R.A.P.: The ProDisk 464 is a monster machine, isn't it?
Dave: Yes. In fact, when we do go tapeless, and that's in the not too distant future, I think that's going to be our system. For the price, it by far and away outstrips everybody else. It comes the closest to New England Digital for the number of things it can do, the amount of storage it has, and the capabilities it has; and still, it's a lot easier to reach than the $140,000 plus that the New England goes for. You can get into a basic ProDisk system for about $35,000. I think that's for the 4-track system. Then you add on, in increments of four, up to sixty-four tracks. I'm not sure about the costs. My Chief Engineer keeps track of the money. I just say, "Yea, I like this one." He likes the price, so we're in agreement on that one.
R.A.P.: How many production rooms are there at Z100?
Dave: We have three production rooms. One is dedicated exclusively to the morning show from five a.m. until about three p.m.. Then from three p.m. until about eight p.m. at night it's in use for commercial dubs, tags, and stuff like that.
We have another studio I guess we'd have to call our "money" studio. This is where most of the commercial work happens. This is also where we pull down satellite feeds. Also, our offices are separate from our studios, and very often tapes will come from agencies or other outside sources to our offices instead of our studios. So, we have a microwave hookup, and we transfer those tapes to our studios via microwave into this second studio. A lot of other things happen in this studio as well. We produce a show that's heard on a station in Tokyo, Japan in this studio. We do a lot of our research tapes in there. Some promo production happens in there on a daily basis. We actually have an hourly promo that changes every hour. It's our "Free Music Sample" promo. We'll do fifteen to twenty of these every day in this studio.
R.A.P.: Are these other two studios multi-track also?
Dave: The "money" studio is multi-track; it's 4-track. The Zoo studio is not, much to our Zoo producer's chagrin. He ends up spending a lot of time in other studios trying to get multi-track work done. But the main purpose of the Zoo studio is really to pull clips from television and do the daily grind like putting drops in jingles and dubbing from comedy sources like the American Comedy Network. That's all basically 2-track work anyway.
R.A.P.: Tell us more about this "Free Music Sample" promo.
Dave: We have two stopsets every hour -- one at :20 and one at :35. Going into that :35 set we'll play a promo saying, "Coming up, another non-stop music sweep including...," and then we'll play three artists. We'll play the hooks from the songs, and the announcer, Mitch Craig, will announce the artist and title of the song. The whole thing runs about twenty or twenty-five seconds, and this goes on every day.
R.A.P.: You must keep Mitch Craig pretty busy with the hourly promos.
Dave: Actually, most of it we keep in stock. We had him do all of the artists we thought we'd be using over the next few months, and then, on a weekly basis, we have him do the work for any new artists that we put in. Mitch also does most of our promos. Ernie Anderson does most of our sweepers. We also use Vic Carolli a lot. He's the voice of MTV. We use him to do promos particularly for the evening. For instance, we're giving away a concert by Slaughter for a school spirit contest, and we had Vic do all the voice-over work for that. We co-sponsored the MTV premier of Madonna's movie in New York, and because it was co-sponsored with MTV we got Victor involved in that. We also use Joe Kelly on some sweepers. So Mitch doesn't carry all of it.
R.A.P.: That's quite an impressive array of voices to work with!
Dave: Well, it keeps the station sounding very fresh. One of the things I know Steve Kingston worries about is not sounding the same all the time, not being entirely predictable.
R.A.P.: How much of what you're doing is promo production?
Dave: That's what I spend probably about fifty percent of my time doing. Our promos at Z100, as I've already described with the Free Sample promos, are very high maintenance. For instance, last Thursday, we gave away twenty thousand dollars on the air in the morning. To support that, we had ten winner's promos all based on that one winner. The basic track of the promo is the same, but we changed different lines in it and maybe changed the effects here and there.
R.A.P.: What is your voice used for?
Dave: When a spot is an in-house production I'll do that; ninety-nine percent of the time I'm the voice. Occasionally we'll need a female voice or it's a dialogue and somebody else will be involved. I also do a few things for the Zoo and end up on there quite a bit.
I also do promos for other radio stations as well. I've been doing promos for KDWB for quite a while. I do a lot of European stations. I'm on RTL in Luxembourg, and I've got a whole chain of stations in the south of England that I do. I get to stretch the vocal chords from time to time.
R.A.P.: It sounds like your free-lance work is doing well.
Dave: Yea, it's working well for me. I keep it mainly in the area of promos and sweepers, but I do some commercial work. I do go around and visit the big houses from time to time. It's been a while since I've done a national spot, but every once in a while my voice will show up on one. I did one for Coke a while back. I do a lot of industrial work as well.
R.A.P.: What's the name of your free-lance company?
Dave: Foxx On The Run Productions out of Montclair, New Jersey.
R.A.P.: Do you have a studio?
Dave: No. Part of my deal with Z100 is as long as it doesn't put any kind of burden on the radio station, I generally have free use of the studios there.
R.A.P.: How long has Foxx On The Run Productions been up and running?
Dave: Probably about two and a half years now. It's kind of a low profile company, if you will. We haven't really gone out to solicit work other than my going into big houses to solicit commercial work. The promo work that I do for radio stations has generally come by word of mouth.
R.A.P.: One would expect that the Production Director's job at the number one CHR station is the country is something pretty special. Is it?
Dave: It's very special. I'll tell you a quick story. When I was in elementary school, and I remember this very clearly, I read a story about a small Swiss village in which the kids would run out to play in the morning, like they do everywhere else in the world, and they'd run past this woodcarver's shop. As they'd run past, he'd be there carving clocks or ducks or whatever. The kids would pass by again as they'd come in for lunch and he was still carving. They'd go back out in the afternoon, and he was still carving. They'd come back late at night; he was still sitting there carving. One of the kids went to him and said, "Why do you work so much?" The man had this puzzled look on his face and said, "What do you mean, 'work'?" That's when I decided I wanted to do something that I really loved doing. Every morning, I get up, I go into what has to be the greatest radio station in the world, I sit in a little padded room with all of my toys and play all day; and every two weeks they give me money! I think that's great!
The best thing about Z100 though is the people. It's a fabulous, fabulous atmosphere. Everybody there is a joy to work with. Everybody is everybody's best friend. We have a softball team, and this is the first radio station I've ever even heard of where EVERYBODY at the station shows up for softball games. The Christmas party is jammed every year. It's a great atmosphere to work in.
R.A.P.: It sounds like the dream station everybody else has trouble finding.
Dave: I think it is. I really do. When I first came up to New York, somebody asked me, with a look of disdain on their face, "What do you want to go to New York for? What in the world can you do AFTER New York?" I looked at them and said, "Anything I want to." I'm finding that that's mostly true, but I don't want to go anywhere else. I love it here. I really do. I'm not exactly crazy about some aspects of living in New York. The crime is high. There's garbage and there's homeless. It's got all the big city problems, but when you get into your radio environment, there's no place better.
R.A.P.: When producing a spot or promo, what are some things you listen for or try to do to make it a good spot or promo?
Dave: Mainly, I try to make every spot or promo a complete symphony. There is a place in any musical arrangement for each instrument, and it has to be at just a certain place and just a certain time in order to make the symphony work. For instance, if it's a heavy duty spot, it has got to be just the right piece of music. You've got to have just the right sound effects to go with it, the right special effects if you're going to use any of what I call zings, zaps or zoodads. And the voice has to be exactly right for it as well. One of the hardest things for me to listen to is a spot that's produced very well but has the wrong voice, or the wrong piece of music, or the wrong sound effect. It makes me cringe because I know from experience that it can be done right.
Not to get to far away from your original question, but I think one of my biggest pet peeves is hearing Program Directors, General Managers, Production Directors, and sometimes even salespeople say that commercials are an automatic tune-out. That is wrong, wrong, wrong because as soon as you take that attitude, I guarantee you it's going to be true. For eight minutes of every hour on our air, I'm in charge of the radio station -- that's commercially speaking. That doesn't count all the music I've carted, and all the promos and sweepers. For those eight minutes, that's my gig. I'm on twenty-four hours a day, every hour for at least eight minutes. I am not willing to surrender my audience to the competition simply because I'm doing "a commercial." Commercials can be as fun, as entertaining, as exciting as any of the rest of the programming on the radio station if you'll think of them in those terms.
Obviously, every radio station in every market, large and small, has to put up with things like furniture outlets that have some "hayseed" reading the spot, and if you get it from the agency, what do you do with those? You've got to play them, but you bury them in the set. Put them as far towards the back of the set as you can, and put your good stuff first. Drag your audience through the first couple of minutes of the stopset, and they'll hang out. They're not going to go anywhere because they know they're that much closer [to the end of the set.] They instinctively know that it's almost over. They're that much closer to their favorite song or that really funny bit that the DJ's going to do. If you really pay attention to the details when you're doing commercials, then the whole thing becomes a series of symphonies that nobody wants to go away from. They want to stay, and ultimately, your cume goes through the roof. I really feel that commercials can be a big help to a radio station if they're handled the right way.
R.A.P.: It's interesting to note that you, being a musician, use the symphony analogy. When you look at producing a spot or promo with that point of view, it almost becomes easier to see how everything should fit together.
Dave: Absolutely. In fact, one thing I would recommend to any Production Director "wanna-be" is take piano lessons. You don't have to take them for the rest of your life. You don't have to take them for the whole year, but take them for six months and get a basic understanding of music -- of melody, counterpoint, tempo, and rhythm. You'd be amazed at how often that becomes a really important building block in a commercial or promo, or just in the overall feel of your job. It's something I've recommended to any number of people.
I've met a lot of people in this business who have had no musical training. They like music. They've listened to it all their life, but they don't really understand it.
I'll never forget.... Don Geronimo, who is doing mornings at WAVA, was working at WPGC when I was there. He was working on an edit with Bruce Kelly, who is out in Phoenix now. The two of them had been working on an edit of a song for thirty minutes, and they could not get it to sound right. Neither one of them had had any musical training. This is not to say they're not good jocks. They are. They're excellent. But I walked in and they said, "Foxx! Help! We can't make this work!" I sat down, listened to what they had done, and fixed it. It took me a minute and a half, and it was done. They both sat there and looked at me like, "How did you know?" It's because I understand music. I understand that the four-beat has to match the four-beat. You can't jump it around. The bass line has to match up. You've got to do things to make the edit work. If you don't, it's going to sound jumpy. It's going to sound like a bad edit.