R.A.P. Interview: Dave Foxx

JV: In last month’s interview with John Frost, he mentioned feeling that his creative juices were kind of running low after about as many years at KROQ as you have under your belt at Z100. Do you have similar feelings?
Dave: From time to time. He was in a different format, of course, and I think sometimes a format like that limits you as to what you can do. Now, he obviously stretched the boundaries of those limits quite a bit, but the thing that’s nice about doing CHR production is that you can take a whole different approach. Today, for instance, I did a promo for the on-line rewards program we use for our listeners that had a very classical theme to it. You couldn’t do that on a lot of radio stations. It would sound out of place, weird. Here, because we sound out of place and weird all the time, it fits right in.

I also pull a “Madonna” every once in a while. Madonna is famous in the music business for reinventing herself every so many years, and I sometimes get to a point where I feel I need to pull a Madonna. I need to completely redesign what I sound like and redesign how I approach my work. If I look back in the time since the last interview, my thinking now is much more focused on marketing than it is on cool sound. At that time, it was all about doing things that sound cool and help imprint the radio station on the market. Now, it’s the other way around. It’s like everything is about imprinting the radio station on the market, and oh, if it sounds cool, that’s great. But I’ve found, generally speaking, that if you take care of one, the other one is taken care of all by itself.

So, I pull a Madonna every now and then. I think that’s important. I think everybody needs to from time to time. If anybody wants to really grow in this business as a producer, they need to do that. They need to sit down and rethink, not just their approach to doing production, but the tools they use. And I’m not talking in the technical sense. I’m talking about which music beds they use, which sound effects libraries they use. They need to change that from time to time, given the budget constraints we all have to live with. I think it’s really important that you kind of rethink how you approach just getting into doing a promo.

JV: Is Hal Knapp still handling commercials over there?
Dave: Yes, he is, and he’s doing quite well at it by the way.

JV: How many people on the production staff?
Dave: Well, officially, we have two with Hal and me. We also have a third person that is working with us in an archiving effort. We moved two years ago from Secaucus to Jersey City, and when we moved, we pretty much left our archives in huge disarray. Some of the original broadcasts that aired back in August of 1983, we couldn’t lay our hands on when we wanted to. So we took on a part-time person who is doing nothing but archiving everything—going over to Secaucus, bringing stuff back, transferring it to DAT, baking tapes when he needs to, the whole nine yards—just so we can have this solid backup of all the history of the radio station. So officially, I’d say two and a half people on staff.

JV: Ten years ago you were on an analog eight-track. What was the first digital workstation you installed?
Dave: Well, we fooled around for a while with New England Digital system. I’m really glad we didn’t go that way, although management was ready to do it. They, of course, went out of business like a year later. ProTools was the first one we really used on a full-time basis, and now it’s the only one we use. We keep doing test drives, checking out other systems, but I’ve yet to find one that I think is as flexible and allows for as much creativity as ProTools does.

JV: How long have you been using ProTools?
Dave: Almost ten years. I used ProTools back when it was two applications, Edit and Deck. About four years later they consolidated it into one application, which was wonderful. And now they’re into eight channel mixing on a single track and doing things that just two years ago would have been unheard of.

JV: You’re probably as proficient on ProTools as anybody, and it is becoming very popular in radio and giving the Audicy some competition. However, Audicy users tend to really stand on the claim that it’s faster when it comes to editing. What do you think?
Dave: It can be, but if you know how to do it correctly, ProTools is actually faster because a lot of it is automatic. There are certain commands you can do that will just strip a voice track of all of its blank parts, and you just go through and pluck out the ones you don’t want. Done.

The advantage that Audicy has over ProTools is that it was designed with radio in mind, and I can’t fault them for that. But there’s a glass ceiling there that I think a lot of Audicy users are not aware of. I was just training Ann DeWig from DC101 on ProTools, which she’s getting in a couple of weeks. She already had the free version of ProTools and had been playing around with it at home, and after she watched me, she said “My god, I had no idea how restrained I was, how fenced in I was by the system I was using.” On the other hand, there are people who have switched to ProTools and didn’t like it. Even after they learned how to use it, it was just too complex for them. They’d much rather do a cut and paste, slam it together, get on with life—and that’s okay. If that’s the style you do, that works better for you.

I want to experiment with stuff. I want to try different things, different plug-ins. I found a few that really work for me. I will at least once a week take a promo and spend two or three hours on it instead of spending twenty minutes on it the way I do a lot of promos. That was the one luxury digital brought to the table that I just never had with analog. With analog I was spending all my time aligning everything. I had to have a real clear picture in my head before I even started so that I could make it all come together and flow and make sense and get from the beginning to the end with a minimum amount of potholes. The things I like about digital are being able to do and undo, try different plug-ins, try different approaches. And if things don’t quite work right, you can move things around very quickly and very easily until they work the way you think they ought to work. I used to demonstrate ProTools at some of the trade shows, the NAB and AES, and one of the things I warned people about was that this is going to save you a lot of time, yes, but you’re going to end up spending the same amount of time if not more because you can. You have the power to do all of these things, whereas before you just didn’t have that ability.

JV: Ten years ago, salespeople were writing copy at Z100. Has that changed?
Dave: Somewhat. We now have our Continuity Director write most of the copy, and the salesperson will pitch in from time to time. Of course, agencies write a lot of the copy, too. But that doesn’t involve me because all I do is creative, and I’m in probably the world’s best situation for that because Tom and I are on such a wavelength that basically he’s turned it all over to me. Our assistant PD will give me all the copy points, all the things that have to be in the promo—sponsor mentions, particular songs—and I will weave that into a story or into a standard promo, whatever it is that we’re doing. I’ll write it up. When I first started writing, I used to take the copy to Tom, and he would look at it and might pencil a few things differently. But since then, I don’t even bother doing that. I just produce it. He listens to it, and I’d say ninety-eight times out of a hundred, he just gives me a thumbs-up and says, “Way to go.”

So now I get to write it, I get to voice it, I get to produce it. I do not have to spend any time interpreting what somebody else meant. In the old days, when we last did the interview, Steve Kingston would write the copy and fax it to Keith Eubanks. Keith would cut the tracks on DAT, send them to me overnight, and I would walk in and find a DAT waiting for me, not even knowing there was a promo expected. I had no script. I would just sit down and listen to what Keith did. So basically, Keith was interpreting what Steve wrote. I’m interpreting what Keith read. And if you know the old telephone game where one person starts at one end of the room and you pass a rumor along, you know what happens. It’s like that old Mayberry episode where Barney Fife got a blood blister and ended up being stabbed and having to go to the hospital. By the time the promo goes through all those channels, it gets changed. And doing it this way—writing it, voicing it and producing it—gives it a clarity of vision that I have seldom been able to achieve in my own career.

JV: Add the fact that you now put the marketing aspect of the promo ahead of making it “sound cool,” and I’m sure they think, “Hey, you know what you’re doing; do your thing.”
Dave: That’s a big part of it, and anyone who hasn’t read The Twenty-two Immutable Laws of Marketing is short-changing himself. Understanding why certain things are the way they are and understanding how to better position your radio station, knowing how to use your logo, knowing how to use your call letters to the best advantage, that all works in a big favor, and that’s something you’ll get from the book. It’s a real skinny little book. You can read it in twenty minutes.

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