by Sterling Tarrant
When we last left Q It Up, I was musing about how our minds can remember those big indelible "wood burning" memories, but they can't remember little things that we encounter each day...like static electric shocks. Shortly after that, I was watching our "Great curly-haired MacGyver," Ray Terrill, fashion a new motherboard for one of our computers out of a Juicy Fruit wrapper. Engineering genius that he is and I'm not, I asked him what that little blue arm band was he had around his arm. It had a cord that ran from it down to the chassis of the computer.
In Boy Wonder-like anticipation, I was hoping Ray would give me some great answer about being one with this little PC, and that this was an interface for the HAL Computer that he was designing before 2001 rolled around in six years. That Ray...he's smart. He's an engineer, you know. But since he's an engineer, he just matter-of-factly said, "That's a static cuff."
I was also hoping he'd give a really cool high tech term for this device so that I could impress him by saying, "Yeah, I knew that." But instead, all I could ask was, "What's a static cuff?" Then I was going to build up to asking about Ground Fault Arresters and Bipolar Arrays and finally my big question: "Duh, how do you spell engineer?" But before I could get to all that, he explained that it keeps him from giving a static electric shock to the sensitive equipment he's working on. "Holy voltage, Batman," I think I said as the brilliant idea came to mind, "can you make, you know, like a wireless one of those that you just wear around the station all day to keep you from getting shocked?" I was really rolling with the questions now. He thought about it a minute and said, "Yeah, I suppose it could be done." Then he proceeded to tell me all the details in theory.
We'll get back to this after I interrupt to make the point. Great Ideas, that's the point. If ideas were arrows and you were William Tell, where would you get the sharp ones that could puree an apple on Newton's head? For answers I went to a certain group who do all the normal stuff Production Directors do, plus they write for RAP. The question was: "Do you have an idea bank or two or three? Where do you make the most withdrawals?"
John Pellegrini, WKLQ-FM, Grand Rapids said: I get ideas from the bottom of Dumpsters to loads of books. I read a lot of different subjects. Encyclopedias are great places. Trivia Books, too. I'll also bounce ideas off the minds of other people around the station. If I'm really stuck, I'll stroll down the hall to the sales office and demand they tell me why this client has a good service. We've got some crazy jocks and a morning crew that's full of weird ideas, too. I try to look everywhere, and when I run out of ideas, I copy someone else.
Andy Capp, KELO AM/FM, Sioux Falls, SD: Where do I get my ideas? Uh...morphine. No...uh, Ren and Stimpy? No...Okay, let me tell you, I do keep a teaser file that I call my "Brain Spout File" -little silly ideas like a sentence, a word, or a crazy name. Then, when I need something, I'll go harvest a brain sprout. I'm a huge reader, not only "Radio And Production and Mix and other technical brouhaha, but anything I can get my hands on. My wife's Good Housekeeping for example, so that I can relate to some of the women who are listening. My feeling is that if I don't keep reading, then I'm going to get stale. Other than that, I steal heavily from the best.
Hmmm, reading and stealing? Do you detect a pattern here? Let's ask Mark Margulies of BENMARadio, Denver, CO: Mostly, I get stuff from day-to-day life and the newspapers. When I really get writer's block, I'll go to the supermarket and find the wildest tabloids I can. The Enquirer and the Star are way too tame. The World Weekly Report and stuff like that are wonderful jumping off points. I like to go back into history and politics, too. Of course, the way we radio guys do things is a little "bass-ackwards" because we tend to take certain bits and pieces of ideas before we start to actually write the idea, but a lot of times for me, the idea will just generate itself based on the info from the Account Executive.
Finally, Flip Michaels of WAVA, Washington, D.C. E-mailed me before I could call him: Great ideas come (for me) from Great Brainstormers. The more people you get involved, the better! My personal bank withdrawals frequently come from TV reruns. Shows like All in the Family, Alf, Roseanne (when she doesn't whine!) and Family Matters usually can get the wood burning, especially when I'm trying to finish up a column!
Here are some things I use for ideas. I, too, have a notebook that I keep snippets in and a pocket tape recorder in the car for mental thunderbolts. I use three software programs: "IdeaFisher" that contains a huge idea bank, "Three by Five," a storyboarding program that helps to put the thoughts together, and "Creative Whack Pack" which asks thought-provoking questions based on the book A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech. I've also found that games like "Outburst" and the ever popular "Trivial Pursuit" can often provide the spark of an idea you may need. For information on any of the above, call me. Since stealing from other sources is common, you can find copy ideas in Radio Ink magazine and the RAB. I alphabetize them all in a 3 x 5 card file. You can get ideas from computer online services, including the Production Room Board BBS. Don't forget; you can rewrite some of your older stuff from other stations, and, of course, "borrow" from the RAP Cassette, as long as you remember to put it back.
So anyway, back to Ray and the wireless ground fault arrester static cuff thing. I asked him why someone hadn't built one. "Go ahead and do it," I said, and since it was my idea, I could get rich, too. He told me that some laws of physics were involved that he wasn't too sure how to get around. I thought that if you were going to build something that arrests things then yeah, there would probably be some laws. Then, as I was getting ready to express my next thought, he said, "Engineer is spelled with three Es and two Ns." That Ray...I told you he was smart.