R.A.P. Interview: Don Elliot

R.A.P.: How about a few promotion ideas to pass on to some of the programmers and promotions people reading this?
Don: There is a lot of stuff that has worked so well over the years that I wouldn't be afraid to use again right now. You just take some of these things and expand on them. I was in Chuck Blore's office a year ago and he was down in the dumps. I said, "What's troubling you?" He said, "There aren't any new ideas; I keep running out of ideas." I said, "Wasn't it you that said there aren't any new ideas, you just keep recycling the old ones and put a fresh ribbon on them?" He said, "Yea, yea, but it's really hard to keep comin' up with new stuff." It is, but I think what he was saying, and he's smart enough know this, is what we were talking about a moment ago. You've got to understand human nature and lifestyles and then design things to that. Then you go one level deeper into the emotion or the perception part of it. Everybody's talking about perceptions. They're understanding it, but they don't know how to do it. It's stuff that we've been doing at gut level for years.

Dave McNamee is one of the biggest advocates, if not Scott Shannon, of tempering your research with what you know is right anyway. The critics of that say, "Oh, you're just doing research to justify what you're going to do anyway" because they don't understand. People that react that way, with what is thought to be just gut level programming, have the experience to understand something that I never see in print, and that's human nature. It really works, and radio is so direct with people.

Getting back to ideas we were talking about recycling... One of the great things we used to do was announce the locations of the radar traps in the city. Everybody does traffic reports, but nobody gives radar locations, right? And people don't believe this, but police departments will cooperate with you and give the locations to you because the idea is visible enforcement. Suppose we had the death penalty and nobody knew about it. What kind of deterrent is that? The audience doesn't realize this. They think, "Gosh, the station's really in on something. They're doing a spy trip on the fuzz!" Sometimes you get in areas where police departments don't appreciate it, so instead, you get spotters to call in. Then you can turn that into a promotion itself -- "We'll give you a prize for the radar tip of the day." It's that attitude of the fun, wild and crazy radio station, like they're getting away with something.

Another oldie is the plain old kick of making people think the disc jockey was in trouble for having done something, hence the promotion of, "We're going to throw this guy off the air for what he said." We were doing that in Kansas City in the 60's. Jay Thomas did it most recently with the "We apologize for what Jay Thomas said" promotion. That was our sign-on promotion with Dees: "We apologize for what Rick Dees said this morning." In fact, we got caught on that one about a month later after all the trades had fallen for it. Some sharpie with the LA Times checked with the TV stations and found that we had bought time for the apology a week before the thing had happened on the air. They nailed us on that one, but it's a cute promotion. It's also one of the oldest ones in the book, but it's still a good one if it hasn't been done in a market.

Here's an idea for stations really fighting in the foxholes without any ratings or clients. If you want to get an advertiser with something other than "spec selling," pull up in front of his furniture store with your news cruiser and mention that the first fifty people to come in will get a free record album or whatever. When the guy is deluged with people, you say, "OK, if we don't have any ratings, what's this response? Obviously the ratings are pretty far behind."

Here's another one: There's always a station in town that's got something different on the air than everybody else to set 'em aside. For example, there's probably a station in every market that uses reverb on their signal. Air check some of their spots and send them to the agencies. "This is what your spot sounds like on WXXX." Also send them an aircheck of what it sounds like on your air, or, if they're not advertising with you, secure a dub of the unprocessed spot and put it back to back with the other one on the tape for A/B comparison. Point out that they're not going to lose the quality they intended if they advertise with you. That's really dirty, but it sure works. I've seen many schedules get pulled for things like that.

Just careful monitoring of other stations will net you things like mispronunciations in recorded tags. When you bring these things up to the agency, they might make the other station run makegoods, or it might get you the account -- more dirty stuff.

R.A.P: How about a few words on editing with the old razor blade?
Don: I try to get people that I'm training to use scissors for their editing instead of the splicing blocks and blades. When you're splicing with scissors from sounds that you're coming out of sounds you're going to, you begin to develop a feel for how wide or how narrow or how long the splice needs to be to make it fit just right. When you're using a block, it always has to be the same angle, and when you're going at a faster speed, you don't need so much of an angle. Once you make your edit marks, you just line up the marks and cut them at the same time.

As far as tape speed when editing, I started doing things at 30ips once we got the machines and wow, what a difference. It sure eats tape up in a hurry, but what a godsend 30 is. If you've never experienced it before, you've got to try it. Not only is it great for editing, but you've got so much more headroom. It lets you do things that are a lot punchier. If you like to make transitions that have explosions in them, you've got a lot more headroom to accommodate that explosion.

R.A.P.: Give us a few of your thoughts on equalization and how to use it.
Don: With a little bit of experience you can learn where different instruments and vocal ranges fall within the audio spectrum, so you will know what areas to boost. The Aphex Exciter is a wonderful device because it doesn't add any tape hiss. You can bring up the high end on things without introducing the hiss that comes with high end boost. If you use too much of it though, it's awful, just like any effect.

One of the worst things you can do is buy a ninety-five dollar microphone and spend a thousand dollars on equalizers to try and make the mike sound better, when you could have bought a good stock mike in the first place for the same money. Spend more money on the mike and don't dork around with the EQ. Don't buy a cheap mike and put band aids on it.

On the air, one of the worst things I've heard is a jock mike with EQ set with a boost on the bottom end, in the wrong place. When you're listening to someone speaking dry, with nothing under them, the effect becomes very pronounced and really irritating. When someone is speaking in a normal tone and the voice drops in pitch, the volume also goes down somewhat as the pitch gets lower. That's natural. When it's over EQ'ed in the bottom end, instead of dropping in pitch and level at the same time as it drops into that slot, all of a sudden it boosts as much as 5 or 10 db!

R.A.P.: Any parting thoughts for our readers?
Don: A lot of guys will move from a station because the other station has better equipment. A lot of guys think this way: "Gosh, I'd like to work there because they've got this and this and that and that..." Look to your own talents first because that is going to be the security that you can take with you. If you've got some problems, like an ego problem or something, you're going to take that with you, too.

You can do more wild production with just your own voice in a basic studio. Get the basics of a good delivery down; get a good voice track, first. Otherwise, you're building production on a sandy foundation -- a lot of effects with no lead singer.

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Our thanks to Don for this month's interview. We only wish we had the space to share some of the amazing, unbelievable, and hilarious "war stories" he had to share. Maybe we'll just have to find some space in a future issue to pass these stories along. Regarding Don's work, look for some great stuff on this month's Cassette.

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