R.A.P. Interview: Jeff Thomas

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R.A.P.: Did you consider working at any stations or markets in the U.S.?
Jeff: There was an offer from Virgin while I was in Sydney, so I didn't come over here and start looking for work. Obviously, coming from Australia, I thought of the U.S. as being a more predominant radio market for me, a more predominant market for me than the U.K., so that was the first factor. The second factor was obviously the green card scenario, actually being able to legally work in the States. And thirdly, there was also this other thing; as far as I know, Australia and the U.K. are the only markets--maybe this is a bit of a generalization--but the only main markets that don't have Production Directors who sit there and read their own stuff, which is basically one of the big differences about the U.K. and Australia versus the U.S.. That helped.

R.A.P.: How did Virgin Radio find out about you?
Jeff: It was through a consultancy deal they had with a guy I had worked with in Australia. I think, in hindsight, what was actually happening was that he was pitching Virgin to me at the same time he was pitching me to Virgin. Eventually, at the beginning of this year, we managed to hook up, and I came over here on what turned out to be quite a visit. I came to London for three days. That's twenty-five hours in a plane. It was thirty-seven degrees in Sydney. I came here to minus three for three days, then got back on the plane for another twenty-five hour flight back home, back into thirty-seven degree weather. So that was a bit of a shock. There was definitely nothing in Sydney or Triple M that drove me away. It was just that everything seemed to fall together. It was time for a change and time for a new challenge, and there is no doubt, that is what it has been. It's been a big challenge.

R.A.P.: Tell us a little bit about Virgin Radio.
Jeff: It basically started off as an AM station back in April of 1993. Just under two years later, which was April of this year, it started broadcasting, in London only, on the FM band. So the situation is that it is still AM nationally, which includes Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland. It's FM in London and the southeast of England, and it's broadcast on cable and satellite throughout Britain and Europe. So for such a young station, it's got a pretty big network. I mean, there's something like thirty AM transmitters scattered across the U.K., and it's standing up in London like an FM station unto its own.

Basically, we're talking about the same radio station here. We're seventy-five percent simulcast, maybe twenty-five percent split. That's probably not the world's most accurate assessment, but apart from the commercial breaks, the promos, the news and traffic and sport and that sort of stuff, and a few split programs, we're basically the same station. Because of the promise of performance laws in the U.K., for them to get the FM license in London, there was obviously a certain amount of programming that has to be designed for London only. So, we do things just for London. Obviously whenever we do promos, we're doing two versions. Sometimes we're just talking about London things. Other times we just want to make sure we're getting the FM frequency across in London and the AM frequency across in the U.K.. And there's also a show we do which is specifically for London which happens Monday through Friday at night. Originally they pitched to get FM nationally and this was the compromise, basically.

R.A.P.: You are the Production Director for both the AM and FM stations. What are your responsibilities?
Jeff: It changes and it's still developing. We're in a great position here whereas we don't make any commercials within the radio station. All commercials come from outside studios and production houses. Aside from that, it's like any production department inasmuch as everything is prerecorded, apart from the music, obviously. The promos, the IDs and that sort of stuff are all prerecorded. At Virgin, because of the setup, my job is a little more involved. It's a little more across the technical side of things. For example, when I first got here, one of my first jobs with another producer at the radio station was setting up the FM processing sound.

R.A.P.: How does Virgin avoid producing commercials? Don't you have a ton of "local" accounts without agencies who require the station to produce their commercials, much like stations in the U.S.?
Jeff: It was like that in Australia. We were so tight in Sydney that we basically made commercials overnight. We started commercial production at six or seven o'clock at night and worked through to the morning because we were tight for space. I think what happened here was--and maybe we're riding on this wave a little bit--but because the station was national to start off with, there was no direct business as such. All the clients we were dealing with were national and, therefore, were going through advertising agencies or local studios or whatever. Now, with the London thing, we're dealing with more direct clients inland. We have to service London clients. But, apart from one or two commercials that come in from here or there, we're still in the extremely fortunate position of accepting most stuff from studios and agencies, and I'm not complaining.

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