by Larry Williams
Think about this simple statement for a minute. What happens if the production department isn't properly organized? Usually, that's when all hell breaks loose at the radio station. Things start screwing up both behind the scenes and on the air. Promotions don't come off right, and the air staff and sales people become unhappy (sometimes with each other, and that's not good at all).
Program Directors and General Managers are looking for Production Directors that have outstanding man-agement and organizational skills. The position is becoming more of an "Operations" manager's position, with troubleshooting a priority. You, as the department head, are the person ulti-mately responsible for making sure that everything gets on the air and runs properly. This philosophy is the same for the commercial productions as well as all promos and programming elements.
The most effective way to arrange your department is in a series of deadlines. Each morning you have to ask yourself, "What are the most important projects I need to do today?" A priority list should then be set up with the entire day's activities. Usually, you'll have commercials first, promos next, and other various, small projects at the bottom of the list. Don't worry if you can't find the time every day for the low priority items. Eventually, you'll have a slow day (usually a Wednesday), or you can have an intern do them for you.
Always adhere to the deadlines that you have set up. Everything has to be done on time, and above all, it has to be done right the first time. You shouldn't have to go back and redo things later. That's inefficient and a waste of precious time. As you move through your day, things will be done ahead of and behind schedule. On a good day, when you're ahead, you'll finally get to those low priority projects that you've been putting off for a few days. Just try to get things done as fast as possible and stick to your priority list.
Quality control is a big part of pro-duction. If we screw things up, it affects the whole station, from programming to sales. The Production Department is the only safety net that a station really has. We are the last chance to catch mistakes before they hit the air. This entails making sure everything gets on the air and runs properly.
When it comes to commercials, if you happen to miss a spot on the air, repercussions are immediate. The Traffic Manager is unhappy, which means the Account Executive is unhappy, and in turn, the General Manager becomes unhappy. Plus, if you're at a very successful station like mine, it's sold out, and the money is gone forever -- NO MAKEGOODS!
To avoid missing commercials on the air, there are a couple of special logs that I use. The one log I've seen at every station I've been at is the "Production Assignment Log." All production that comes into the department gets written up here, so when the jocks come in, they can see what they have to do. This is a Monday through Friday daily log and is primarily for assigning commercials to the jocks. When I do commercials myself, I also make it a point to include them on this log. That way, at the end of the day, I can double check that everything I was supposed to do is completed.
The other log is called a "Nightly Check List" which was developed for verifying that spots are complete and in the control room or update rack. This log features space for the client name, the jock responsible for production, and the cart number. Each page is a separate day, and I usually put a month's worth of pages in this notebook at a time.
As I assign a spot that starts on July 26th, I fill in the information on the July 26th page of the Nightly Check List. Then, each night before I leave for home, I check this log to make sure that all production starting the next morning is complete (the night of the 25th, I check for all the spots that start the 26th.) You wouldn't believe how many times using this simple log has saved my butt!
On the other hand, if there's a problem with programming elements that are missed or run wrong, like promos or sweepers, the problem is much more subtle. It may not stand out as much on the air, but the long term effects could be devastating. The average listener doesn't know you were too busy to do a new promo. They don't realize that radio is twice as busy before a holiday weekend and you just couldn't get to it. All they know is that they keep hearing the same old promo. Eventually, this will lead to listener tune-out which means fewer listeners, fewer ratings points, fewer advertisers, and fewer dollars for your company. It's the old domino theory.
The Production Director has to be a lot more than just organized. It's a position that requires a great amount of managerial skills. Production is res-ponsible for all commercial content that runs on the radio station. This includes all fully produced copy, donuts, tags, and straight dubs. If a spot gets by that mentions a lottery, you're responsible. Just because it came from an agency and the overnight jock carts it up does not change the fact that it contains a lottery. All the people that do production must know the laws, or you could put the station's license on the line. (Knowing these laws always sits well with the GM and corporate!)
If you happen to write copy, get "computer literate!" It doesn't matter if it's IBM or Mac or whatever, get the experience now. There's nothing better than to be able to write things down, change them around, move phrases from here to there, and change them around again in a fraction of the time it used to take. The added benefits are great, too -- no more having to keep file folders everywhere for all the copy you've ever done. It's all on a little disk. You can use it later for the same client, or change it around a little, put in a different client name, and presto! Instant copy!
The same things are true for promo copy. Keep it on a disk so that later on you can make minor adjustments to the copy, change it around, and freshen it up. This technique works extremely well for contest "explainer" promos. Every time you write a new one, it says almost the same thing the old one did. Why not use the same words and just move them around?
When doing your daily duties, you must pay special attention to detail. When an Account Executive requests a cassette of a commercial, be organized enough to do it at the time of production. It's a good idea to leave some blank cassettes standing by in your studio just for this purpose. When you finish carting the spot, you have to play it back to get the intro and length times anyway, so do your cassette dub then. If the cassette isn't made at this time, someone has to go through the trouble of retrieving the spot and putting it on cassette later which is a very time con-suming process.
This whole cassette routine may sound trivial, but it will help your department run more efficiently. The sales people used to always come into my office asking why they never received their cassettes. Whether it was my fault for being too busy, or whether it was the jocks fault because they didn't have a cassette around, I then had to take the time out of my busy day to make them one.
I also kept the cassettes in the studios, but it was always hard to keep track of them. I would put fifty in the studio, we'd make twenty-five to thirty dubs for clients, and they'd all be gone. It just wasn't adding up! Now, I keep all the good blank cassettes in my office, locked up. Whenever I assign production that needs a cassette dub made, I include a blank one along with the production order. The jock has the cassette right there to remind them that it has to be done, and I don't have missing tapes anymore.
There is another side to this cassette issue. If we don't get them done, we usually don't know about it unless the salesperson comes back and asks where it is. What this means is the salesperson has been waiting around, anticipating its arrival when they could have been devoting their time and energy to more profitable things like developing new business. Just remember, part of our job is to make it as easy as possible for the salespeople to sell and service accounts. Isn't that how the station makes its money? This sounds very "management" as opposed to our usual "programming" way of thinking, but remember, it's teamwork that makes a station more successful.
The Production Director acts as a liaison between programming and sales. This doesn't mean on a department to department level; it's more of a personal level. As long as their spots are getting on the air and their cassettes of commercials or spec spots are being done, you won't have to worry about the sales department grumbling behind your back. The better we get along with them, the more pleasant the work environment will be.
As Production Director, you must watch out for your own people too. If you're asked to dub a spot for another station that was produced in-house, make sure the jock was compensated before you let the dub go. It's your responsibility, as department head, to take care of the announcer by making sure they get a talent fee before it's sent out of the station.
Archiving is as important a topic as any we've touched upon so far. The Production Department must have the ability to keep a recording of everything that is produced in house. The typical way is to drop them onto reel at 15 ips and keep a master log with the entries. But imagine taking this method into the nineties.... DAT! No more changing the reels on the machines. It's becoming less and less expensive, and it's a very compact medium. You can keep the same amount of commercials in about one tenth the space. The digital quality will last almost infinitely (and that's a lot longer that we'll probably be at that particular station). Talk to your engineer and find out if it's in the budget to get one for each studio next year.
We are now in the last decade of the twentieth century, and General Managers and Program Directors are just now discovering how important our job really is. You are probably one of the most important elements of the radio station. Without you there to watch out for legal mishaps, to make sure the spots run correctly, and to sculpt the sound and image of the station, it would surely die.