R.A.P. Interview: Joe Knight

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Joe Knight, Free-lance Writer, Fort Myers, Florida

joe-knight-mar97by Jerry Vigil

Over the year's, RAP has interviewed many "veterans" in the business, but never have we interviewed someone with over a half-century in the business! And finding this person still in the business is just as amazing. Many of you will recognize the name Joe Knight immediately. Others may not. But there's no question that Joe Knight deserves all the recognition our industry can give him. Nestled cozily in Fort Myers, Florida as a free-lance writer working primarily for Storm 106/WJST-FM, The Music of Your Life, Joe cranks out the spec spots that make life for WJST's AEs a lot easier, and the clients get some of the most creative ads on the air. Most of Joe's career has been spent as an air personality, although he began seriously voicing and writing commercials in the early 1960s when he eventually hit the big time, writing and voicing syndicated spots for 640 markets worldwide. Much time has passed since then, and in 1988, Joe focused his efforts primarily on writing, voicing, and producing spec spots for radio station AEs. There's a lot to learn from Joe, and we scratch the surface of his extensive experience and knowledge in this month's interview. His earlier successes allow him to work for reasons other than money, something most of us only dream of, and it's a treat to discover someone who is living proof that what we do for a living IS enjoyable enough to do for life.

RAP: Tell us how you started in radio and how you wound up at WJST.
Joe: I was born in Kansas near Wichita in a place called El Dorado. My dad was with an oil company and moved around quite a bit. We ended up in Great Bend, Kansas, and I went through high school there. There was one kid chosen from every state in the union--there were thirteen original colonies at that time--and they were chosen to represent the nation in Denver, Colorado. Denver University had a great journalism and radio school, and you could take either one. I opted for radio. This was at the end of my junior year in high school. So I went out there and spent about three months. I came back before my senior year and bugged the local radio station to put me on the air. They finally put me on weekends making station breaks. Most of the programs, of course, were network. We were the Old Blue Network at that time, and we had fifteen-minute programs. I made the station breaks on the weekend and gradually just got into it. I wasn't doing much DJ-ing at that time, but I just kept on with it.

I went to Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas and took some radio courses, but I didn't finish there because I'd already had some professional experience in radio, and I really wasn't learning a lot. So I went back home to Great Bend and worked full-time there. Then I worked in Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas, a four-state area.

I was drafted a couple of times. The war was still on when I got out of high school and was drafted, but then I flunked the final physical. I had bad eyes and flat feet, and they only wanted the real healthy guys because they thought they were going to have to invade Japan. Then, of course, the bomb dropped and that was all over. Then I was drafted again in '48 for the Korean thing which was really heating up. But that quieted down and I went back into radio. I was in Amarillo, Texas when they called that off, and I just stayed there and had a pretty good gig. I was there from '48 until almost 1950.

Then I went to work with Dean McGee and Senator Bob Kerr. They opened a station, KRMG, in Tulsa at the stroke of midnight in 1950. About eight months later, believe it or not, for the third time I was drafted because the Korean thing heated up again. So I ended up going to Europe from '50 to '52. I was on temporary duty with AFN, American Forces Network, out of Frankfort, Germany. They had stations all over Europe at that time, and I ended up doing a radio show. I billed myself as "Joe Knight, the Knight of the Spinning Roundtable," as I had from about 1950 on, and it worked wonderfully well. I had about sixty-five percent of my mail come from England, and I was the guest of a guy named Ted Heath, who was a big band leader. He's deceased now, but he was big all over the world with big band music. I was his guest at the Royal Festival Hall in 1951 where they had a lot of jazz and blues artists. It was really a wonderful time for me to meet some stars.

I toured the European Command with Vic Damone. Vic was our singer, and I was the announcer and sort of the emcee. Burt Bacharach was our piano player, and he did some arranging for us. We had about five or six guys, and we toured all around the European Command with a show. It was a lot of fun. I was also active in a thing called Starlift--fellows like Danny Kaye coming over to entertain the troops. I would go around with Danny and his group as sort of a liaison, and I'd do the emcee work for them. There were a lot of stars that came over at that time. Pearl Bailey and Louie Belson were there, so we had a lot of good music. After October 1952, my tour of duty was over and I went right back to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I picked up my old job and started doing a lot more free-lance. I was getting into more writing, working with ad agencies, and things of that sort. I worked there from 1952 to 1957. I got married in 1956 to a young lady I'd met in Amarillo when I was working there. About six months later, I went to Baltimore, Maryland. The manager of the Tulsa station had gone there a couple of years before. A slot opened up, afternoon drive, and he offered me a very, very good job. I was there from 1957 to 1972 with WFBR in Baltimore. Then from 1972 to 1988, I was with WCBM, Metromedia. In 1988, the fellow who bought the station drove us off the air. We went black. You rarely hear of that, and I'd never been associated with anything like that. I had done a lot of writing, and the minute the station went off the air, everybody knew it. I got a lot of calls from stations wanting me to come over and work with their sales staff to produce and write spec spots. So I went with WYST in Baltimore and it worked wonderfully well there for me and for them for about three years.

In the interim I had been working with radio syndicators, the Golnick Group was one of them. Leon Golnick had an ad agency in Baltimore for years and years. He was a heck of a guy, an entrepreneur, and he evolved this thing built around a guy named Louis R. Mills, Jr., who at that time and still is one of the best production guys I ever worked with. He was just marvelous, and he was the guy who did the production for us. We had sort of a stable of announcers, men and women. The nucleus was myself, a guy named Walt Teas, and the gal was Flo Ayers. They're both still there and still active. To keep it simple, we would work up campaigns for primarily automotives and furniture stores, and we would come up with some sort of a campaign theme like, "Nobody walks away from Smith Chevrolet; They drive away...," and that type of thing. We would have maybe three or four jingles--rock and roll, contemporary, country and western. Then we'd also have maybe ten or fifteen spots in that "Nobody Walks Away" package. We had salesmen out in the field all over the United States. How many, I don't recall offhand, but they'd go up and down the streets of Wichita or wherever they were and sell these campaigns. If Smith Motors didn't buy it, they'd go across the street to Dave's Used Cars. Then they'd go back to their motel that evening, make up an order for whatever they sold, and phone in the order. We'd sit back at the studio and do the spots they wanted--versions one, seven and nine. We'd do comedy spots that we already had written. We just plugged in their names and sent them out. It was incredible. Eventually, we did work for 640 markets here and abroad. We made a lot of money and so did Leon Golnick. He eventually took his whole act down to Florida, and I don't know what happened. I think they went out of business. But that's the type of thing I was doing. I was creating an awful lot of written material. I liked to write, and doing impressions and radio acting was always a fun thing for me to do.

When my daughters got married and moved away, I came down here to Fort Myers. I have two daughters. Lisa Klepac, is the Corporate Sales Manager at The Grand in Atlanta. She works on the hotel side. My other daughter is Kim Bostwick. Kim uses Kim Knight on the air because I was known for decades as Joe Knight. She is the traffic gal with Metro Traffic and has been for several years. She is also on television mornings and afternoons with the traffic report, and she's also into doing some free-lance. She currently is doing a TV documentary on angels which will be syndicated around the country, and she does voices and stuff, kind of following in the old man's footsteps.

So I came down here to Fort Myers about five years ago in '91. I talked to some radio stations and landed a very good gig with WARO-FM and WNOG-AM/FM. They built a studio for me here in Fort Myers in their business office. Their sales staff and stations are down in Naples. The problem was the sales staff was down there and I was sort of out of sight, out of mind, so I really didn't get as much action as I wanted. I don't want to kill myself, but I like to work. When those stations were bought out recently by Meridian Broadcasting, I had a chance to come over to WJST with Bernie Green. I'd worked with Bernie when he was an AE at WARO, and he was after me from time to time. So I came over to WJST. I've been here maybe a month or so, and I'm very happy and keeping very busy doing spots.

RAP: You're basically a free-lance writer for the station. Do you have clients outside of the station's clients?
Joe: Yes. I have some clients out of the state. I have some in Baltimore, and I work with some small agencies occasionally when they need something special. I do have a couple of banks I work with, and I have some automotives up in Brunswick, Maine, guys I've worked with for a while.

RAP: Do you office at the station?
Joe: Yes. I work right here and share some studio time with Andy Frame (Production Director, WJBX/WJST). Andy is such a great guy to work with. I met Andy working with him on a syndicated thing for an insurance consultant. Andy and I created some characters, and the insurance guy sent this stuff out all around the country to independent insurance agents showing how he could help them. So we did a little formatic back and forth situation-type thing, Andy and I, and that's how I met him. I was happy to join him over here. He's very generous with his time. He lets me get in that studio, and he's a terrific production guy. I'm still working with tape, and he does the real fancy stuff.

RAP: Describe your creative approach to writing copy?
Joe: It's visual. It's situational. I just wrote a spot a little while ago on a place called Taco Caliente, and the guy says, "I don't know what it is doctor, but every time I hear a bell I get a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach." And the doctor says, "You've got that big taco chain syndrome. What you need is a little TC." "Tender care?" "Taco Caliente." So it's that type of thing. I also write a lot of straight copy and some nice, warm stuff, too.

I try to write with humor and with a lot of different elements in there. The listener may not catch it all the first time, but by golly, on down the line they'll hear it again and they'll say, "Hey, that's that spot with the elephant, and now I heard something else." I try to keep it different, keep it so it sounds fresh almost every time they play it. If I was going to do a spot that was only going to be played once, then I would give the phone number eighty-three times and the guy's address and say, "Come down now."


RAP: Writing spots for local clients, you must have clients that want those addresses and numbers in there. How do you deal with this?
Joe: I try to think of a clever way to work those things in. You can't do it all the time, obviously. I might have a guy carrying a big sign with an address on it, and a guy says, "Wait a minute, isn't that the address of...?" Then I work the client into the thing. I did one where I used a lady, Miss Lip Gloss was her name. She was this guy's secretary, and it was a stationery shop. They had a special on Post It notepads, and she was wearing two in front and one on the back. And the one on the left has the phone number. The one on the right is the address, and that kind of thing. It was fun, yet all of a sudden you're hearing their name, address and phone number, and it's not just a laundry list of stuff.

RAP: It's visual.
Joe: Exactly, it's visual. Television, of course, is so great. They can do so many incredibly wonderful things, but so can radio. When I was a kid, I knew what the Lone Ranger's horse looked like. I knew the villains. I knew the topography, the little towns they would go into because they made it come alive. There's a hell of an art to radio acting, and it really, in some ways, is a lost art. But I'm sure there are a lot of good practitioners around. I think I do it well, and I've certainly fooled a lot of people for a long time. (laughs)

RAP: How do you think this art faded away? It doesn't seem as prevalent as it was in radio's early days.
Joe: It sure isn't. I know a lot of guys who got out of radio a long time ago. They weren't making much dough in it. They didn't have the love for it and the desire for it that I did. They're running 7-11s, or they're long retired by now, and I think they didn't pass that along. That's part of it. I also think that in the fifties, radio changed a lot with the advent of the real high energy stations. Instead of playing a song and then a couple of spots and then schmoozing a little bit, they played maybe a block of songs, three or four in a row, and then they had a window where they just dumped a bunch of commercials in.

More commercials used to be live years ago, so you had to be a little better. Everything you did, for the most part, unless it was a national account, something that was on disk, was live. So just reading it again and again, you'd get tired of it, and I think that's why you would twist a little phrase around here or there.

RAP: Well it's not a lost art as long as people like you are out there.
Joe: And of course there are guys like Dick Orkin. He's a wonderful guy, a great guy. Flo Ayers, Walt Teas and I syndicated about seven or eight different shows. Some of them were humor, and some of them were sports oriented. We had Johnny Unitas with the Colts because we were in Baltimore; he did a show for us. We had Brooks Robinson. He was with the Orioles. They're both Hall of Famers, and they were both neighbors of mine. Well, Orkin was about to take his Chicken Man on the road about that time. I think there was a big conference in Dallas for radio syndication. This was quite a number of years ago. He found out about us some way, came down to Baltimore to meet us, and was delightful. We thought he was not only a great talent, but a great guy, and he took a couple of our shows along with his Chicken Man and sold them around the country for us. I haven't talked to Dick in a long time, but I hear his work occasionally. He's sensational.

RAP: You've spent a lot of time behind the mike. Do you have any special techniques you use when you're doing voice-over work?
Joe: When I'm announcing some straight copy, I like to make it sound like it's live. I don't announce. I have that sort of off-the-cuff pause here or there that you wouldn't ordinarily hear. I do that for a couple of reasons. First of all, I think it catches the listener's ear. They don't get in sync with you. And it gives a longer shelf life to the spot itself.

RAP: We were talking ad agencies a moment ago. From your point of view, how have they changed over the years?
Joe: As far as radio goes, in some ways they're better. I think they rely on really high tech production more than they used to. It used to be maybe you'd slap on a piece of music, a couple of sound effects or something, and that's it. I think they do more in-house work now. A lot of them even have small in-house studios. I know in Baltimore a couple of them did a lot of their own spec work. Obviously, it depends largely on the agency. If they're big enough and have a big budget, they can get into it a little bit more.

Some guys who were in radio went with agencies as account executives, and some of the expertise they might have had while on the air rubbed off maybe in the writing. It's hard to say. It's like anything else, you know...there are changes. I always liked the boxy, continental look in automobiles, but they started homogenizing everything. I wouldn't buy a Thunderbird today. You could get a Taurus. It was all homogenized and began to sound an awful lot alike. It changed.

I don't think it really passed me by because I'm still active, and I've tried to bring them into my camp. I could do whatever they wanted. I'm a journeyman as far as that goes, but I tried to bring to a production session, whether I was writing it or helping to produce it or actually acting in it, a lot of the values and the verities I had discovered over the years. And pretty soon they were saying, "Hey, you know, that's the way to do that." I think it's almost a one-on-one thing. I never taught any classes or anything, but that's what I tried to bring to any agency work that I did. And they knew me real well up in Baltimore and Washington, so maybe they would defer not only to me but to other guys who had been in radio a long time. They might write something for us almost, because that was the type of thing they were trying to engender, a little situation comedy bit. They'd say, "We'll get Joe Knight and Walt Teas and Flo, and that will be our little company. We'll do some spots that way." They wrote to our strengths.

RAP: You've written a ton of spec spots. What kind of spec spots work best? What are some tricks that you've learned along the way that help you get that client signing the dotted line a little faster?
Joe: Say the AEs are going on a cold call. I have a fact sheet that they bring back to me. Everybody, I guess, has a variety of that. I ask them to put down everything they can, maybe how old the guy is, how he's dressed. Is he conservative? Is he kind of tough to deal with? Is he easy? They don't have to put that down, but it's helpful. Look around his office. Does he have a couple of golf trophies? Is he a bowler? I might put his company, his little spot, into a bowling venue, and he might get a smile out of that. Also, I try as much as I can to feed back any little phrases, little things that he might have about his company. Obviously, you want to put his name, address, what he does and things like that, but these little things are special. I put them in, and all of a sudden it seems as if this guy wrote this spot himself. All of those little tidbits of information will be in there. It's like a vanity press. Not every time--this is a broad thing--but sometimes I try to make my spots so that when these guys hear them, when Ned's Hardware hears it, and it's got so much in it about him and his company and his little hardware store, what they've done and how neat it is, then Ned just has to play that thing. He's got to play it for his wife, his employees. They say, "Jeez, that's really good." Pretty soon, they've got to put it on the air. It's a vanity thing with them. And they can't believe that from a business card or a little thing out of the yellow pages that I have come up with a full-blown spot, maybe even a jingle, some goofy little ten-line thing that I've done. Here they've got all this. What are they going to do with it? They can't just play it on their cassette every day. They've got to have it on the air. And with that, and, of course, the expertise of the salespeople, we have pretty darn good luck.

That's what I try to do. It's almost as if you were walking along the street and found an old, rusty belt buckle, but it had your initials on it. You found you could shine that sucker up, and you start to wear it. Now you're proud of it, and people comment on it. So that's what I try to do. I try to shine their business up, no matter how small or how large it is.

RAP: Most anyone who has written spec spots will tell you stories of the many changes their original spot undergoes before the client is happy. You must run into this also.
Joe: That's one of the problems with spec spots. If somebody gives you or gives me five thousand dollars to create a campaign for them, you almost have less trouble than if you do something on a spec for a guy, because if there's no value to him attached or no cost, then he wants to get into the act and change this and do that. But if he's spent a lot of money with you, then he says you're the expert. And a lot of times it's easier to work with a bigger advertiser in some ways. There's some down sides to that, too. But if they've got five grand out there, they figure you've got to be good. Usually, I'm just working with the small people, and it's more fun. I'd rather get more quantity of business than maybe one large thing. I really would. It's a challenge to me.

RAP: When you use this "vanity press" approach on a spot, you must draw a thin line between that vanity aspect of the commercial and actually trying to draw customers?
Joe: Oh, yes. You certainly do. It's not something I could really explain to you, but you're absolutely right. You've got to mix them together well. And I don't use that approach every time, but it's something I let the salespeople keep in the back of their minds. It's just another angle to get them to see how I think. It has worked for me over the years, and I tend to go with things that have worked for me. I guess everybody tends to do that.


RAP: One of the basic rules of copywriting today is that you've got to hook that listener within the first few seconds. Is this a rule you use as well?
Joe: Yes, I try to get you into my web quickly. For example, I wrote one for a battery company, York Battery up in York, Pennsylvania, a number of years ago. You hear this orchestral fanfare and the guy says, "It's time now for This Is York Battery, and here's your host, Ralph Pushy." And it's Ralph Edwards saying, "Thanks, Jay, and hello out there." And then he goes in to introduce this guy as famous daredevil driver, Pop Wheely, and says, "Remember when you tried to drive an automobile off the top of Dolly Parton? It wouldn't start so you had to go to York Battery, and they had the one that got 'er going. Remember that sound?" All of a sudden you know that it's This is Your Life, and you're working all the different batteries into this spot.

I try to get them hooked early. I try to get them into whatever situation it is. Maybe it's a guy who has kidnapped another guy and is holding him for ransom for three tacos that he's ordering. Whatever the little crazy situation is, if there is one in the spot, I try to get them there in the first line. That helps me, and it makes the listener comfortable. Now they know what's going on, and they don't have to cerebrate over it.

RAP: You must be amazed at how advertising has changed over the years. I'll watch these programs on television that show old commercials, and the change is so dramatic. The way they used to pitch us, the customer, back then seemed so plain and simple. It was so up front and so easy to see what they were doing. Now you watch a commercial and you may get sucked into something for twenty-nine seconds before you know what they're trying to sell you. Then in the last second you get a logo.
Joe: This goes back to what we were talking about with ad agencies a while ago. They get so super, supra clever, and they can do it so easily with all the morphing and the incredible visuals they have. It's really tough to avoid that, I would think. And you're absolutely right. With a lot of them, I don't know what the hell they're selling. But I really admire it. I think, "Boy, that is great, but what the hell was that again?"

Being in the business I certainly admire what they're doing on TV now, I really do. I just think it's incredible. I don't know what the hell or how the hell they're doing it, but it's just marvelous. But here's what gets me. Here's this Mercedes going very slowly across the screen and Janis Joplin is singing "Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz...." My God, if you tried to do that for Ned's Hardware, he would throw you out. But Mercedes Benz went for it. But you get Ned's Hardware and no, they want that name in there thirty-seven times. It's tough to explain. I don't go out on sales calls, so I don't know what the salesmen are saying to the clients. I just try to give them as much information as I can to help them sell the creative.

RAP: It sounds like a wonderful win-win situation there. You still get to play in a craft you love and pretty much set your hours, and they get direct benefits in the way of new clients and added revenue. They must be happy to have you.
Joe: They really are. It's a good deal for both. And the material is good. I'm really proud of what I do. I'm not the best writer or the best voice man or best straight announcer or best producer, but I may be one of the best writers/straight men/producers around doing this all on my own. It's a rare thing, plus, I don't have to do it. And that gives you so much freedom when you have that financial thing stripped away from you.

I had a couple of appointments when I first moved down here. I said, "I'm going around to these radio stations with my little dog and pony show and tag on with one of them." Well, I went to a couple of them and they couldn't believe it. They thought maybe I was some serial killer who was going to inveigle my way into their station and then either steal all their stuff or kill somebody because they could not believe that some guy who had all this background and all this jazz was going to come in and do it for nothing, on the comp, to sell. But this one guy who was with WARO caught on immediately. He said, "Where do you live, Joe?" I said, "I'm in Fort Myers." He said, "Well, you don't want to commute to Naples." And I said, "No." He said, "We'll put a studio in for you," and he called his chief engineer right there. It was just a couple of 2-track machines and a CD, just a minimal thing. It had a little board and cost just a few grand, but I turned out some great stuff. He could see the potential right away.

RAP: Why did you leave this deal with WARO?
Joe: The guy that hired me left. The new management really didn't...I don't know, they just forgot about me almost. So it really was no fun anymore. I wanted action, and, boy, I'm getting it here, I'm telling you.

RAP: Andy Frame mentioned you had a spot in the Broadcasters Hall of Fame. When did this happen?
Joe: Well, let me digress. I do an NFL banquet every year. It's a charity banquet for abused children and their families. It's called Courage House, and they've probably got about eight or nine of them in different NFL cities. Anyway, I go up there every year to do this thing in Baltimore, and we're having it again this year. The banquet is March 18th. So last year I went to one of the cocktail parties and a fellow in his mid-thirties said, "Joe Knight, the Knight of the Spinning Roundtable. Boy, I listened to you when I was a kid, and then you finally left. Where are you now?" We got to talking and he said, "I was really, really thrilled to see your picture and the nice write-up in USA Today." I said, "What?" And he said, "Yeah, it was seventy-five years of radio history and you were right in there." I said, "What are you talking about? Nobody even mentioned it to me." Well, to make a long story nauseating, I contacted USA Today and got three copies of the paper. Sure enough, there's a big full-page spread with pictures of Jack Webb, Howard Stern, and me, and it said, "In the 1950s, gimmicks were big with disk jockeys, and Joe Knight, the Knight of the Spinning Roundtable is pictured here with his suit of armor...."

So I'm like, "My God, how did this happen?" How, out of all the really big guys, did they pick me? So I called the young lady at USA Today who wrote the article and she said, "Oh yeah, Joe and that suit of armor." "Where did you get that photo?" She said, "I got it out of a big coffee table book that a guy had written," and that book is "Blast from the Past - A Pictorial History of Radio's First 75 Years" by Eric Rhoads. So my picture was in this book, and that's how she got this thing. And, apparently, either in New York or up in Pennsylvania where they have a Radio Hall of Fame, I'm in this thing, and believe me, I had no idea. I certainly deserve it! (laughs)

RAP: You must have a ton of amusing stories to tell. Pick one!
Joe: I'll tell you one that might be interesting. When I was in Great Bend, Kansas, I was at this little 250 watt coffee pot. Well, they used to jack that thing up to about a thousand watts at night, and you could get away with murder. I'm telling you this because the statute of limitations has run out. But anyway, the man who managed that radio station, long gone now, a fellow named Clem Morgann, used to book all of the big bands that would come through the Midwest, and there were tons of them in the forties and even on into the early fifties. They would go to Kansas City. Then they might go out to Denver, or they might go down to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Right in the middle of Kansas there was this great, huge hall that was built, an auditorium. It could hold several thousand people. We had almost every traveling band you could ever think come to this hall. We had Jimmy Dorsey, Henry Bussey, Vincent Lopez, all the mickey mouse type bands. We had Louie Armstrong. Fletcher Henderson came through with a band. Paul Whiteman came out of retirement and went on the road for a while. We had Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. Count Basie was there. We even had Chico Marx, one of the Marx Brothers. He fronted a band for a while.

It was incredible, and I was the announcer for all of those bands doing a local broadcast. We had a thirty-minute broadcast. I was at the right time and in the right place to meet all those guys and to get all that exposure and experience. Now, our transmitter only went up to about a thousand watts, but we could get into five different states at night. So wherever those guys were going to play, we would plug their next gig saying, "Hey, don't forget now, after Great Bend, Basie and the boys are going out to Denver," and I'd talk to Count Basie on the mike and plug his next show. So, of course, it was a tremendous inducement for them to do this little local broadcast for us, and we would draw a couple of thousand or twenty-five hundred people into this auditorium to hear these bands. People came from all over--from Oklahoma, Colorado, even from Texas and Arkansas.

RAP: Obviously, you never got caught increasing the power beyond the legal limits.
Joe: And what's funny is that I worked with a couple of guys at that little radio station who years later became members of the FCC. Isn't that great? They got the biggest kick out of it. One of them was a Sports Director on our station, so I said, "You couldn't do anything to us because you were in on it." But, really, we had a lot of fun.

RAP: I'm finding it amazing to watch stations move from tape to digital recorders. You must have experienced some technological changes most of us can only read about.
Joe: Well, obviously, I worked with disks. We'd go live right to disk sometimes. If you goofed up, you were in a peck of trouble. I worked with wire recording. If it broke, you tied a square knot in it and clipped the ends. Then, of course, I worked with tape, and now digital is just incredible. I don't know squat about that and am probably too old to learn. I can do things just about as fast but not as good in many ways. I'm certainly not going to take anything away from Andy. Andy's a master. I just admire his work so much.

RAP: What do you do for creative inspiration? What do you do when you need a great spot fast?
Joe: Let me relate an incident that may answer a lot of your questions. I worked in Baltimore with a fellow who was a very bright guy, very smart. He was terrific, and he thought he was a writer and an announcer and a voice man, and he was not bad in any of them but not really, really great. He would sit down, put a piece of paper in the typewriter, and spend quite a bit of time writing this spot with different voices. I'd end up working with him on some of these things, and they were so damned complicated. Then he'd spend hours picking just the right sound effect, editing this, splicing that, and he'd finally end up with a pretty decent spot, But he spent so much time doing it. And he couldn't figure out how I could come in and do the same thing, and it would take me a tenth of the time. Well, one day he caught me at it. What I was doing, and I'm doing it right now as I'm talking to you, I'm getting a sound effects CD and it says, "Girl in Shower, one minute, one second." Well, I put that on, and whatever this girl is doing, as she's opening and closing the curtain, as the water is starting, I would write a spot to that. I was writing to whatever extant sound effects there were. I wasn't trying to write a spot with all these wild things and then build them in. I did it backwards. That's what he said, and he was so mad. "Well, you're doing it backwards," were his words, and I said, "No, that's the only way to do it. Otherwise, you've got to spend hours on that jazz." Say you were a lyricist, and I'm sending you a great piece of music. You listen to that music, and you put your words to it. That's what I was doing with sound effects. Now, I don't do it every time--I'm painting with kind of a broad brush here--but a lot of times, that's the way I would do it.

Another thing, I would take these sound effects CDs and just look at them. A guy would come in and say he wanted a spot for Ned's Hardware. I'd think, oh God. Wait a minute. Here's an elevator interior. Okay, I'd play that. "We're going up to the second floor of Ned's Hardware." "There is no second floor...," that type of thing. Now I've got a visual. Now I've got a place to put Ned. By actually looking at these sound effects, it triggers something I can deal with. The guy says, "Boy, how'd you ever think of that?" Well, all I did was just look at some sound effects. It's like somebody standing there giving you eighty-three ideas. So that's a lot of the way I work, and obviously, I write to my own strengths. I'm not going to write something I'm not capable of doing, or if I do, I'll get somebody else who can really do it. I'm writing to my own strengths, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's certainly served me well.

Here's another thing you can do if you're writing a spot and you're sort of stumped, and everybody draws a blank every now and then. Just put a piece of paper in the typewriter and type, "It looks like it's going to be a long fly ball" or something. Now you're at the ball park. You're stuck, but at least you've got some frame of reference. Put something down and try to write your way out of it. That's one way that has worked for me over the years. Or use the little gimmick with the sound effects. That'll help you a hell of a lot. Think visually, that is if you're writing. If you're doing a straight announce, try to sound like you're doing it live, and if you're acting and you're on mike and there's a knock on the door, don't just say "Come in." Use body English. Step away from the mike.

These are things I use, and I betcha some things a lot of people never thought about. I'm sure people out there have got stuff I've never thought about too, but these techniques have always worked for me, and you just can't go wrong doing things like that.

RAP: You're a real inspiration for people of all ages in this end of the business. It's good to know creative writing and production can carry someone as far and for as long as it has carried you.
Joe: I've just been so fortunate to retain my interest and have a chance to continue in this business. I am at a point where I really don't have to work. I made a lot of dough and invested it, and it's just perfect. I'm the luckiest guy in radio, believe me, to be able to call the shots, but I still want to do it because it's so much fun. I enjoy working with young people, and I'm bringing a lot of the magic of old radio back into today. I do a lot of Bob and Ray type of stuff, and I have lots of crazy characters with funny names.

RAP: You're just having some fun!
Joe: Oh, my gosh. I'm afraid someone's going to catch on to me. I'm having too much fun. But I put fifty-three years in this business and I ought to have something to show for it. My wife and I live very simply, but we take some nice trips. We take the kids to Europe, and I can do a lot of stuff that I didn't do before. But I think exactly the same way I did fifty years ago in my own personal life. I'm sitting here now with jeans on and a polo shirt and a pair of sneaks with my feet up, and it's just great. And when they catch on to me, I'll move to Wichita.

 

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