Production 212: Love It or Leave It

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

August is one time of year here in New York, when there’s a line winding down the hall and out the door of young college students hoping to bag a couple of credits interning at Z100. Most of the successful candidates end up working with the Elvis Duran & The Z100 Morning Show, a few go to the Promotions crew. The rest end up in one of the other departments, including Production. One of the reasons colleges recommend interning at Z100 is we’ve become known for providing a real learning experience rather than a “file papers – fetch coffee” internship. Imaging interns are required to write, coach the VO and fully produce six sweepers and two promos during their tenure. That way, they’re getting real-life experience and actually have something to add to their eventual demo. Oh, did I mention that all of their work must actually play on Z100?

As I was contemplating intern interviews, it dawned on me that our screening process could be instructive to anyone who is going through the same process and perhaps provide a learning experience for those who aren’t. It really all comes down to passion, so it’s not a very rigorous standard. If the student really wants it, it will happen. The only remaining question is why they want it. I begin with some advice my father gave me when I was still deciding what I wanted to do with my life.

Understand, I’m not one to quote my father very often. It’s not that he wasn’t smart, just the opposite, but he was a gentle soul who just didn’t hand out advice to anyone very often, unless they asked. Being a normal kid, I never asked his advice because I already knew everything I needed to know. I was SO much smarter than he when I was a teenager.

He died when I was a fresh-minted nineteen-year-old, and after a few months I began to realize he wasn’t as dumb as I thought… or perhaps I began to realize I wasn’t so all-fired smart. See, his way was to teach by example. I can’t remember one instance of getting a lecture from him about any of the usual teen topics, not that I didn’t need the occasional “stern talking to.” But, his best teaching moments came with an arched eyebrow or a non-committal grunt, and I knew instantly what he was thinking and whether he approved or disapproved of whatever it was I was doing at the time.

My dad was a career officer in the US Air Force, a pilot of some renown within the ranks. He wasn’t much of one for saluting, marching and dressing up in his ‘monkey suit,” but he did love to fly. He readily accepted any assignment, whether it was flying C119s in Europe, ferrying materiel from base to base or carrying massive loads of bombs in B-52s over Viet Nam. He even took a short stint as an instructor for new pilots just so he could be in the air as much as he possibly could. During 5 long winters stationed in North Dakota he would sit in the aircraft commander’s seat for 2 weeks at a time, flying big circles over Greenland, on standby to make a run into Soviet airspace if the cold war got suddenly hot.

As a family, my mother, brother, sister and I would suffer through long absences in 2–week chunks, longer if he went on temporary assignment (TDY) at some foreign hot spot. I suppose mom missed him most of all, but we 3 kids would count the days to when he’d be home. One summer in Texas, he took me to a sailplane aerodrome and started teaching me to fly gliders. On the way home, I wanted to know why he was gone all the time. I understood that his life wasn’t really his own as an Air Force Officer, but it seemed like he was flying off to Alaska, Guam or Europe just about every time we’d turn around. So, my question was, “Why do you work so much?”

He just smiled and said, “It’s not work.” I didn’t get it.

Did I mention that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was? Fact is, I didn’t get it until years later when I was gainfully employed doing radio imaging. Someone asked me the same question. After all, I not only spend my time here at Z100 doing production, but I write about it, blog about and even give seminars about it. When I heard the words, “Why do you work so much?” I couldn’t help but smile with the realization of what my father meant. “It’s not work.” Oh sure, I work hard at it sometimes, just the way my father worked hard at flying, but there is a certain joy to putting together the perfect spoken phrase with the perfect musical phrase and knowing that it’s speaking to the absolute inner core of the listener. So now I remember my father’s big, toothy smile and know that he knew this truth long before I ever stumbled on it.

So many college kids just exploring the possibilities of a career in broadcasting want to be deejays or part of a bigger morning show, and who can blame them? That is the face of radio – really all they know about radio until much later. That’s where a LOT of producers get their start, me included. So a student who actively seeks an internship in production raises a few questions in my mind. One of the first questions I ask prospective interns is, “Why do you want to do this?” Most of the time, I get a fairly bland, “I don’t know. It seems like fun.” This is actually a pretty good answer in my mind. It indicates an openness that I find essential to a really great producer. The potential is definitely there.

Once in a while, I get an unvarnished, even fierce, “because I LOVE the idea of making great radio even better.” Brian Mack (Y100/Miami) gave me this response when he interviewed, as did David Rocco (Westwood Radio). David wasn’t able to intern with me, but he wrangled one from Jeff Berlin, who at the time was imaging Kiss108/Boston. You may or may not know Brian or David yet, but I’m fairly certain they will be titans of the industry one day.

At the other end of the spectrum is all too common though. If I hear the words, “easy credit” from an intern-to-be, the interview is just about over. Anyone who thinks what we do is easy just doesn’t get it and it’s highly doubtful they ever will. The hours can be unbearably long and for many the pay anything but spectacular.

If you’re in this for a paycheck, or in it because it’s not so physically demanding and yet it can pay very well, you will never be the huge success you want to be. You have to love the medium. Producing the perfect commercial or promo has to physically excite you. (Well, make you breathe a little faster anyway.) As a producer, I hope you’ve had the experience of getting goose bumps over a promo or powerful stager. For me, that’s an almost sure-fire way to know that it’s exactly right.

Jeffrey Hedquist sent me an email a couple of weeks ago, noting that in both our July columns we were pushing people to “narrow the focus to broaden the appeal.” (Honest, we did not collaborate on our columns beforehand!) He signed off thanking me for my love of the medium. That is my column for this month in a very small nutshell. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. It ain’t work, my friend.

For my sound this month, a little ditty I did to celebrate Z100’s variety. This is a prime example of why I love doing this… goose-bumps and all.

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