R.A.P. Interview: Dave Foxx

JV: What are some of the marketing basics that you use when you do a promo? Once you get the facts and the elements you need to include, what is the process you go through with marketing in mind?
Dave: Well, I start by thinking about who our target is and try to think about what is going to appeal to them. In our case, it’s an eighteen-year-old female who lives in the suburbs of New York—not to exclude everybody else but that’s our target. If we can hit that target, then the others will follow. So, I start thinking about what is going to appeal to this girl about this particular promotion that I’m going to work on. If it’s an N Sync concert in Turks and Caicos, then it’s not about Turks and Caicos. They could care less about that. It’s about N Sync. So, it’s a matter of going through and discovering exactly what main thing is going to appeal to them. Then you gear everything in the promo toward that. If there’s going to be a story told, then I tell the story leading to that point. If it’s just going to be a basic presentation of the excitement of the concert—fast edits and all the usual promo tricks we fall back on when we can’t think of a good story line—then everything is pointed to that same thing. So, it’s a heavy hit on N Sync rather than the fact that it’s in Turks and Caicos. Being able to put the blinders on and see things as your target audience does is what these marketing skills will give you more than anything else. It will teach you to see things the way they want to see them, not the way you think they ought to be.

JV: Satellite radio is right on top of us, in more ways than one. Do you see satellite radio being as big as FM radio is?
Dave: Maybe. I’m adopting a wait and see attitude. I’m not sure people want to pay for radio. I’m sure some people will, especially if they know they can get it commercial-free, in their favorite format. If somebody really digs hearing REM all the time, they can tune in the REM channel and be just as happy as pigs. But I’m not convinced people are going to stay with that because one of the real draws to radio is the personality, somebody there in the car with you when you’re making that long, lonely drive home at night. It’s not just having a tune on. It’s having somebody sit there and talk to you about the weather, talk to you about what’s going on in the world, bring you back up to date. You feel like there’s a world out there that you belong to. So, I’m not really sure how that whole commercial-free aspect of satellite is going to work. Of course, not all satellite will be commercial-free. On some of it they will be selling commercials. I think you’ll see a bigger proliferation of the talk formats, the hot talk and the news talk. That’s a huge format here in New York. They are very popular and don’t seem to be going away at all. I think that’s going to grow.

JV: Do you think Internet radio has a shot?
Dave: No. Internet radio so far—and I have to add that caveat so far—has been so unimpressive that I don’t know if it is going to affect that many people. Most of the people who are doing it—again I have to say most of the people who are doing Internet radio—don’t have the marketing savvy. They don’t have the things being in broadcasting thirty years brings to a person, and so their stations are not as polished. They are not as easy to listen to. I’m not sure that is going to improve any time soon, but I really don’t think Internet radio is going to be a huge factor.

As for Satellite radio though, I’m reserving judgment. That could have a huge impact. I think it will probably redefine what AM and FM radio does. I’m not sure exactly how. Another thing—and it’s kind of hard for me to talk about this as far as the whole country is concerned because we’re not playing this huge spot load that so many of the other FM stations around the country are having to deal with. We’re still down at eight minutes or nine units, whichever comes first. And that allows us to do the format the way it was supposed to be done. And there are a lot of radio stations in medium and even in large markets that are having to deal with eighteen minutes of spots. How can you win doing eighteen minutes of spots? You can’t. And that’s where satellite is going to have the biggest impact. So who knows? It may actually cut back on our producers’ workloads because I think FM, and to a lesser extent AM radio stations, are going to have to learn to make their commercials count more and play less, because that’s the only way they will be able to compete with stations that don’t run commercials, if the programming is good on those stations.

JV: As all these satellite channels become available to people, do you think the GMs and programmers of these channels are going to go out and hire good talent, good on-air talent, good production people to polish that sound, to garner the audience, to garner the revenue?
Dave: Oh, I think so. I happen to know a producer who’s working at XM, and he’s a really good producer. His name is Kelly Carmichael. He’s working on two of their channels down there. He feels they are developing a real camaraderie as they get closer and closer to launch date. They’re paying a lot of attention to production. They’ve sucked a lot of money into their studios. They have like forty production suites, all fully blown ProTools suites with the big cinema screens—awesome, awesome facilities. They certainly seem to be willing to spend the money on the hardware. The only question left open is how much money are they going to have left over for the human factor.

JV: An article in last month’s RAP talks about how good-paying production jobs seem to be going away. Do you think we’ll see broadcasters in general—radio, satellite and Internet—handle their production departments by bringing in some interns or amateurs, settling for mediocrity, and then hoping that everybody else in the industry does the same thing so there won’t be any big dog to beat?
Dave: Well, I don’t know. Without getting too deeply philosophical here, I think we’re coming close to a point where the bean counter will rule over radio. One way or another, it’s going to have to break and satellite may be the impetus. The thing the bean counters don’t understand—and I can show you the actual statistics—is that good production can make a difference of twenty-five percent in your share. If you’re running a four share, you can boost it to a five with excellent production if your production is just so-so to begin with. Conversely, bad production can compress your ratings by that much. And believe me, I know exactly where to get the figures. I can show people this. But you tell that to the bean counters, and their eyes just glaze over. They don’t care. Their soul is not in radio the way it is with someone like you or me. We live and die by what we do because this is what we love, and we liked it the old way. I think that many of those good-paying production jobs are going away because bean counters see it as an unnecessary expense.

JV: What would you say to the young guys and gals getting into radio production who may have read last month’s article?
Dave: Keep the faith. It can’t stay that way for long and have the business remain viable. I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but if it keeps going the direction it’s going right now, I think ultimately it’s going to crash and burn, and the business is going to fall apart. Then the bean counters won’t have any beans to count, and they’re going to sit there going “Why?” And it’s because they forget that it’s not just science; it’s art and science. And that’s where people like you and me come in. We bring the art to the process. Anybody can put up a stick, tie a transmitter to it, and spin records. That doesn’t take much in the way of skill. Putting the records in the right order, playing the right records, playing the right production to go between the records, and having a body there to, again, give it a human factor, that’s all part of the art of radio. And that’s something the bean counters just don’t get.

JV: Sounds a little bit like the stock market bubble that finally burst and sent everybody back down to reality.
Dave: And I suspect that is going to happen. How soon that is, I don’t know. I work for a company that’s known as “Cheap Channel,” and I have seen the budget cutting efforts. They’ve been substantial, but so far, at least from my perspective in New York—and I have to clarify that because other people would disagree—so far it has not affected the art part. And I think that’s because the head guys, like Randy Michaels, get it. They understand it. They love radio because of radio. They’re not there just for the money. Certainly, money is a factor, but it’s not the whole reason. So, to those who call Clear Channel “Cheap Channel,” I don’t think so. They’ve made some smart moves money-wise, and the consolidation they are doing makes sense to me, not just from a business point of view but from an overall radio point of view.

JV: You mentioned your free-lance work is doing well. Is this mostly imaging and voice work for radio?
Dave: It’s mostly voice work now. I don’t do much in the way of imaging for the radio stations. It’s really funny. They are willing to pay, say just a ballpark figure of a thousand dollars a month, for voice talent. But when it comes to imaging, they want to pay fifteen dollars a piece. I found myself just having to bow to the pressure of the market and say, “Look, I’ll sell my voice, but I’m not going to sell my production for fifteen dollars a piece. I’m sorry.” And they wanted seventy-five or eighty pieces a month. No thank you. So mostly, it’s voice work, and I’ve recently branched out into doing TV stations as well.

The other thing I’m doing that I’m having a lot of fun with is website design for people. I’ve had some awesome success with just the few websites I have done, and word of mouth is traveling fast. People are calling me up and saying, “I need you to do my website.” I’m actually at a point now where I have to put people off and say, “Okay, I’ll do it, but it will be like a month before I can even look at it.”

JV: Where did you find the time to learn this stuff?
Dave: It’s been my hobby up to about a year ago when I really got serious. It was just a hobby. I had my own site, and I was having fun poking around trying to make it do certain things. Then I discovered that to make it do these things, you have to go through this, do that, this and that. Finally I got to a point where I understood enough of it to where I can actually design a site for somebody. I’ll put it up, do the graphics, do the flash, do whatever, and then turn the whole thing over to them and let them maintain it. I’m not interested in maintaining it for people. That’s a pain.

JV: Still, it seems like a time-consuming task just learning the languages.
Dave: Some of it is. But there are so many reference works on them that it’s really not all that hard.

JV: Well, apparently it’s not taking up that much of your time. When we started this interview, you had just returned from flying lessons. How are those going?Dave: I’m having a ball. I just got into it in the last couple of weeks, so I’m not very far along. I’ve not soloed yet, but by the time this interview comes out, I will have soloed and will be looking toward doing my first cross-country. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of freedom. My father was a pilot, and I grew up around airplanes all my life. I just never honestly had the time to do it. Now I’ve decided I’m making the time to do it, and I’m really glad I have.

JV: The times you’ve been up there flying your plane, did you ever give a thought to production?
Dave: No.

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