R.A.P. Interview: Jim Cook

JV: That’s neat stuff. I think everyone knew as consolidation progressed that this type of networking would be in place, and it sounds like it’s working well.
Jim: And the kinds of things that are possible now that don’t yet exist in reality amaze me all the time. We’re working on things that will allow the repetitive nature of our jobs to be minimized. Take a network commercial for example. If you think about the number of times it gets handled before it actually ends up on the air in any market, the time it takes to actually record the audio in, enter all the field information, and actually get that on the air. It’s the same information that’s being entered multiple times in each market, and then you combine that over the thousand plus radio stations of Clear Channel and you can see that the replication effort is just boggling. And this is unnecessary replication if technology would allow us to import things, just simple things like field information. Well, that technology exists now. But it’s like I said, production being the last bastion of post-consolidation reorganization, right now we’re just reorganizing the way we do things and putting new systems in place much as we have done with sales and with programming. But I think eventually we’ll get there with production as well. It’s a matter of rethinking the individual producer working on the individual radio station and thinking more globally, both vertically and horizontally, within any particular market.

JV: So you see a day when a commercial is dubbed once to a central server, and all the stations in the chain, a thousand plus stations if they’re running that spot, pick it up off the same server much like websites that download banner ads from DoubleClick’s servers.
Jim: Exactly. There is a technology that exists right now that allows the basic information to be imbedded in the header of the audio file — title, length, run dates, etc.— so that when it’s imported into the automation system, all that field information is all there and all filled out. I think we’re coming to that slowly. But if you think in terms of technology, it’s actually going incredibly fast, so fast that we can’t keep up with it as humans. The technology exists now, but we don’t have it in place. That’s a human equation, not a technical one.

JV: You mentioned a home studio with an Audicy as the centerpiece. When did you put that together?
Jim: It’s been something that I’ve been doing since I started doing production not so long ago. I put it together to allow me to work a longer workday. A lot of stuff that I do, in terms of projects for Clear Channel on a national level, are done here at the station but also at the home studio. I also did the Fox Sports Network launch from the home studio. I do all of the national Soft AC contesting materials. Much of that is produced at the home studio.

Obviously, budget is always the hurdle because my time is spent almost entirely for Clear Channel. I don’t really have a whole lot of time to spend on projects outside of Clear Channel, so trying to get outside clients is almost impossible for me. So, as I get the dollar, I try to think of what nice little toy I’d like next year. Right now, I have a Mackie console with the Audicy networked on a Novell network. I have RE-20 microphones and a Panasonic DAT. I use an Aphex Dominator headroom box and a Yamaha SPX 990 for effects, as well as the effects on the Audicy.

JV: Consolidation isn’t just about owning a bunch of radio stations. Clear Channel also owns a few production libraries.
Jim: As a company, we’ve purchased and made great investments in things like Premiere Networks, and the acquisition of AM/FM brought us great production things like the Brown Bag Library. There’s MJI and a lot of other things out there that we’ve acquired that are great resources for the production departments all around the country.

JV: Expanding sales forces generate increased commercial production. Would you say things are under control at your five stations in Atlanta with regards to handing the commercial production load?
Jim: I think we’ve done a good job of deploying that. As I say, we’ve reorganized the department as far as who was doing what. There are certainly times of greater stress than others, but all in all, by extending the production day in terms of daytime and nighttime shifts of production, I think that we’ve really accomplished the task at hand in support for the sales staff. Plus, we have a person dedicated to copyrighting. This gives the sales staff more time to spend on the street servicing their clients and getting smart radio marketing messages on the air.

And we have a national copy bank managed by Mike Redman out in San Diego. He was the guy who originated and worked up our copy bank for Clear Channel. It is a great resource. It’s only available if you are on the Clear Channel Wide Area Network. Think of how many times you’re sitting there Friday at four and just don’t have an idea for the next bar spot. It’s just great to be able to dip into that bank, and even if you don’t use the one that’s there, at least it offers an idea.

JV: This crazy election has to be offering some opportunities for your production people to have some fun.
Jim: We’ve been having a lot of fun, and I’ll tell you, it really ties into the sharing of resources around us because people who are great musicians and who are talents like Eric Chase produce things that were musical in nature and inspired other things, and we were able to share those through the Prophet System or through the Noise Site. Eric produced a parody of Rock in the USA called Vote in the F-L-A. We did a parody here of the Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald called the Wreck of the Gore-Bush Election. And as we get into the Christmas season now, we’re producing some parodies of Christmas carols that relate to the election.

JV: You have a good grip on the effects of consolidation on radio station production departments. What else is down the road for us? What trends do you see?
Jim: The trend I see is that resources from those places that have greater access to them, the availability of those resources in other markets, will continue to grow. In other words, if somebody does fantastic CHR imaging, let’s take Eric Chase in Tampa, to make Eric’s production style available and his resources available on a wider scale makes a lot of sense. If Jim Cook in Atlanta makes a really good news/talk production, to make that available on a larger scale to those departments that don’t have it is a good idea. You’re going to see that continue to grow.

I think the role on a national level of certain producers will continue to grow. I think the way we deal with sales departments and how our jobs are defined from continuity and traffic all the way through to production will change as technology enables us to change it. Those are the kinds of things I see in the future.

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