Production 212: Just One Wafer Thin Mint (with apologies to Monty Python)

Prod212-Logo 2014 webby Dave Foxx

A few months ago in this space, I talked about stations that go through a change when a new Program Director arrives, causing all kinds of anxiety. I assured everyone that not much was changing at Z100/New York as we transitioned to our new PD, Mark Medina… and I was basically right. The in-house staff remains intact, the fundamentals are all the same with only very minor tweaks, and the overall direction and philosophies are all pretty much exactly like they were. Mark has changed only a handful of small things, but now I’ll have to define what I mean by small. To the crew already working here in Gotham City, it’s not such a big deal if you swap out one of the outside contracted voices on the station. To the audience however, that one small difference has had an amazing impact on the sound of Z100.

After a massive effort at lobbying by several key staff members and myself, Mark (reluctantly) became the third VO on the station. I say reluctantly because doing VO is not something he set out to do in this business. I sincerely doubt he would ever pursue doing VO as a sideline. He had taken on VO duties at his Washington station mainly out of budgetary considerations, but I always thought he was a perfect fit there. Our previous 3rd VO was a little light and sweet for Z100, but Mark sounds real and can pull off the self-deprecating humor that we like so much. For this months’ column, I thought it might be fun to play a series of promos that demonstrates just how much changing one of the voices can evolve the sound of a radio station.

The first promo will serve somewhat as a baseline, especially if you’re not very familiar with what Z100 sounds like. It’s one that uses specially recorded artist lines, something we love to do whenever we can get the artist to cooperate. Kelly Clarkson was out doing the ‘promo’ tour thing in support of her new album back in February, so naturally her management said yes immediately when we made the request. It’s just Kelly Clarkson and me doing all the VO work. Promo 1

I’ve never quite figured out why it’s so hard for an artist’s handlers to find a quiet, non-echo-filled space to record the artist lines. But it is what it is and we made do. I think the promo carried a lot of weight with the listeners though because I am told the contest lines practically melted down every time we gave away tickets. Gotta love the star power.

A few weeks later, we had struck out on performer audio from Fall Out Boy, so I concocted a brew using all three of the station voices, Kelly Kelly Kelly, our newly minted Z100 VO – Mark and myself, and made it about the promotion’s destination, West Palm Beach, Florida. Notice that each new thought was carried by a new voice and I purposely did not use any long phrasing. This kept the energy level very high throughout. Promo 2

One bonus on this promotion was once we decided to make it about West Palm Beach, our crack sales team was able to actually sell the promotion to their Chamber of Commerce and the airport down there. It’s always nice to add to the station’s bottom line.

In my third example, there was no grand prize, so keeping the energy level high was really important. Sounding excited about a simple ticket giveaway can be difficult because it’s something we do all the time. This promo uses stock artist drops, all the station voices AND lyric grabs. I basically threw in the kitchen sink! More importantly, I kept the edits coming fast and furious, almost daring the listener to keep up. Promo 3

One of the little tricks I learned years ago was to overlap the VO a bit to keep the excitement level high. I’ve since endured many a criticism for making it sound too “hypey,” but I always counter with, “Yeah? So what’s your point?” Station promotions are, by definition hype, so I’m not really sure why those critics think that’s a bad thing.

My last example does all of the above, and adds my favorite element, self-deprecating humor. I’m usually the one who will say something stupid and just let it burn for a moment, but this time Mark said the stupid and I got to say, “Really?” Promo 4

My standard operating procedure with newly produced promos is to upload them to my server (I use Hightail, but Dropbox works equally well) and just send the link to Mark for approval. So, I’m not usually present when Mark hears a finished promo the first time. This go-around, I insisted he come down to my studio to hear it in person. I just wanted to see his face when it hit, and it was SO worth it. He actually laughed out loud!

Well, there’s a complete four-course meal for you. I couldn’t eat another bite. And yet, the fun continues at Z100/New York. Life with PD Mark Medina has in just a few months proven to be exciting. Everyone can feel the station lifting to a new upward trajectory. The electricity in the hallways of Z100 has jumped in intensity and you can see a new spark of confidence in the eyes of the staff.

Lest anyone think that any of this is in any way lessens what went before, let me be clear: the time we spent under the guidance of Sharon Dastur was one of almost continuous growth and improvement. I feel quite comfortable saying that everyone on the staff loved working for her. She remains a good friend and trusted confidant of mine, and is someone I still look up to as one of the all-time best PDs I’ve ever known. I am really sorry that even though we still work in the same building, our paths seldom cross and so I don’t get to see her nearly as often as I’d like.

But, the funny thing about people is, when you work together with someone over a long period of time, it’s really easy to get a little bit lazy. Everyone knows what to expect from everyone else, and people tend to work to that expectation. At Z100, you give 100% of your skills and imagination to the work all the time, because that’s the norm; that’s just how you do it. However, when you stir in new management, everyone starts pushing harder and quickly discovers that the old 100% is the new 80%. It has little or nothing to do with the individuals, but speaks more to the psychology of the employer/employee relationship. My guess is, had the transition gone from Mark to Sharon, we’d be experiencing the same changes in attitude and spirit. There’s a spark of new energy that comes from trying to please the new boss. You discover new reserves of energy and the adrenaline pumps a little harder, your skills seem to sharpen and creativity floods your brain.

I have myself rediscovered that old feeling of euphoria I got when I first started at the mighty Z. Knowing that I am working at the top dog in the number one market is like driving a Maserati on the Autobahn. It’s such a huge rush; my edits come quicker, the music flows better and the energy is almost manic. I really wish everyone could feel the way I feel about my job.

You may be sitting there wondering what the takeaway from this column is supposed to be. Other than hopefully sparking a few ideas with all the production, I want you to know that getting new management can really be a good thing. Embrace it and keep an open mind about all the possibilities. A new PD or OM could be just the nudge you need to finally realize your full potential

Finally, I want to close out this month’s column on a personal note with a big, wet, sloppy kiss, or a more chaste, certainly drier hug (whichever would be preferred) to everyone who wrote an email or PM of support during my recent personal ordeal. Losing my daughter to the big C was quite possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to endure. The pain lingers, but the overwhelming support and love I’ve gotten back has really reassured me that mankind is NOT circling the drain. I hope I was able to respond to all the messages, but there were an awful lot, so if I missed yours, please forgive me. Believe me when I tell you it was deeply appreciated.

Dave Foxx is the Director of Creative Services for iHeartMedia New York. He welcomes your comments and questions at davefoxx@iheartmedia.com.

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