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

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R.A.P.: Do you find yourself sacrificing creativity from time to time to get so many spots on the air?
Stephen: Oh, yea. I think everybody who does radio production probably has to sacrifice some creativity from time to time. You're sitting there, and you're thinking, "Boy, this is a really good idea. I think I could really do something wild with this." Then you look at the clock and say, "Well, maybe next time." I think there are always those times when you have to make those sacrifices. It's a bummer, but what can you do?

R.A.P.: What percentage of your time would you say is spent in the studio, and what percentage is spent behind the typewriter?
Stephen: It's probably about sixty or seventy percent in the studio and the rest at the typewriter. It's close to half, but I think I spend more time in the studio because writing things, a lot of times, doesn't take long at all. It's just a matter of finding the right music, finding the right sound effects, getting it all put together the way it is in your brain that sometimes can take a couple of hours.

R.A.P.: What production libraries are you using?
Stephen: In our 4-track room we still have the old workhorse of the industry, the FirstCom Digital Production Library. In the new 8-track studio, we went with FirstCom's Custom Production Library. We also have their Digifects sound effects library and the Sound Ideas 4000 Series sound effects library.

For promos, we have Techsonics and Power Play. Plus we also have a lot of nice stingers, logos, and things of that nature in the FirstCom Custom Production Library. We've got a lot of things to draw from, and it's nice.

R.A.P.: What are the formats of the two stations, and how are they doing in the market?
Stephen: The format of the FM is, I guess, what you'd call adult top-40. The AM is a "Music of Your Life" format. Our ratings are good. The AM side is moving up and continually getting stronger numbers. Our FM, Q102, seems to be in constant battle for the number one slot with the AOR station in town, KGGO. Of course, there's also WHO, the news and information station in town. They always have good numbers.

R.A.P.: Your counterpart at WHO, Craig Rogers, also turns out some pretty good production. In fact, you were both finalists in both small market categories of the RAP Awards.
Stephen: Yes. Craig does some great work. As a matter of fact, his car wash commercial had me worried when I heard that on the tape. As soon as the magazine came out and we found out who the winners were, Craig faxed me a letter congratulating me and saying he thought we both represented Des Moines very well. I've never met Craig, and I thought that was a nice gesture on his part. I faxed him back saying, "Thank you. Congratulations on your finish," and I agreed: I think we both represented Des Moines pretty darn good.

R.A.P.: If you could have anything you wanted that would make you better at your job, what would be on your wish list?
Stephen: Well, I don't have a computer or a word processor. I'm still banging stuff out on a typewriter, and that gets tiring. It gets tiring when you mess up a line and you either have to white something out or you have to use correction tape on the line. It gets tiring when you write a commercial and read through the copy and you say, "You know, this thought right here should really go down here, and this one should go up here." Well, you can't rearrange stuff with a typewriter, so you have to type the whole thing over again. A processor would really help me.

Having a really nice keyboard would be something else that would help me because I like to do the song and dance number. I think I would be able to start whipping up some real good quality sounding jingles, and who knows, maybe even open up some kind of creative services department above and beyond the regular production department. One of the morning guys has a little Casio. I'll get my hands on it and whip out a little music bed every now and then, but it still has that Casio sound. It would be nice to get into an Ensoniq or a Korg with an onboard sequencer and even sampling capabilities. A real good drum machine and a DAT machine would be nice also. Of course, the digital workstation would be great. I'm the kind of person that if you leave me a question like that, the list will go on and on and on.

R.A.P.: Have you ever done an airshift?
Stephen: No. The closest I've done to an airshift was this "alternative music hour" I did down in Kirksville. The salesman sold a twelve-week contract to a local record store, and I would go on the air Thursday nights at nine o'clock. I had my own format. All I had to do was give the record store three, thirty-second, live commercials. Everything else was music that I would pick out and play. But there was no format. I didn't have to follow a clock, and I could basically play whatever I wanted to. I was flying by the seat of my pants and having a ball doing it. It was really fun, and I realized I should enjoy it because I knew it was a distorted view of what an actual DJ has to go through.

R.A.P.: At least you got a little taste of what DJ work is like, though distorted it may have been.
Stephen: Yes. That's one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I didn't know if I might want to perhaps cross over, sometime down the line, and get into jocking. I don't think I will now, though. I think I'm pretty much into production. This is my niche, and this is what my brain was created for.

I'm an older person, or at least older than a lot of people when they first get into radio. So I don't have the luxury of having ten or twelve years to find my way to a medium or large market station. I'm on a fast track, and I've got to keep pushing myself.

R.A.P.: Are your goals aimed at moving up in the markets?
Stephen: Yea. I'm originally from Minneapolis. My family and close friends live up there. My fiancé is also from Minneapolis. It would be nice to someday, eventually drift back up into the Minneapolis area. It's a great radio town and a great music town. I think that's where I'd really like to wind up, however long it takes.

R.A.P.: What did you think about radio when you first got out of the broadcast school and were three months into the business? At that point, what did you think about the career change you made?
Stephen: I was wondering if it was a big mistake. I was working long hours, and things weren't clicking. My time management was way off. I was trying to do too much of it myself, being in the construction mode of thinking. There were many times when I would walk into my Sales Manager's office, who was more or less my superior at this station rather than the Program Director, and I would say, "I don't think I can do this job." He'd say, "Oh, just stick with it. You'll get it. Don't worry about it. If you get too mad, just walk outside and walk around the building a couple of times and cool off." Or he'd say, "Look. The worst thing that can happen is a commercial won't run, and we'll do a makegood on it." He'd try to calm me down because sometimes I can be somewhat of a passionate person with my emotions.

So, I was thinking I may have made a mistake, and this really wasn't it for me. Then, I don't know what happened, but it was almost overnight that things just clicked for me. I got the hang of it. All of a sudden I was putting in normal fifty to fifty-five hour weeks!

R.A.P.: Do you have any advice for those who are young in the business and are wondering if they made the right choice?
Stephen: Try to keep having fun. If you stop having fun at what you're doing, why do it? You're certainly not going to be making a million dollars in radio, so I think one of the big paybacks with it is having fun and being as creative as you can so when you hear that creative message on the air, you get that tingling rush up your spine saying, "Yes, I did that!" That's the payback. So, keep trying to have fun, stick to it, and if things get too hot, go outside and walk around the building a couple of times (laughs).

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