R.A.P. Interview: Lonnie Perkins

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R.A.P.: What's your philosophy with regards to producing promos?
Lonnie: To me, promos should follow the old advertising rule of create the need first, then satisfy it. That's what I've tried to do. I first create the interest, get their attention through intrigue or shock or spectacle. Then I create the need and satisfy it. I'm amazed at how many Program Directors there are who think call letters should be the very first thing on the promo, then you spew off a few facts and then end up with call letters again. To me, it's much more intriguing if you create the need, if you're a little evasive up front so you can catch their attention, then you pay it off.

Something else I've noticed along that same line, in a cluster of sound, whether it's a spot set or a jock rap, the first five or ten seconds of a new element is lost. I noticed this with my own listening habits. I'm listening to the radio, and I hear, "Indy weather -- hey, high today 95, low tonight 64. It's going to be a beautiful day tomorrow," and that's about the time I clue in -- "it's going to be a beautiful day tomorrow...." Oh, he's doing the weather! What did he say about today? What was the weather? It's the same thing on commercials. I've noticed when they start spewing out information, you don't really lock in for the first five or ten seconds. So, for me, you should not only get their attention and create that intrigue, but don't waste good information those first five or ten seconds, because I don't think people catch it. It sounds great in the production room when that's the only element you're listening to; but when it's competing with five or ten other elements...the listeners don't lock in for five or ten seconds.

R.A.P.: So you're suggesting for five or ten seconds to use sound effects, music, and/or some other audio to grab attention and then hit them with information.
Lonnie: Yeah. And another thing -- we scream about this on commercials and then often will do it on promos -- we overload promos with information. Programmers will scream about it to the jocks: "Don't throw too many elements into a talk set. Do your call letters, your time. and do one liner." Then we fill our promos with twenty thousand copy points. And they're double tracked and phased and sampled, and, by the time it's over with, you haven't got a clue about what has just happened. It might as well have been static. So, it's important to simplify the points. A promo doesn't have to be a legal statement, and you don't have to get all the disclaimers and all that stuff in there. Keep it simple enough that people can grasp onto it.

R.A.P.: Do you use a lot of character voices on promos and drops?
Lonnie: Absolutely. And I play around a lot with straight deliveries -- Joe Average on the street, that type thing.

R.A.P.: You do a lot of "theatre of the mind" production. What tips can you offer for doing this type of production?
Lonnie: I think it's important, if you can, to experience an event you're going to write about, or listen closely to those who have. I found it very frustrating during my first year here. Indy 500 festivities start the first of May, and the 500 doesn't happen until the end of the month. It's a huge, huge deal. It was very frustrating because I'd never been to the Indy 500, and it was hard writing promos relating to it, promos that would touch people's hot buttons and talk about experiences that everybody could relate to or grasp onto. The next year, having gone, it was the difference between night and day. But that first year, what did help was just talking to people and listening to stories from people who had been there and kind of living it vicariously. If I'm writing from personal experience, my writing is improved threefold. It's just like writing humor, or sitcoms, or anything, you write from your experiences.

And I think authenticity is important. A lot of great production is ruined by bad voice-overs. If you don't have kids or good kid actors or good female voice talent available, don't write them into the script. Don't bring in some guy who talks in his falsetto voice and is supposed to sound like your mother. I've heard a lot of great scripts ruined because you get so distracted with that kind of thing, that is unless it's kind of built in as obvious parody. Write to your strengths. If you've got some great characters of your own or people around the building, write for them. We used to have just a storehouse of great female talent in our station with secretaries and other people that I used to access all the time. Most of them have moved on now, but if you have that available, by all means, use it. Look for it and access it. But if it's not there, don't write it in because you just make yourself look bad. If it's production that's great or if it's your characters, whatever it is, write to your strengths. It's good to experiment, but experiment off the air. Save your dignity.

R.A.P.: How about a tip for writing humor?
Lonnie: Brand names are funnier. "I grabbed the A1 Sauce and knocked out his dentures" is funnier than saying, "I grabbed a ketchup bottle and hit him in the mouth." There's something about brand names that takes it to another level. Maybe it's because you can picture the A1 bottle better. Instead of saying, "It's where you can really keep your mind in shape," say, "It's like a Nordic Track for your brain."

The bumpers I wrote that were in the newspaper article, that kind of writing was originally intended to be used as slogans for billboards. I was just sitting down, brainstorming some good, quick slogans that would work on a billboard, and eventually I thought, "Why waste all these?" So I ended up using them for bumpers, and I've received more comments from more people on those lines than anything else I've ever done. I've just been amazed. People come up all the time and say, "Hey, I heard your line, you know, 'it's like where you can talk to a friend without having to buy him a beer.' Hey, that's great!"

One time I was trying to create a bumper that described the size of the station. I thought about saying it was like a 50,000 watt CB radio, but that sounded so dated. Then it dawned on me: "It's like a 50,000 watt cellular phone, but we pay the bill!"

R.A.P.: You really have great control over your voice and can do a lot with it. What are some techniques you used to develop your voice?
Lonnie: I'm always listening to and studying national commercials, listening to stuff on TV and just kind of studying voices in general. It's important to figure out your range and know what you can do and what you can't do because you can sound like a fool real quick if you're trying to be Ernie Anderson and you've got a Loni Anderson voice. That's one of the things that attracted me to Mason Adams when I was fifteen years old -- I didn't have very impressive pipes, and guys like Mason Adams showed me how to use what I had. Take John Bartholomew Tucker, who used to do the Fotomat commercials. He has a terrible voice, but his delivery is just so phenomenal, and his voice is so unique, he's made zillions of dollars off of it. It's important to discover the strengths of your voice and work and hone and highlight those strengths. You can play around imitating things you hear on TV and whatnot, but always use your strengths on the air. Play around with your weaknesses off the air. That's the advantage we have in the production room. You can play all day.

R.A.P.: Any parting thoughts to help a hard working radio producer along the way?
Lonnie: When you're worried about what everyone else is thinking about your stuff, remember that they're probably not. They're thinking about themselves just like you are, and it's good to remember that in your copywriting, too. You're not writing for yourself or writing to make yourself look good. You're writing to appeal to people who are sitting there thinking about themselves. It will free you up if you're not worried about what everyone else is thinking about your stuff.

And keep a perspective. I mean, it's just radio, and even your worst stuff is going to be over in sixty seconds. And this is kind of a pet peeve of mine: I think it's important to take a lot of pride in your work, but if it comes down to trying to choose between should I remix that last spot because I really didn't like the way it came out, or should I go and be on time for my son's soccer game, forget the spot and go to the soccer game. Life will go on. Remix it tomorrow.

The best advice I can offer is: get a life. It will help your copywriting, and it makes the rest of life pretty nice, too. When I had my worst writer's blocks, it was during times when I had been sitting in the studio too much and I had no life. I had nothing to draw from. The best thing I can do is to spend time with friends outside of radio who don't think like radio geeks. And that reminds me that most of the people who are listening to my stuff don't care. So I have to write in such a way as to make them care, and it also helps me pick up on things that people, real people, care about. I discover hot buttons, and it gives me life experiences to parody or to draw on. I think the best thing you can do for your copywriting is spend time in a nursing home or go to Billy's soccer game or join a church or get a life and do something worthwhile. That's the best thing I've done for my production.

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