Robin Luse, Production Director, WKBQ-FM, St. Louis, MO
This month, the RAP Interview stops in St. Louis where Robin Luse exercises his effective production philosophy at WKBQ-FM. We pick Robin's brain for some insights into his techniques for managing an efficient Production Department that cranks out quality production, and we get at up-close look at working with the Studer Dyaxis digital workstation.
R.A.P.: Where did it all start, and how'd you wind up in St. Louis?
Robin: I wanted to be in radio ever since I was in eighth grade. We did a career unit in my eighth grade class where we had to pick out three careers and research them. Radio was one of the careers I chose. I went to a local station and interviewed one of the jocks as part of my research. He gave me the tour, and I was hooked after that.
I got started in my senior year in high school at a student run station, WVPE in Elkhart, IN. It was part of a vocational school for high school students. After I graduated, I went to Arizona State for a year then transferred to the University of Evansville. One of the classes I was taking there was taught by a guy named Dave Lehman who was the morning man at the top rated station in Evansville, WIKY. Dave heard me read some copy out loud in his class, and, after the class, he pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to work part-time at night with their beautiful music automation system. That was my first real gig.
About four months later, I moved over to the AM side, WIKY-AM. It was a 250 watt daytimer, but they were CHR and needed an afternoon person. It was perfect for me -- a great place to break in.
After a couple of years, I moved to WHKC in Evansville where I did nights, afternoons, and mornings over a two year span. From there I went to WFBQ in Indianapolis for a while then went to WZPL, also in Indianapolis, for a real short stay. From there I went to KDKB in Phoenix and did nights for two years. From there I went to WIOD and WAIA in Miami -- WAIA is now WFLC. Then I was off to the old KIX 104 in Nashville, which is now The Fox. I went back to Phoenix and worked at KOY. Then I went back to Indianapolis to work at WKLR, and from there I got the job here in St. Louis at Q106.
R.A.P.: That's quite a few stations!
Robin: Yea, we bounced around quite a bit, but every job was a better opportunity. They were all steps up the ladder. At first, I was strictly jocking with some production responsibilities. It wasn't until I got to Miami in 1986 that I became a full-time Production Director. When I later moved from Miami to Nashville, I went back on the air, and that's when I hit the burn-out point on being a jock. But I still loved radio, and by then, I had developed a knack for production. I thought to myself, "In production, you're still in the business, and you're still on the air. You're still pretty much on the front lines, but you never hear of a Production Director getting fired for a bad book." So, I just committed myself to doing production, and they were able to let me do it there in Nashville. Then, when I got back into Phoenix, I was a full-time Production Director and have been ever since.
R.A.P.: What's your philosophy of radio production, and how do you apply it at Q106 with respect to commercial production and the sales department?
Robin: Quality has to be the number one thing for me. Some guys will say writing is most important, and some guys will say it is voice talent or a combination of the two. But that all falls under the broad umbrella of quality, doing the very best you can. I think that covers the whole production process.
And this goes back to and includes the AE selling the spot to the client in the first place. We've all run into AE's who think their job ends as soon as they get the client to say, "Yes, I'll buy time on your radio station." I take it one step further. If I'm the AE, living on commissions, and my livelihood depends on getting that spot on the air and getting this client to advertise on a good, long term, consistent basis, I need to make sure we not only get this client to say "yes," but I also need to make sure the people back at the station -- traffic, continuity, production -- have everything they need to do a good job with the spot. And they need to have all this material in a timely enough fashion so they can do it right.
As I said, I think we've all run into AE's who don't necessarily subscribe to this philosophy. Their job is to sell. So they sell the station, and, after that, it's, "Hey, you guys are there for the rest. That's what traffic, continuity, and production are there for." Then traffic and continuity end up with an order they can't decipher. They get copy points that the continuity person or the Production Director will have to call the client back on to make sure it's all okay because you can't make heads or tails of it. Basically, what you end up doing is wasting a lot of time that could be used elsewhere in producing a good spot.
With that in mind, what I try to do with AE's is stress that quality aspect and the long term benefits of it. "If we do a good job for this guy now and he gets results, he'll be back again and again and again, and it's going to be great for everybody. But to do that, here's what we need back here at the station. Here's how you can help us out."
As far as getting copy points and information, the AE is the point person on the deal anyway. They're the liaison, and they know that client. The AE will have some ideas on how the spot needs to be done, but the client has some definite ideas, and the AE is the person who gets those ideas and interprets them for us. So, I try to stress getting as much detail on what the client wants.
Along with that, we have a deadline policy, and it tends to be observed pretty well. When business is a little slow, we relax it to help people out. It works out well because if we're not busy, we've got a little slack. But when time gets tight and the log is full, then we tighten it up a little bit because we need that time to get the work done.
We built some slack into the system through what we call the "exception" system. No matter how hard you stress the quality and timeliness aspect of things, shit happens. Let's say an AE has been working on a big buy, and the client has been really difficult. Finally, at four o'clock on Thursday afternoon, the client says, "Okay, I'll take it, but it has got to start tomorrow." Things like that happen, and with this exception system, every AE has two exceptions a month. It can be more, or it can be less. The AE simply goes to traffic and continuity and says, "I got this buy. I know it's late, but I want to use one of my exceptions." Then it's no problem. It's handled. You don't want to make things too difficult for them because they're out there scrappin', and it's a bitch out there on the streets, especially these days. But, at the same time, the radio station is still "our house," and you want our house to look nice. You want it to sound good. The exception system builds some slack into the structure. So, if unusual things happen, and they do, the AE's have a recourse instead of having to hear, "Sorry, Charlie. It's past deadline. It's not going to get done until tomorrow." That just ticks everybody off.
R.A.P.: How do new salespeople react to this exception system when you explain it to them?
Robin: It's funny. When new AE's come in, I sit down with them for a half-hour to an hour and explain the setup. When I bring up the exception system, they always get a big smile and say, "What? You're kidding!" But after a while, they get the feel for it, it works out very well, and people don't have any problems with it. I'm real happy with it. I don't know how many other people have this kind of system.
When I read articles, interviews, and letters in Radio And Production, I sometimes get the feeling that people are saying, "Yea, we gotta make the money. Our people are out there selling like crazy. We gotta work with them, but dang, I wish there was something I could do to make things better for me and the client instead of all this last minute stuff coming in." If you address that quality aspect, stress the importance of it, and get some backing, like I've been able to get, from the General Manager, the Sales Manager, and the Program Director, it's going to work. And you've got to do it from the angle that it's going to make everybody happy. "If we do it this way, we're going to get a better sounding commercial that's going to get better results for the client which is going to make him happier which is going to make him spend more money on the station." You just get into a real good cycle with it.
If you want a good product, you can't have copy constantly dropped on your lap at the end of the day, copy that needs four voices and sixteen sound effects and ten pieces of music. You've got to go back and say, "Hey, look guys. I can do this every once in a while, but I can't always pull that rabbit out of my hat." I think, as Production Directors, we're asked to do that a lot. Most of the time you can do it, but, by golly, sometimes you just can't. The setup we have here is designed to reduce that element. Don't get me wrong. The last minute stuff still happens, but it happens a lot less than it has at any other station I've been at before.
Dennis Daniel's article ["Production Monkey In The Middle" - Dec. '91 RAP] was really good. I think it's a great boost. People have to realize that you're important. You work WITH everybody. The Production Director doesn't work FOR any one set of individuals; he works for the station and is part of the team just like everybody else.
I think a lot of guys start to feel so beaten down. After a while, that last minute stuff wears on you, and I've been in that situation before. You walk into that station in the morning and you wonder what's going to happen to you today at five o'clock. And it does you no good to go in early in the morning to get things done because you know that chances are good something will get dropped on you at five, and you're going to be there until nine. That isn't good for your psyche, and it isn't good for your creativity. The system we've set up is just one way to remedy that, and it helps to better organize your time.
R.A.P.: Do you have specific deadlines for copy and tapes?
Robin: We've put a twelve noon deadline on copy. We have a late afternoon -- four or five o'clock -- deadline on dubs and tags. When we get scripts by noon, we've got the full complement of voices around the station. So, if we have a multiple voice spot, we can get the voices we need. Or, if I'm going to delegate the copy to someone, I can get it to the voice that's right for it. When you have a lot of last minute stuff, who takes the big hit? It's your afternoon drive guy, your night jock, and your overnight guy. That starts to build up a little resentment after a while. With a noon deadline, you can better balance out the workload, and you also get a better balance of voices on the air. That way it's not the Robin Luse Show every twenty minutes on your radio station.
My philosophy and our system are based on quality, and it doesn't make any difference how tough the spot is. Whether it's just music and voice, cold voice, voice and effects, or a major project, you still have to do that read the best you can. The more time you've got to do it, the better off you are. That's the goal you need to work for. It's not a perfect system. It still has its rough spots, but it has been my experience that it works well. And when there have been snags, I've always had the backing from our General Manager and Sales Manager, and things have worked themselves out very well.
R.A.P.: How did this "quality" and "exception" system come about?
Robin: It has been the outgrowth of my previous experience in production. I went into the situation thinking, "How can we still get a good product out without it crimping everybody's style and getting everybody angry, without crimping the AE's style and getting them angry with production and vice versa, without the production people feeling like they're being dumped on all the time?" So, I sat down and came up with the idea, and Lyndon Abell, who hired me, liked it. I ran it by the General Manager and the Sales Manager. They were a little hesitant at first, but after I made the points on the quality aspect and that there was some slack built into the system to take care of those "unusual circumstances," they were willing to give it a shot.
This whole philosophy works toward the long term rather than the short term. Sometimes that's a hard concept for everybody to grasp because "billing is down this month, and we're not hitting our goals!" But, again, because of the way the system is built, if business is slow, then we don't worry so much about that noon deadline. If business is slow, we've got the time to do the stuff. Likewise, when we're real busy, the logs are full, and traffic has a bump list a mile long, then we enforce the deadline. "If you don't get it in, we've got a lot of other people willing to pay money to get on the station." And again, we've got those exceptions. If something goofy happens, "use one of your exceptions." The system tends to be self regulating.
One word of caution if you're going to try to implement this exception system. Be ready for some snickers from people. It's an idea that might unsettle some people because it tends to stray from the norm. You might rub some people the wrong way, but you've got to stick to your guns. And you've got to make people realize that you're not doing it to be a jerk. You've got the client's best interests in mind, which are your best interests and the station's. You're just trying to get the best job done that you can, and this is a way you can do it. But be ready for some of that initial resistance and a lot of snickers.
If nothing else, it'll make people more aware of what you're about and what it takes for you to do your job. The perception that some people may have around radio stations is, "Oh, he's the Production Director. He's that weird, eccentric guy that spends six to ten to twelve hours a day in this little four-walled room talking to himself into a microphone, and the only time you see him is when he stomps out for coffee!" Nobody knows what it takes to do your job. All they hear is that finished product. It's like seeing Star Trek or Star Wars at the movies. You see all those great effects, but you don't know how long it took to get that shot. It's the same with radio. People will listen and say, "Oh, that's neat! That's great!" But, they don't realize that ten second ID may have taken you two hours to produce.
So, by communicating better with the people around the station, by telling people what you need to make it better for the client and hitting that quality aspect, people also get a better handle on what it is you do and how long it actually takes to do it. They realize you don't have that magic hat in the production room and can whip it out with no problem. And maybe they might find out that you're not as eccentric as...well, you probably are. (laughs) Let's just say, maybe they'll find out you're not quite as quirky as they thought.
R.A.P.: What else can be done to reduce last minute orders?
Robin: Sometimes, a lot of that last minute stuff can be prevented. A lot of times, it's somebody forgetting something, or oversight, or other things that are correctable. Just by making people more alert, be it a traffic person or a continuity person or an AE, just making them more mindful can help. Something that happens often is an agency will call the station on, let's say Wednesday, and say, "Your tape for so and so is ready," and then the AE just forgets. The word gets to the AE on Wednesday to pick up the tape, and he says, "Yea, yea, I'll get it." Then comes Friday afternoon at four o'clock and the AE's saying, "Oh, man! I forgot to get that tape!" This kind of thing is going to happen, but you can improve upon it.
Another thing that happens is you'll get a client who is sold, and he'll be asked, "What do you want in your spot?" The client will say, "Oh, I don't know. Be creative." This drives me nuts. You're just getting set up for failure because your idea of creativity may or may not be what the client wants. It depends on how the client feels that day.
We had a situation recently where our morning guys were cutting a spot for a client. We asked for the copy points, got them, and then the guys asked, "Is there anything in particular you want us to do or mention?" The client said, "I trust you." So, we cut the spot with Steve and D.C., our morning guys, and the spot ran. Then the client called back and said, "Well, you forgot to do this!" What it boiled down to was a last minute "gotta fix it" situation that could have been prevented with a little more attentiveness -- coming down to specifics and nailing the client down. What do you want? Don't give me that nebulous "be creative" stuff. Give me some specific points I can start with and work with. That helps out the AE as well because you're getting the client to narrow down immediately what he wants in his spot, instead of wasting two or three days bantering around heavy duty concepts. It's not so much a push or a shove, just a little nudge to get them to move a little bit.
R.A.P.: We all get tired of having to re-cut spots for hard-to-please clients. Any tips to help reduce this problem?
Robin: We've incorporated something that helps everybody. If a spot does need to be re-cut, we'll cut the original, then we'll re-cut it two more times before there's a charge involved. That helps out the AE because they can go to the client and say, "Look. We can re-cut this for you a couple of times, but basically, it's three strikes and you're out. You'll have to pay for the third revision." This helps the AE's because they don't have to spend so much time dilly-dallying around with a client. And, it forces the client to narrow down his possibilities -- what he likes and doesn't like -- a little more quickly.
R.A.P.: Earlier, you referred to your station as "our house." Elaborate a little more.
Robin: Our General Manager, Rich Gray, likes to say, "The radio station is our house." I agree. We want as many clients as we can get, and we want to make as much money as we can, but the bottom line is that it's still our house. I think that's a great philosophy for a radio station, whether you're in Dothan, Alabama or in New York or L.A.. There may be things in our house that don't matter to the client as much as they matter to us, but we've got to worry about them. In the long term, these things do affect the client because they have to do with listenership. A last minute spot that goes on the air and sounds last minute makes your station sound cheap. It makes it sound tacky. It makes it sound thoughtless. It makes it sound like you don't care. What does that do to the listener? They punch out. They're gone, man. That's it.
R.A.P.: What kind of production market is St. Louis?
Robin: Production-wise, this is a very conservative market. It has been dominated for a long time by [News/Talk] KMOX, and they still dominate the market. And when you're a News/Talk station, the production style is going to be different from that at a CHR station. The one thing I run into more than anything else is trying to get people to realize that, "Hey, a KMOX style of production a lot of times won't work on our station because we're CHR. We have to keep the pace going."
I'm a big believer in matching your production to the flow of the station. KMOX can get away with cold voice spots, and we can't -- or, at least, I don't want to. I think it brings the station to a dead halt and forces tune-outs which hurt us and hurt the clients. In CHR, your spot breaks need to move. I don't think there's any argument that commercials are a tune-out. I think the more you can make them move, be it through making them entertaining or with an up pace, that's the best way to go.
R.A.P.: A lot of this "pace" comes from the music you use under your spots, right?
Robin: Yes, and that gets to be a battle sometimes. You don't always have the time you'd like to have to go into the Music Director's office and say, "Hey, do you have anything good in here that maybe you're not going to play but has a good beat to it, something I can pull off the disk and loop and make a good rhythm track with?" Finding music is a big battle sometimes.
For production libraries, we're using the Air Force library, and after the New Year, we've got money in the budget to pick up the Urban Image package from South Street. I was real impressed with Urban Image. Like I said, I'm looking for real upbeat rhythm patterns. One thing I've found with a lot of music packages these days is that there's a melody to the music. You may have a great beat -- a great bass line and a great rhythm track -- but then they stick a melody in there, and the melody isn't quite what you're looking for. What I've found with South Street is that they tend to be more rhythm-oriented, and they'll give you mix-outs on the tracks, too. The package also has a very contemporary feel to it.
As far as effects and that kind of stuff goes, we've got the Techsonics libraries. We've got the Turbo Techsonics upgrade on the original package, and then we bought Chainsaw and Techsonics II. Tech II comes with a music package that's been very good for us, too. It has helped out quite a bit.
R.A.P.: Do you make the decisions on libraries?
Robin: Yea, I'm the one who goes through the demos and listens to them. I'll come up with a short list of recommendations, then I'll sit down with the PD, Mark Todd, and say, "Here's what I've got it narrowed down to, and here's what I'd like to get." Mark is very agreeable and flexible. His attitude is, "This is your job. Do your job, and I'm not going to mess with you unless there's a problem. This is what you were hired to do, and I trust your judgment." That's what he goes by. He practices what he preaches. He's terrific that way.
R.A.P.: Unfortunately, there are a lot of PD's who don't trust their Production Director so readily.
Robin: I think there are a lot of PD's that want to [trust their Production Director], but then they hear that promo and say, "Well, maybe that isn't quite what I had in mind." Then they end up getting involved in the process. But, it's their call. I mean, they're the ones whose job depends on what the station sounds like, so you can't really fault them for it. I've been in situations like that before, and it's a stressor. It makes you a little uptight because, if you're like me, you have an idea of how you want this promo to sound. You've got the confidence that, if you put it together this way, it's going to sound great, and they're going to like it. But, if you've got a PD that's going to come in behind you and go, "Well, that was good, BUT...," then you begin to doubt yourself and end up second guessing yourself; and that isn't good for anybody.
You get to the point where you just say, "Look. Why don't you write it and tell me exactly what you want, and then I'll do it that way." Then you go from being a Production Director to a production technician. But then again, the PD is the one that has to live and die by the way the station sounds. He's just like anybody else; he has a sound in his head.
I'm working for Mark Todd now, and Lyndon Abell was the PD who hired me here. I've been lucky because they both hear things the same way I do.
R.A.P.: What advice can you offer those working under a PD who tends to squelch their creativity a bit?
Robin: You and the PD are going to have to get inside each other's heads better. As a Production Director, you're going to have to find out where this PD is coming from. What is he looking for? Every PD has certain "hot" words. Find out what his hot words are. With Lyndon, "score" was a big word with him. "You'll score tickets." "You'll score a trip to wherever."
Also, chances are the PD will have a tape of stuff he really likes. Maybe he hasn't played it for you yet. Have him play it for you. You'll get a feel for where he's come from, production-wise, what he's heard in the past, and what he likes.
When you're working on promos, drops, and campaigns, sit down and work the stuff out together on paper. That way, you're both getting a feel for where the other is coming from, and you can reach some kind of mutual agreement. Get down to specifics on things. If you've got a problem, and you talk to the PD about it, don't settle for a big, long, philosophical dissertation. If he does that to you, then come back with, "Okay, how does that apply to what I'm doing here?" And be specific. "What do you like? What don't you like? What, specifically, would you like to see in this next set of drops? Would you like to see a few more lasers? Would you like to see a few more samples and sound effects? Do you want some sound bites? What do you want?"
R.A.P.: How is your studio equipped?
Robin: We've got a couple of Studer A807 2-tracks. We've got an Alesis QuadraVerb that I love. We kind of stumbled into it through Radio And Production a few years ago when you did the Test Drive on it. We saw the price tag and called them up. They sent us out a demo, and it hasn't gone back. I personally like it every bit as much as the Yamaha stuff, and I think it's a little cheaper. In certain aspects, I think it can do more than the Yamaha can.
We've got an old Eventide H949 [Harmonizer]. The mikes in the production room are hooked up to Mic-Maze compressors, and the general room compressor is the A-Maze. We've got a Harrison board, and the crown jewel of the room is the Studer Dyaxis that I do all my multi-track work on.
We've also got an Ensoniq EPS that I bought used back in February. That's what I do all my sampling on. I do a few things with it musically, but not a lot. I'm not a musician. I'm more of a plunker, but that plunking has come in handy more than once.
R.A.P.: How long have you had the Dyaxis?
Robin: We've had it for over a year now.
R.A.P.: How did you adjust to it?
Robin: Coming from analog multi-tracks, I was a little leery when it first went in. When the engineers put it in, they began unhooking the Studer analog 4-track we had in there, and I said, "No, no, no! Don't do that! Not yet! Not yet!" I'm saying, "Look at this thing. It doesn't have pots! It doesn't have faders! It doesn't have knobs! It doesn't have anything! It's just a keyboard and a mouse!" So they left the 4-track, but it was funny because two days later I was saying, "Get this 4-track out of here. It's taking up space. I'm never going to use it again."
I love the Dyaxis. It's a great piece of equipment. I'm surprised there aren't more people looking at the Dyaxis as opposed to some of the other things on the market right now.
R.A.P.: It sounds like the learning curve was very short for you.
Robin: The tutorial that goes with it is great. I think the thing that really makes it work is the fact that a Macintosh drives the Dyaxis. The Macintosh is very user friendly. It takes a lot to screw it up, and it was very easy to pick up. I played with it for a couple of hours, and was then able to start editing things. Then you just build on it from there.
R.A.P.: Did you have some computer background before getting the Dyaxis?
Robin: No, not at all. I was not computer literate. I wasn't even computer friendly. It's funny though. Since the Dyaxis, I've purchased a PC for home that I use for word processing, bookkeeping, and general game playing. I'm more of a computer person now than before the Dyaxis came along.
R.A.P.: Tell us a little more about using the Dyaxis in radio production.
Robin: Well, you have unlimited tracks on this thing, essentially. I've done promos in pieces that have had as many as sixty or seventy tracks. Every element you put into your spot has its own track, be it music, sound effects, or a voice. And you can move any individual element without changing any of the other elements. You can pan each element left or right. You can turn up the gain or turn down the gain of each element. The software will do what they call a "duck envelope" where you have a music bed, and, when the voice comes in, the music will automatically duck down so it doesn't drown out the voice. It's a sensational piece of equipment.
As far as storage goes, we got the minimum package, and that has a thirty minute hard drive. When was the last time you used thirty minutes of stuff? I find that I usually use a minute or two minutes tops. So you have room to store things in the hard drive. Then, if we need to save anything, we've got a Panasonic DAT machine that we master to.
R.A.P.: If you pull something back up from the DAT, are you able to mess with individual tracks again, or is what you save a stereo mix?
Robin: The DAT stores the stereo mix. To be able to save individual tracks, you need what they call a streamer tape which is something I would love to have, but I don't think the budget is going to allow it this year. So, what you have to do is basically save the pieces, then put them back in the machine and put them all together again. That's one drawback, but the way I compensate for it is to keep stuff in the hard drive for three or four days, just to make sure everything is okay. I'll go ahead and master the stereo mix, but if I need to change something, I work off the pieces on the hard drive.
R.A.P.: What's the basic procedure for doing a voice over music spot?
Robin: When you record, you record directly onto the hard drive. You record the music, then you record the voice. Then you bring both of these "files" into RAM and create what is called a "mix file." The RAM is where you mess with levels and pans. Once you get everything set in the RAM, and you like what you've got, the machine will ask if you want to save it. If you do, the machine will write a new file and put it back on the hard drive. It takes about twenty to thirty seconds to write the mix file depending upon how many elements you have. It's all very user friendly.
R.A.P.: Has the Dyaxis sped up your production time?
Robin: I've found I can do stuff faster, but I've also found that I'm now doing spots in the same amount of time I spent doing them on analog. Because you can manipulate the elements in RAM, you can be much more precise in less time. So, you can do a few more things that you might not do if you were working on an analog machine. On analog, if you don't get the overdub right, then you've got to rewind the tape and take two. Or if you don't hit the beat right, so you've got to rewind the tape and do it again. You don't have to worry about that with the Dyaxis. It's wonderful.
The Dyaxis also does great cross-fading. This is nice when doing record spots because you can do the cross-fades right on the beat, so your edits are completely seamless.
I've read about some of the other digital workstations on the market that seem to be selling well, and I've talked to friends. I think the one thing that hurts the Dyaxis is that it doesn't have pots, faders, knobs and buttons on it. If you walk into my production room, you'll see a Macintosh computer sitting on a computer stand with a mouse and a keyboard. I think that's scary and intimidating to a lot of guys. When they see this other stuff that looks more like the equipment they've been dealing with all their lives, they say, "Oh yea! That's for me!" That's not to take away from what these other products offer. They must be good or people wouldn't still be buying them. But, I think, for the money, the Dyaxis is a great buy.
R.A.P.: Are you still using your 2-track analog machines for anything other than dubs?
Robin: Oh, yea. The 2-tracks still get plenty of use. If it's just a quick music and voice spot, I'll just roll tape, start the music, and go for it. It's easier and faster, plus it saves storage time on the hard drive. Basically, if I can do something on the 2-track, I will. But if it's something I would normally do on a multi-track, then we'll pull out the Dyaxis. Or, if we need to do some special or precise editing, we'll use the Dyaxis. It will edit and move things down to the one-hundredth of a second. You've got that kind of precision.
R.A.P.: What would you have to say to those guys and gals in smaller markets that don't have the state of the art equipment, production libraries, etc.?
Robin: This is from a voice of experience, someone who worked for four years in Evansville, Indiana. Basically, all I had there were two 2-tracks and older production libraries. There weren't a lot of dubs. I had to work with a lot of copy, and I pulled an airshift on top of everything else. Hang in there. It's part of the natural process of radio. It's paying your dues. Everybody wants to get to the top as quickly as they can, and some guys are lucky enough to break into radio in a top seventy-five market. There are even some people here in St. Louis that got their start here in St. Louis. But those are the exceptions more than they are the rule.
Being a Production Director, or being in radio period, is performance. It's like being an actor. It's like being a comedian. It's like being in a rock and roll band. It's like being an artist. There's an evolution to it. A lot of what you do can't be pulled out of a book. It has to come from experience. And whenever you're dealing with learning from experience, you've got to pay a lot of dues. It's like being an athlete, a rookie in the NBA. There's a lot to learn, and the only way to learn is to go out onto the court and play. For guys that are working in those small markets, if you really want to do production, you've got to make that commitment to do good production. It can't be an afterthought like, "Yea, well I do afternoon drive, and then I do a few commercials." To do it well, I think you really need to make a commitment to it.
As far as your tools go, it's like the old adage: If someone gives you a lemon, make lemonade. That's where you've got to find ways to make things work for you, or at least try. And if you're having trouble making things work, well at least communicate it to people. It's no sin. If you've got a problem, go talk to your PD about it. Instead of resigning yourself to it, try to make your situation better. If you can make it better, it's going to put you in a lot better frame of mind. It's going to make you a lot happier, and from that you'll get a hell of a lot more creative real, real fast.
R.A.P.: I'm sure you're relating to a lot of our readers. How about a tip for those in the ill-equipped 2-track studios?
Robin: Whenever I'm driving cross-country and driving through some of the smaller markets listening to the radio, I'll hear a lot of record spots, and there's a tendency to edit right at the lyric on the hook instead of going a couple of beats ahead. If all you have are 2-tracks, and you've got to do a record spot with hooks, don't edit into the hook right at the lyric. Edit a couple of beats ahead of it. That way, you talk over the splice. This also makes it easier for you to hit the post when you're reading the copy.
I can certainly relate to those in the small markets, and if you hang in there, good things can happen. A lot of times, the only difference between Las Cruces and Los Angeles is being in the right place at the right time. To be in the right place at the right time, you have to put yourself in a position to be there, and you do that by always doing the best job you can and by constantly working to improve yourself.
I'm not a musician. I'm not an electronics whiz who reads a lot of electronics magazines and knows all the data on equipment. I'm a guy who started in radio as a jock and was lucky enough to be around a couple of good production people. It helps to have the musical background. It helps to be able to sing and do voices, but I don't think it's necessarily essential. There are ways you can overcome that in your production style. So if you're starting out, and you love production, but you feel out of place when you read R.A.P. and guys are talking a little over your head, don't be intimidated and don't be scared. That doesn't mean they're right and you're wrong, that they're going to end up in Chicago, and you're going to be in the backwoods swamps of Louisiana for the rest of your life. Don't worry about that. All that stuff can be overcome.
R.A.P.: Any final thoughts for our readers?
Robin: I'm glad I'm having the chance to share some of these things because I read R.A.P., and I can almost feel the resignation going through a lot of guys. It's like, "You know, I really like doing this, but some of the stuff that happens just wears me out and I get tired. But, oh well, I guess I just have to deal with it." Yea, there is a certain amount of stuff you have to swallow, but that goes with any job. But why resign yourself to it? Why not try to find a way out of it? It's basic problem solving. If something is bothering you or hurting you, if it's hindering your creativity or your attitude towards work, find out what it is. See if you can do something about it. Come up with a plan. Instead of going to your PD and bitching about something, go in and have an idea about how to remedy it. When you think about it, bosses and supervisors hear complaints all day, and pretty soon, it's in one ear and out the other. But if somebody comes in and has a bitch, but they also have a solution to it, the supervisor thinks to himself, "Hey, I don't have to sit here and problem solve. Here's somebody who may have a solution to the problem!"
Don't resign yourself to something that is bothering you until you've explored the possibilities of finding a way out that works to everybody's benefit. For me, hitting that quality aspect has been the key because who doesn't want quality, especially these days? If you watch TV ads, if you read magazine ads, or listen to the radio ads, or even go into the businesses themselves, you notice that a lot of companies these days are stressing the quality aspect. I first noticed it at fast food places. You go through the drive-through, and there's that little sticker on the window: "Got a comment about our service? Call this toll free number." Or you walk into a restaurant, and you see their mission statement: "Our goals are...." You never used to see that stuff. I think it's a commitment to quality that a lot of people are starting to make, and I think it carries nicely into the radio business and what we do.
Despite all the layoffs, I also think a lot of companies are starting to realize the value of having good people and keeping them around, or working with what you've got to see if you can get what you need out of them. That's especially true in radio right now because it's so expensive to replace somebody. It's expensive to fly somebody in. It's expensive to move somebody and put them up in a hotel for a couple of weeks while they find an apartment. That's expensive, and I think a lot of radio stations are working a lot harder these days with the people they've got. It didn't used to be that way because there was a lot of money in radio. Even two or three years ago it was nothing to fly five or six people in to a market for interviews, put them up in a hotel, wine 'em and dine 'em, and put it on the expense account. Hey, those days are gone, man. Businesses and radio are making more of a commitment to their people these days than they have in a real long time. It's not nearly the revolving door it used to be.