R.A.P. Interview: Ronn Lipkin

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R.A.P.: How is the rest of the station doing? Have the other dayparts climbed in the ratings as well?
Ronn: Oh yes. Every daypart has really benefitted. But it is not just Howard. I mean, obviously, Howard brings a lot of people to the party, but it's up to the rest of the station to keep them there. The music must be very finely tuned, and Warren Williams is a great Music Director. He puts the music together with a great deal of care and taste. And we've got a number of great veteran jocks here. There's Shauna and Damien, and Jim Ladd. Jim taught me a great deal about mixing. When I first started here, Jim was putting together a piece about Dr. Martin Luther King. He said, "Well, here's a speech, and I think it would sound really interesting to have Pink Floyd's 'One Of These Days' under it." That's primarily an instrumental piece, and I was like, "Jim, this just isn't going to work!" So I tried to humor him, and I mixed the music kind of halfheartedly under the speech. Then he said, "No, no. Here." And he showed me; he remixed it and had this Pink Floyd piece blasting under Dr. King...and it worked! The words were simply delivered so powerfully that they cut through, and there was something so insistent about the beat of the music and the way the two matched. So, that kind of experimentation has certainly led to making some promos really sing. Jim has especially opened up my mind to mixing disparate elements together for a really ear catching effect.

R.A.P.: Do you use speakers other than your studio monitors to do your mixing?
Ronn: I've found that I mix everything to the worst speaker now. I used to mix everything to the best, to the big JBL monitors. I do almost all my mixing on the little Auratone cubes now. I try to mix for the worst clock radio, for the worst car radio, because if it sounds good there, in my opinion, it will sound fine on the audiophile system, too.

R.A.P.: When you do that, do you find that you mix the music louder than you would if you had used the JBLs?
Ronn: Yes.

R.A.P.: Are you producing any commercials for the station?
Ronn: I do almost no retail production work, which is thrilling! The retail Production Director is Mark Morris, and he does a tremendous job. He handles virtually all of the retail production. I am involved almost solely with the promo positioning for KLSX, which is grand.

R.A.P.: Are there any other people involved in production?
Ronn: Mark and I do just about everything.

R.A.P.: How many production studios are there?
Ronn: We have four production rooms here. I'm working in the 8 track room. Mark's in the 4 track, and we have a couple of 2 track studios that are used for various things. We're looking at going digital. I'm pretty sold on Pro Tools [Digidesign], and I'd really like to have the 8 track version. I just really like the bang for the buck. It has a very advanced software architecture, a very open architecture. There are certainly a lot of great units out there. The AKG [DSE-7000] is a terrific unit, very easy to use. But, it just doesn't have the fine resolution in editing that the Pro Tools system has. It just doesn't have the effects. Plus, I really want to work with a Mac so I can integrate it with MIDI. So I'm going to recommend we get Pro Tools here.

R.A.P.: Is there an AM station there with KLSX?
Ronn: Yes, KRLA, which is a legendary L.A. radio station. A lot of the biggest jocks came through here -- Shadoe Stevens, Casey Kasem, Wink Martindale.

R.A.P.: Are you sharing any of these four production studios with KRLA?
Ronn: Yes. Mark, who's in the 4 track room, has the official title of Production Director for KRLA. But, since virtually everything is a combo buy anyway, he is in essence the Retail Production Director for both stations.

R.A.P.: What production libraries are you using?
Ronn: I've been a Brown Bag client for many years, both at WYSP and here at KLSX -- Flashpoint, Weapons and now Money, and I'm looking forward to Mirage very much. I use Money for the promos. I've also got a diverse collection of CDs from Associated Production Music which Mark uses on the spots. There's also a good number of promo things to use from the APM library. APM's got at least 500 different disks to choose from. They distribute production music from all over the world, and they're very convenient. They're right up the street. So I can go into their listening room just about anytime and audition some new stuff. That's principally what I use.

R.A.P.: Any processing toys?
Ronn: Well, nothing too fancy. I've got my little Lexicon PCM 70 which is fine. I have an Aphex Compellor and the Yamaha SPX 900. I don't do a lot of fancy stuff with effects, just a tinge of reverb here and there. Generally, what I try to accomplish is in the writing, mixing, and presentation rather than with any sort of wild effects.

R.A.P.: Who writes the promos?
Ronn: Overall, the promos are a collaboration between Andy Bloom, Warren and myself. One person may come up with an idea, and another person might write it. Sometimes it might all come from Warren, or it might all come from Andy, or all from me. But generally, someone adds something else along the way.

R.A.P.: You were a music major in college. You must be applying this to Radio to some degree. How are you doing that?
Ronn: I try to look at the promos as compositions, as pieces that tell a story, not only in word, but in texture. I try to give the promo -- this may sound basic -- a start, a middle, and an end. And I try to have that promo say something just as I would back when I was writing little things in sonata form in my college days. Certainly, the education has helped me to mix things in the same key and to try to put things together with a sense of musicality so there aren't any abrupt edits or things like that. I certainly can attribute a lot to having a music theory background.

R.A.P.: Do you play any instruments?
Ronn: Well, I play CDs a lot (laughs). My main instrument, oddly enough, was bass clarinet. The bass clarinet is to the clarinet as the bassoon is to the oboe. I play keyboards...well, I thank God for MIDI. I can pick out a tune pretty well on a keyboard, but the act of putting two hands together is just well beyond my coordination. So, I'm very glad that the ability to layer things with MIDI is available to me now.

R.A.P.: Do you have a free-lance business?
Ronn: Yes, I'm working on it. I must say that most of my energy has been devoted to the station over the last year and a half. It's my job, and that's been the most important thing. But I am starting to branch out. I've been doing some work for another station that I can't mention right now because they're undergoing a change. I'm helping engineer the production for that. I've been doing some stuff for YSP back in Philly. I'm certainly looking to branch out, to do more, to produce pieces for other stations.

R.A.P.: You sound like you have a good set of pipes. Are you voicing a lot of the promos for the station?
Ronn: Generally not. Generally, Warren Williams, the Music Director and APD, is the voice. Warren has a very commanding, yet adult and very smooth delivery. His voice is just so strong and unique that he's mostly the one. When I put my voice on something, it tends to be more of the guy next door-ish kind of thing, or sometimes I'll lapse into some bizarre character. Warren is our principle promo voice, but we also use Bill St. James. Bill is also very awesome. David Perry, who is a longtime jock here in L.A. and now rides shotgun over the Stern show in the morning, also has a tremendous voice. I'll use him sometimes as well. I like to have a good diversity of voices on the promos. I don't mix it up so much that you don't know what you're listening to, but I try to minimize burn on any one particular voice.

R.A.P.: What's your production philosophy?
Ronn: I think that production, in its subtle way, can make or break a station. It really is the spice, the window dressing that can attract people. I think it can make a station sound very cool, and can subliminally make people really like, and really identify with your station. On a simpler level, it is marketing. As with any kind of marketing, the more memorable you make it, the more alive you make the call letters and the station's identity in the listeners' minds. That's when you're doing your job as a Production Director. I don't think I've come up with anything novel there; it's just what I've found on my particular journey. I know which promos and IDs people talk about or come to me and say something about, and which ones sort of just go by. I don't live for the recognition, mind you; I just want to do the best job I can in selling the station and that means making the promos sing, making the call letters meaningful, making the station sound "cool" because we are a classic rock station. We're really not playing any new music, although we do play some newer things by classic artists. So, it's important to keep the production interesting. I think a well executed piece can really energize a song that maybe you've heard quite a number of times -- a very cool ID going into even "Layla," which we've heard many times, can energize that song sufficiently enough that it can almost make it seem new again.

R.A.P.: What would you say to our readers who are aspiring to make it to the top markets?
Ronn: It's important to keep trying new and different things, to listen to all kinds of music, to watch all sorts of different TV shows, to read voraciously. I get a lot of ideas just by reading good novels, not by taking a situation that was described, but by tuning into the author's imagination and trying to open up my mind as well. It's important to remember, most of all, that you are trying to sell a product, and that is your radio station, its format, its music, and its disk jockeys. Once you use that as a basic blueprint, I've found a lot of times that the creative frills just come along, and they work like magic. Rather than say, "What kind of creative thing can I come up with to sell the station?" start with the basics instead, and the fun stuff just somehow materializes out of thin air...sometimes.

R.A.P.: Any final thoughts you'd like to share?
Ronn: Well, there has certainly been a number of people that have helped me in my career, and if this is my four pages of fame, I might as well thank them. Mike Lee of Brown Bag has been a very steady influence in my career. He's given me a lot of advice and has been sort of my "production guru." Andy Bloom certainly has guided my career. Through all the years of struggling through the old 2 track room at YSP, Andy promised me he would get me a new studio, and he certainly did. I had to move across the country for it, but it's been worth it. Besides, I always wanted to live in L.A., and I was very lucky to have this opportunity to come out here, work with Howard, work with classic rock, which is the music that I love, and to be able to sit in this very nice 8 track studio and play around and have a good time. Also, my wife Amanda is probably my toughest critic. I credit her very much with helping improve what I do. Production Directors sometimes get a little too involved with our work and we'll say, "Gosh, aren't I creative?" after hearing something played back on the air. Amanda might look at me and say, "Well, c'mon. That wasn't that good. You could have done this or that." I'll say, "Ooh, yeah, you're right!" She's not in the business. She's a psychotherapist, so she analyzes my work and does a very good job at it.

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