, taking a job with the government in communications, and that’s when I ended up taking over the writing department. I hired another writer, so we now have a three-writer staff, with me as the Creative Director, and then Ross does the imaging for The Q as well.

JV: So the “Creative Director” there is pretty much a writer for commercials, and imaging if needed. Is that right?
Sheldon: Right.

JV: That title seems to have different responsibilities wherever you go.
Sheldon: Yeah, I know. In most places, I suppose the Creative Director position is held by one of the writers in the creative room. But in the past, at our stations, it’s worked really well to have the Creative Director as the producer. I think it makes sense to do that, myself. I mean, the producer is looking at every piece of copy, producing every commercial. I think other than just being one of the writers in the room, I think the retail Production Manager has a better handle on what’s going on, as far as all the commercials are concerned.

JV: You started picking up awards back in 2006, while still in Lloydminster. Your creative skills were obviously improving. What were you doing to elevate those skills back then?
Sheldon: Well, I think when I started doing production in Vancouver -- in one of the biggest markets in Canada -- I think that was a big part of it. I was starting with a high standard, and not knowing where a low standard was. I think that really helped me, because when I went from Vancouver to a smaller town, I had no idea what a smaller town even sounded like, to be honest. I didn’t know any better, other than to try to compete with everyone else who was around me in the big markets. So I hope I’ve always been able to take a really high standard for what I’ve been doing everywhere I’ve gone. And I think that’s helped me get hired wherever I wanted to apply.

JV: Well, I think it’s working for you. Your RAP Award winning commercial for the Elk Lake Fishing Derby was excellent. How did that spot come about? How did the idea originate?
Sheldon: Actually I live about an hour out of town, so I have to take a bus into work. I still do a lot of writing. I write some spots now, and I also do a lot of writing for the promos for the station. Anyway, I don’t really have much time to do any writing during the regular part of my day, because I’m in the studio producing and dealing with sales folks and the writers and that kind of thing. So I actually do all my writing on the bus on the way into town.

I was sitting there with the order for the Elk Lake Fishing Derby, and I was trying to think of an idea that would make it more than just typing out the memo. I just thought of the idea of: well, what if they were singing a song, and then one-by-one, they were getting taken away, as if they were getting fished out of the lake? So I just kind of came up with the concept while I was sitting on the bus, on the way to work. Then, as soon as I got to work, I started going through music beds, through the library, and tried to find something that would be fun. Once I found a bed that really clicked with me, then I could start writing out the lyrics that went along with the music. So I had the concept, and then I was able to find the music and write some lyrics along with that. Then one-by-one, I had to find about 20 people to come in and sing and, one-by-one, get plucked off.

JV: I really enjoyed the spot. It kind of touches you on that level that’s below the surface, where great spots are supposed to connect.
Sheldon: Yes. I think the biggest part of that spot I’m proud of is that they normally have a draw of around 200 people for that fishing derby, 220 or so. After that spot ran for a few weeks, their turnout was about 500 people. They actually doubled their expected amount of people. We had a couple of sales reps out there, mainly because they are actually really passionate about fishing. They ended up telling us that they ran into kids who would sing the song for them, and that kind of thing. So it was really cool. Not only was it entertaining, it was one of those spots about which you could really say, “It worked.”

JV: How has the economy affected what you’re doing there, or affected the radio market that you’re in?
Sheldon: When it was really starting to hit the US hard, and Canada to a lesser degree, it did start to affect us and ad budgets and our ad dollars initially. I think it was more of the bad news, the psychological part of it spilling over. So people aren’t spending money. They’re starting to tighten down and that kind of thing. But overall, we’re lucky. We’re a little bit insulated. We’re on an island. We’re a government town. Victoria’s the capital city of our province, so we have tons of government workers. We have a naval base here, so there’s a great deal of military personnel as well. We have a lot of really solid industries here. So it really hasn’t affected us to such a degree as it has a large part of the province and the country. And actually, the last couple of months, we’ve just been busy like crazy. We’ve been really fortunate in that manner.

JV: What is a typical day like for you?
Sheldon: I come in, in the morning, around 8:30. Every day is different. Usually, we’ll have a creative meeting at least once a week. We’ll have script reviews once a week. And I have a meeting with all the department heads once a week – that kind of thing.

Other than that, basically I walk in and look and my list of production duties that I have to do. It comes down to trying to get all the spots that I need to get done produced in between speaking with the writers about the spots that they’re working on, and the salespeople about the spots that we’re working on, and the department heads, trying to just organize everything that goes along with part of the retail side of things. Typically, I’m just trying to get through producing all the spots in between all my other responsibilities, I suppose. It’s definitely a busy position.

JV: What are you using in the studio, Pro Tools?
Sheldon: Definitely Pro Tools. When I first got here, they were working on Vegas exclusively. Ross still stays true to Sony Vegas. But I begged them and begged them for Pro Tools for months and months and months, until they finally gave in to me and threw some Pro Tools in the studio because I couldn’t live without it.

JV: I take it Pro Tools was the system that you first started out on?
Sheldon: Yeah. They still use Pro Tools in the Corus stations in Vancouver, and in Alberta as well. When I got to Victoria, it was a little bit like writing with your left hand. I couldn’t really do it until I got used to it. But after a while of complaining, they gave me my Pro Tools.

JV: Any favorite plug-ins on that Pro Tools system that you would never let go of?
Sheldon: We’ve got the stock Digidesign plug-ins. I use a lot of those because they’re all pretty solid. Then we’ve got the Waves Platinum Bundle, I believe. If you took the Waves away from me, I would probably quit and cry and try to do something else with my life, because those are the essentials. But other than that… anything out of the box or really fancy? Not really.

JV: Do you have a mike of choice?
Sheldon: We use an AKG in the studio exclusively. But around the studios, it’s the typical RE20’s, that kind of thing. I would love to try out a few different Neumann microphones, because I’ve never really had a chance to work with them, and they have the most fantastic reputation on the planet. I wouldn’t mind getting the budget to buy a couple of those, to see how they sound. But the AKG is the one I have in the studio, and it works pretty well.

JV: You said you have three fulltime writers there. How many fulltime producers?
Sheldon: I am the fulltime producer, and then we also have Ross, who is basically considered part-time, as our Q Imaging Director and voice guy.

JV: So you’re doing a lot of production.
Sheldon: Yeah. Every local commercial gets produced in my room, by me, as well as all the imaging for the modern rock station, The Zone.

JV: You also have a freelance business, Nonick Productions. When and how did that get started?
Sheldon: I got that started about two years ago. I started it obviously to begin supplementing that radio income, but I also just kind of have a passion to keep growing and keep doing something new. So I wanted to start my own business and see if I could start doing some work outside of the radio station for some of my own clients, and see what that experience was like. So far, it’s been pretty rewarding. I’m pretty excited to keep growing that through the next couple of years and see what happens there.

JV: Who have been your mentors along the way?
Sheldon: When I first started in the Vancouver station, the Production Manager was a man named Alain Derbezed, and he was the Production Manager. The one thing I remember with him is just his willingness to give me everything he knew. I mean he had no hesitation to sit me down in the studio and let me hang out for eight hours at a time and just let me watch. And he answered every one of my questions, with no indication that I was pestering him at all. It was just him basically giving me his knowledge unselfishly. I’ll always remember how easygoing he was about just having me in the studio whenever I wanted to be.

And then definitely another mentor I have here, who is huge for me, is Ross McIntyre. He is a huge mentor. As you know, from winning all the awards with Radio And Production, he’s an extremely talented voiceover guy, he’s an extremely talented producer, and he’s an extremely talented writer.

JV: Yes, he’s one of those rare ones that have it all.
Sheldon: Yes, it’s kind of like having Wayne Gretsky on your team. I mean how can you not have that hopefully rub off on you a little bit? You just want to hang out and talk with him and work with the guy.

JV: Well, you seem to be following in his footsteps pretty well in all three areas – writing, voiceover work, and the production.
Sheldon: Well, I think that’s pretty essential for what we do, and for having the high standard of work that we do at The Q and The Zone – having producers who also have a huge passion for writing. It’s hard to have any of the writers try to get any bad work across the plate when you’ve got two producers who are holding as high a standard as we are trying to – I hope so, anyway.

I think part of the success of the radio stations is hiring producers who also have a passion for writing. It’s a huge part of getting great stuff on the air, having producers that are educated in writing some copy.

JV: You’ve done a lot of commercials over the years. What are some of the key things that you’ve learned about advertising and marketing?
Sheldon: Some of the key things I’ve learned about advertising and marketing… education of your clients has got to be key number one, because no matter what, they’re approving the copy. At the end of the day, they have the dollars to say what’s going to go on the air, and what’s not, in a way. So if your clients are educated on how to get the best results that they possibly can, then you’re going to just wind up with better creative overall. And to take that a step further, what are you teaching your clients? Not to talk about themselves too much or brag about themselves, but to talk about what their services or products mean to the listener, first. That’s been one of the biggest parts of my credo of advertising: what does it mean to the listener, and trying to get the clients to understand that perspective as much as they possibly can.

JV: Does Canadian radio hire many copywriters that are producers?
Sheldon: No. As far as I can tell, it’s more of a rarity. I have had phone calls from other radio stations and producers saying, “Hey, do you know anybody who does what you do? Do you know any producers who are also writers?” And other than myself and Ross, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of producers who are even really interested in doing a lot of writing. I think mostly because the writing ends up being for the commercial side, mostly, and I think for the majority of producers, they just want to be that hot imaging producer, which usually doesn’t entail a whole lot of writing. So I think it’s definitely a little more rare than not.

JV: What’s down the road for you? Make Nonick Productions a fulltime thing someday? Perhaps a move to the major markets to try your hand in the production departments?
Sheldon: I think the next step for me is definitely making Nonick Productions as big as it possibly can be. I think that would be huge for myself and for my family, if we could make the business grow to a point where it’s self-sustainable. But while I’m at the radio station, I’m going to make that a huge part of my priorities and what I do. I obviously can’t sit at work and try to sell Nonick Productions while I’m there. I would like to make Nonick Productions a fulltime gig, but I would also like to be the Creative Director for more than just the two stations for the Jim Pattison Group. I’d like to be the Creative Director for the whole franchise.

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