Q It Up: Who knows more about imaging a radio station: the stations’ Imaging Directors… or the Program Directors?

Q-It-Up-Logo-4Q It Up: Who knows more about imaging a radio station, the stations’ Imaging Directors… or the Program Directors? Who really “directs” the imaging at your station(s) or at stations you worked at in the past? Who should direct it? I’m talking about the difference between an Imaging Director going to work in the morning and getting an order from the PD for some new sweepers, or going to work in the morning and deciding for him/herself that it’s time for some new sweepers, and what they should say (within the PD’s guidelines, of course). Please add any other comments you have on the subject.

Mike Hansen: Here it is a collaboration. We meet every Monday to discuss what's happening, what's new, and what could be better. If anyone has any tremendous ideas, they get discussed and we move on with or without them. No idea is a bad one, and you need some thick skin from time to time.

The writing and production is done mostly by me, but getting that road map once a week from the staff is essential.

Gord Williams: I never worked with Imaging Directors, but I suppose they came after I left the business full time. I believe however, I can contribute to the conversation.

Imaging Directors and Program Directors are mid-level positions. Fewer of these people are autonomous. The Imaging Director I would imagine to have a bit more practical knowledge of the parts and assembly of an image, and the Program Director, where it should fit in the clock.

Neither necessarily fit into or understand the image that the station wishes to project. I chose my words carefully there, necessarily. I have known Program Directors to be nothing more than caretakers and the decisions are made elsewhere, and an image director could really be a production manager with just as many other things to focus on. In fact I would bet on it.

I was in contact with an image director who was let go full time and hired back on a piecework basis as a consultant.

To me, as a semi-retired ol' guy, it looks much the same. Somehow in the walls of a station, or virtual walls of a group of stations, a wish becomes someone's imperative and perhaps more than one person is on the same page. Someone does it, writes it, produces demo's, etc. Then it has to be run by a formal or informal committee or perhaps it even goes to air and lasts or doesn't.

What gets said in them isn't linear. In the sense that someone sits down and is in charge of producing them start to finish without interruption or without veto coming from some other place, or person. If it does last on air, it may or may not fit the model image of a radio station/group. Probably fewer people would know who the target listener is. Some stations have identified them and gave them a name, but still everyone in a meeting discussing Sally or Sam (whatever they called the average listener) will have a different focus.

I have come across groups that trade work to get other voices in their work, so it’s not the same two or three voices at their station. I don't think on average the work has improved, as in a sharp marketing focus is not a part of it, given the willingness to trade off shopping list spots.

Who should direct it starts at the beginning of this question. The image director. I doubt there are enough in the industry to say it’s a real position, contracted or not. Secondly, there are fewer people who have a practical background to be carefully selected to be both promotionally minded and production savvied. It would be someone with that balance and with the go ahead of the station or group to produce imaging from beginning to end.

Perhaps RapMag could begin a search for a real imaging manager, who is 'all of the above'.

Craig Jackman, Professor – Radio Broadcasting, School of Media, Arts, and Design: The regular updating of station imaging was my great failure as a Producer. I was pretty good at promos, spots, and dealing with clients, but imaging needs to be continually updated and fresh, so it’s best to do several daily, and monthly go in and remove the stale. I might do dozens every 2-3 months, but wouldn’t go through and pull stale ones more than once every 18 months or so. A Producer these days needs to be self-sufficient and proactive on imaging, continually feeding the beast. The station I’m listening to now is getting very stale in its imaging as some is at least a year old. In the past I could reimage the station on a yearly basis, but these days it has to turn over (not necessarily completely) every 6 months max. But…

The image of the station is set early by the PD when they say “we are this kind of station”, hire the station voice, and sign the invoice for a production music/effects service. From there, just about everything imaging should be up to the Creative end of the building. Find out how the station voice reads a write to that voice. Produce to the limit of the station and music service, then go just a little bit further. Sometimes go too far and enjoy it for the few hours that it makes it to air. My last couple of PDs would rather reign me back in and pull the occasional image piece off the air, than continually push and drag me to do something different in imaging.

Drake Donovan, Drake Donovan Creative Services, Louisville, KY: As a Creative Services Director for two stations within a cluster, I was in a collaborative relationship with my OM/PD who oversaw those signals. We had a standing Tuesday meeting where we would talk about the direction of each station’s brand. He would lay out a blueprint or campaign for me to follow, but I would have the responsibility of creating the ways to support the brand message between the songs. For contesting and other creative, I also collaborated with our APDs & promotions directors. I viewed us the “Triumvirate” of the station, controlling how things sounded overall between music, promotions and imaging maintaining a cohesive unit.

Gary McClenaghan, Imaging Director, Bell Media, Edmonton, AB: I think the imaging of any station should be a collaboration of all the personalities actively involved in the station. Every PD should have a vision of “who” he wants his station to be and sound like, and my job as the ID, is to find that sound and get it out there (I’m a tool – wait… ok… yeah… I am). I think it’s important that the ID consults the PD on anything in question, but once you know his vision, I take pretty free reign on what goes on the air. As far as changing things up, I depend on on-air, programming, promo. Everyone should have a say based on their particular experience on the operation of the station, listening in their environments and situations. (ie. I am not able to listen to our midday girl’s show as I am usually in the thick of it. But I know others are able to be more in tune, so I lean on them.)

It’s the job of the ID to take everything into account, and find and follow that brand. I try to infuse the personalities of our on-air people into my imaging as well. The PD hired them because he felt they were good for our station image, so who better to mold the station character around. What makes them laugh, what topics they talk about, how they interact with their audience. My “show” is just with a voice talent, and fancy imaging elements, but it all works in tandem to portray a similar attitude and brand.

K.M. Richards, K.M. Richards Programming Services: Since I'm a consultant, take this response accordingly. I usually find that at my client stations I usually have to give PDs direction on all aspects of programming, and often my presence means they can't afford to have a separate ID. In fact, I'm more often than not either the person who orders imaging for the station or producing it myself using one of the voices I have access to.

Now, having said that, my personal belief is that imaging should be a collaborative effort between the Program Director and the Imaging Director. Either one, working without the other, is bound to get something wrong. There are exceptions, of course, but those are usually the result of long-time employment at a station with no radical changes in programming direction, because a REALLY good ID will, after working with a PD for a long period, be more attuned to the PD's vision and will naturally incorporate that.

The one person who should never be involved in imaging is the GM... unless the main positioning statement (the one that also goes on the outdoor advertising and in the station's sales kit) is being changed. Then it should be the GM working with the PD, with the ID being "in the loop" only near the end of the process.

Why do I think the ID should be brought in last when it's the main positioner? Because deciding on the phrasing and language of something which is going to be the station's identity both on and off should not be "colored" based only on how it's going to sound. The ID should be involved near the end of the decision-making process, to identify anything that looks good on paper or in graphics but will come off sounding wrong on the air.

The GM needs to be the primary force in a main positioner or slogan because the GM knows (or had better know, anyway) what's also going to help sales... and potential advertisers need a strong overall statement beyond what's in typical on-air imaging.

In other words, where imaging is concerned, I say keep everyone focused on their strong points.

Johnny George, Johnny George Communications: Had the honor of being the first Imaging Director in Indianapolis when I was hired by Susquehanna in 1997 and given the title and the responsibility to Image 95-5 WFMS, the #1 Country Station at the time, launch & image GOLD 104.5 WGLD, an Oldies Station and 93-9 The Bear, a Young Country Station. The latter one changed formats, as the wind blew, due to one reason or another during my tenure of my 9 years there. Retro, Christian, News/Talk, Christmas Station, Light Rock, etc...

The PD’s of each station were very hands-on and we worked as a team for each station. Due to my story-telling nature, the stationality came from me in promos, sweepers and such, but the PDs guided the facts that were needed for contests, etc.. Remember, that was also a different time in Imaging. Our promos weren’t 30 seconds or shorter as they are today. Another reason I’m glad I’m not still in radio. I really enjoyed building promos and leading the listener through the story and payoff. All three stations sounded different than any other in the market. After a few years and format changes, the 93-9 frequency was taken off my plate so I could focus on the other 2 ratings dominators -- highly produced stations that depended on freshness and attention. It was a joy to work there at the time.

When Cumulus bought out Susquehanna in 2006, my job was eliminated and I went full-time as a Voice Actor. All three stations tried to maintain their efforts of Imaging, but it truly was a bit much to expect anyone else to do that AND their regular job too at the level we were doing before. No one was hired to replace me. Just more hats to be worn in this age of consolidation. As of this writing, WFMS has dropped from #1 to #11, I believe. And Gold was changed to a Jack station while I was there and did fine for a while, (lots of FUN!) until the new owners changed it again and stripped it of most all the stationality and turned it into a Classic Rock jukebox. Seems to be in the top 5 now, but certainly not as fun to listen to as it was years ago.

I listen to Sirius/XM now…..

Ashley Bard, www.ashleybard.co.uk: The Programme Director is the one in charge. He makes the calls for the station, and if the station underperforms, it comes down on his head.

If he's a good PD, he'll hire a good Imaging Director. It's the ID's profession, therefore he's the expert in the field. The ID should know when new sweepers are needed before it's even spoken about by the PD. You should be on top of all topical/seasonal sweeper and promo pieces and run them by your PD just to keep them in the loop.

But always remember who's the boss, if the PD speaks up about your production, don't take it personally - work on the feedback and create a sound you both agree on.

Mitch Todd, Sirius/XM: Really good question. One of the most important criteria I use when pairing a Programmer with a Producer is “chemistry”. It must start with a good relationship. It is less important who individually conceives the majority of the ideas, or if they’re done collaboratively. What’s important is that they are GOOD ideas, then well executed. If the Producer/Imaging Director has “better” writing/conceptual skills, he/she should lead the charge. Perhaps the Imaging Director takes the necessary bullet points and runs with it. However, I do feel the Program Director is the captain of the ship and ultimately responsible for its content.

I was the Creative Director at a very successful station in the 90s where the Program Director was one of the most creative “spin-doctors” I’ve ever known! He would write outrageously funny, sometimes way out there copy. Usually it was two pages long, and in that scenario, I was the copy editor then Producer. That particular arrangement worked quite well, and we (often collaboratively) came up with what I considered some of our best work. I have been in other situations where the P.D. would simply say “We need a promo for X, Y, Z and it needs to be creative… in an hour”! I loved that as well, as we were generally simpatico, and few revisions were required (if there are more than two revisions that weren’t the result of something out of our control, perhaps the working relationship should be reevaluated)!

Basically if there’s a good, fun working relationship and compelling/entertaining/effective promos are the result, that’s all that matters.

Adam Venton, UKRD, Bristol, UK: At UKRD, we have group production facilities shared across all our stations – myself and Col McGinness make all S&P and imaging (minus sung jingles, which are outsourced) for all 16 stations in our group. However, the way in which the company is run allows all decisions to me made locally by the relevant station PDs. There is no ‘group control’; as such, we’re more of a support resource. PDs tell us what they’d like, and we make it happen.

Most PDs in our group are always open to opinion and guidance, which means we can control, to a certain extent, what is made and goes to air. We can tighten up key messages, suggest different phrasing etc. – but the underlying messages are decided by the PDs. There are times when we create something from scratch and pitch it to our stations, but the decision to opt in or out is made on a local level. For a local station in a local market, who knows the listeners better, a PD who lives in the community, who knows the local issues, hotspots, key topics, local pride, or us in production based hundreds of miles away? Obviously, it’s the former. Our PDs come up with the content and key messages; we make them creative and accessible to listeners.

Archer Dusablon, Archer2000.net LLC: For me, there is no set rule for any of this. I've been Imaging Director for great PDs with crystal-clear visions. I've been the one with the imaging vision later enhanced or directed by the PD, have been left totally to my own devices, and have produced others' imaging scripts to the letter without input. The level at which a "creative chemistry" occurs between an ID and PD determines the dynamic.

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