R.A.P. Interview: Stephen R. Smith

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R.A.P.: It sounds like most of your creative stuff is of the "jingle" type.
Stephen: Yes, I seem to fall into that. As of late, I've been trying to push my creativity into different areas -- trying to use more sounds and experimenting more with the positioning of those sounds in the stereo spectrum. But the song and dance numbers come real easy for me.

R.A.P.: There's a lot of production going on at your station. How many production rooms are there?
Stephen: We have one 4-track and one 8-track. The 8-track studio was just put in last fall. In that room we have the Wheatstone SP-6 board, a beautiful board. To the left of the board is a Mitsubishi VCR, an SPH4 Gentner phone system, an EV-ELX1R 4-channel mike mixer we use when we need to hook up more mikes in the studio, a Yamaha SPX-1000, an Eventide H949 Harmonizer, two Urei LA-4 compressors, and a Technics SLP-1300 CD player. Over on the right side we have our Sherwood dual cassette deck, two Audicord cart decks, and an ITC 99B cart deck. Our 8-track is an Otari MX5050B with the auto-locater, and we have two Otari MX5050 2-tracks. For mikes we use EV RE-20s. For speakers we have Auratone cube speakers for our nearfield monitors and JBL100 Centurys for our main monitors.

In the 4-track studio we're running a Harris board with an Otari 4-track and an Otari 2-track. We've got two Urei LA-4 compressors, a Yamaha SPX-90II, two Audicord cart decks, one ITC 99B, and a Sherwood dual cassette deck. And of course, we're using the same mike, the EV RE-20.

R.A.P.: Those sound like some good rooms.
Stephen: Good rooms, I find, are relative because that 4-track room was like our "flagship" studio until the 8-track was built. Now, I hardly ever go into the 4-track, but still, it's a darn good room. In fact, the Farley's commercial was produced in the 4-track studio. You can do some good work in that 4-track room, but this Wheatstone board and the 8-track are spoiling me. I think we're the only 8-track radio studio in town. I think the other stations only have 4-tracks. If I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will correct me.

R.A.P.: KRNQ/KRNT seems better equipped than most stations in markets the size of Des Moines. Why is that?
Stephen: Well, we're part of Saga Communications. Saga is headed by Mr. Ed Christian, and he knows production equipment. He knows what's good and what's bad. It's nice to have him that knowledgeable and able to buy us some of the toys we like to play with. I think we were the last station in the Saga chain to get an 8-track. When I first started at KRNQ, the first time he met me, he asked if there was anything I needed to do my job better. I kind of joked around and said that an 8-track would be nice. He said, "Well, we're getting an 8-track, and we'll have a new studio built...," and, within the year, we had an 8-track and the new studio was built.

R.A.P.: Did you have much part in the design of the new studio?
Stephen: Yes, I did. Our engineer's name is Joe Farrington. Joe came in and grabbed my arm, and we sat down in the conference room and started drawing things out on paper. The room is small, and we wanted to get all this equipment in there. So, we plotted and plotted until we came up with something that worked. So, yes, I was involved in the designing of the studio.

R.A.P.: What was the transition like, going from your 4-track studio to 8-track?
Stephen: It was very intimidating at first. The Harris board we have in our 4-track is not real complex looking. On the other hand, the Wheatstone SP-6 is just a field of knobs, so it was intimidating. But I got in there and dabbled around a bit. I didn't try to do anything real tough at first. Then we got a gentleman whose name is Willie Wells to come in. He used to be a Production Director at one of our sister stations, WLRW in Champagne, IL. He's now at WKLH in Milwaukee. Willie came over and did a little two-day seminar, and I learned a ton from him. I can't thank him enough. He made the board so easy to use. It looks intimidating as hell, but it's a very user friendly board. When you actually sit down and start working with it, it makes production fast. It's very clean sounding, and Willie took all the scariness away. I haven't run into anything yet that I cannot do because of the board. The board is not limiting me at all.

R.A.P.: Did your station consider a digital workstation when they were building the new studio?
Stephen: They were thinking about digital workstations at that time, but it was probably a little bit too soon and probably a little bit too pricey. They went with the analog 8-track, but I would imagine that Saga is going to start slipping some digital workstations into the chain within the next few years or so. I think the digital workstation is the epitome of, "Wow! Why didn't I latch onto something like this earlier?"

R.A.P.: What makes a good commercial?
Stephen: I would say the first requirement of a good commercial is that it has to be memorable. You read so much about how we're bombarded with God knows how many different messages every day, and we only remember a fraction of what we hear. So, I think it first has to be memorable. To achieve that, what I like to do is try and think of something that is fun to say. So, throughout the repetition of the spot being played over and over, hopefully, people are hearing that something, and they're saying it out loud because it feels fun to say. I like to play with words that feel good rolling off the tongue.

Of course, a good commercial also has to send the message that the client wants the listeners to hear. I think that is where the war comes in between creativity [and the client]. I want to say it in a creative way, and they might be thinking a little more along the lines of print advertising. They may want me to throw in the laundry list, and that's the last thing I want to do. That's where the little tug of war comes in, and sometimes you just have to put the laundry list in there. When I have do that, I try to do it in such a way that I almost fool the listeners so they don't actually think they're hearing a list but are still getting several pieces of information about the client.

R.A.P.: If you're doing as many as fifty spots a week, you must have a lot of contact with the sales department. Tell us a little about your sales staff.
Stephen: We've got a good sales department. We've got a big sales department. At last count, I think we had ten salespeople. I deal with a lot of salespeople, and I like to work closely with them. I set up my guidelines, deadlines, and rules, and I imagine, in their own way, they try to follow them as best as they can. But, it's the nature of the beast; being salespeople, they're always trying to push the envelope. That's their job. But I like to think I have them under control. Sometimes I think I grant them too many exceptions from the deadlines, and I end up always working myself into a corner. But, as my General Manager, Mr. Phil Hoover, told me, "You can't get caught up with enforcing the rules. You have to remember what the primary purpose is that we're all doing this for. And that is to get a commercial on the air." So, I try to remember that and try not to get caught up with enforcing deadlines to the absolute second.

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