R.A.P.: How are the stations in the group staffed as far as production goes?
Steve: We have basically three producers and a carting person at each station in each of the major markets. The Production Director usually handles promos, IDs and the main programming production. Another guy will run another studio and handle all of the direct commercial production. We have a crew producer as well who is also an engineer. They're the guys who produce whatever our crews need for the morning shows -- jingles, song parodies, comedy skits. Then we have a carting/dubbing person who is responsible for carting all the commercials for the station, doing research tapes, carting all the promos, all the IDs.... Everything that is made within the radio station goes through him to be processed for on-air. So, we have four people under the production banner at each radio station.
This is basically the way it's done in Australia. This is not something that is unique to Austereo. Well, that many people may be unique to Austereo, but Australian radio has Production Directors, direct production producers, and carting people. It's been this way since I first started in the industry anyway.
R.A.P.: That's a major difference between Australian and U.S. radio. At the majority of U.S. stations you find production departments staffed with just one person who might also have an air shift, and maybe a few jocks help out after their shift. Practically every U.S. Production Director knows if they had two or three full-time producers working with them and had two or three 16-track studios to work in, they could get their station sounding infinitely better. But many owners and managers don't see the value in this. They seem to have an attitude that says, "We're just talking about the commercials and promos; it's not like we're talking about the jocks or the music. And besides, this is the way we've always done it, and it has always worked just fine." Maybe a few of them will read this interview, read about 30 shares and top notch production, and put two and two together.
Steve: Unfortunately, a manager that has that attitude about production might have to walk down to production one day and ask the guy to cut a commercial for him saying, "This radio station is for sale."
R.A.P.: Who does the writing of the commercials and promos?
Steve: We pool resources there. Producers write scripts. The jocks write scripts. The promotions people write scripts. The Program Directors get involved in script writing. If we want a fantastic nighttime promo, then we might get the night guy to get across that one because he knows better than anybody what people need to hear at night. The morning crew writes their own crew promos. Production guys and jocks will get together and write concert promos. We have comedy writers that write just for the crew in each station. They're the guys coming up with the comedy in the morning. Again, it's a team effort.
R.A.P.: How many people does SA-FM employ?
Steve: About forty-five. It could be a bit more with part-time Black Thunder drivers because we have five Black Thunders out on the road.
R.A.P.: What are Black Thunders?
Steve: They're our promotional vehicles. Throughout our whole group we have vehicles we call Black Thunders that go out and assault the suburbs en masse giving stuff away and doing public appearances. They're Nissan 4-wheel drive, all terrain type vehicles with the big, fat tires, big mags, bumper bars, and they're all sign written. Basically, they're our mobile billboards.
R.A.P.: Most U.S. stations only have one, maybe two, promotional vehicles.
Steve: We have five in Adelaide, six in Sydney, six in Melbourne....
R.A.P.: What's the population of Adelaide?
Steve: About a million and a half.
R.A.P.: What does a spot on SA-FM cost?
Steve: A hundred and thirty dollars for thirty seconds. Most of the advertising in Australia is sold in thirty second increments. In U.S. dollars that would be about a hundred and ten dollars. You can buy preferred time for two hundred and sixty dollars for thirty seconds.
R.A.P.: What's SA-FM's current market share, and how many stations are there in Adelaide?
Steve: We currently have about a 25 share in Adelaide. There are about seven stations in the market.
R.A.P.: What production libraries do you use for promos and commercials?
Steve: We utilize Brown Bag throughout the group. All our stations use Brown Bag, and we buy Brown Bag market exclusive. Other libraries, like Techsonics and Turbo Techsonics are bought market exclusive by other stations, so we don't have those libraries at all our stations. In Adelaide, I've got some Techsonics and Turbo Techsonics disks. It varies from station to station in the group. In Sydney, we have Primo Promos which is another SP Productions library. But basically, we use Brown Bag exclusively. It has been consistently the best production package of all of them, and we consider Brown Bag Productions a market leader in what they do.
For commercial production, the guys basically buy the disks they require. As far as commercial production music goes, we have a lot of libraries to choose from within Australia distributed by people like EMI, Castle Music, and Killer Tracks. There are lots and lots of different libraries available from urban to country to rock to corporate to industrial. For sound effects, we use stuff like Sound Ideas and Hollywood Edge. If the guys need it, we try and get it for them.
R.A.P.: You launched the A-Team last year. Our readers might remember it. You collected some of the top voices in Australia to provide a sweeper/ID service. How's this venture doing?
Steve: It's doing pretty well. I coordinate it, produce it all, and send it out. Ray McGregor, Steve Brittain, Mike Grayson, Folger Brockman, and Jim Pilgrim are basically the top five promo and ID people in Australia. We're on about thirty stations in Australia. But the service was offered to regional stations only because most of the guys have major network deals throughout the country, and they're market exclusive in some towns. It's been very good actually. It's not something that you can make a lot of money out of because, unfortunately, regional stations have some pretty tight budgets. But I thought there was a big hole there for one to pick up a little extra cash and actually help out radio and give these stations the opportunity to get the standard of production and voices they would otherwise think they couldn't afford or didn't have access to. We're all in this together, so why not try and make radio as great as it can be everywhere, I say.
R.A.P.: Did you try to market the A-Team in the U.S.?
Steve: I did put out some feelers. Michael Lee talked to a few people about it. We had some interest from a station in Canada, but it never really went any further; and being as busy as I am, I didn't really chase it too hard. There may have been a problem with the accent. But no, we haven't done any work for any American stations which is a shame.
R.A.P.: Does Austereo use any American voices?
Steve: We use Brian James for our network. Brian, I consider to be one of the best attitude voices in the world. He's right on the money and also a great producer. I think Australia leads the way when it comes to [production] philosophy and making available the resources and the technology to our production guys. America leads the way in attitude scripts and reading. Your really good promo voices over there are just so full of attitude. But American radio is a style of radio where you can actually afford to have a bit more attitude. Sometimes, saying, "Coming at your face with a million watts" doesn't wash too well in Australia. For some reason, your guys can say it better than us. Maybe it's the accent; maybe it's the different culture. You guys invented hype, so I suppose your people are more comfortable with it; whereas I think Australians view it as a little bit of, "Well, this guy is having a bit of a lend of himself," ["kidding" himself] which is a shame. We use Brian James on a lot of stuff in Australia.
R.A.P.: What are the top formats in Australia?
Steve: Well, AOR, CHR, news/talk, and easy listening, I suppose.
R.A.P.: Is rock and roll the predominant format in Australia?
Steve: Yes, AOR and CHR -- INXS, U2, Midnight Oil. Everything from Bonnie Raitt to the Eagles for classic rock. Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, you know the formula.
R.A.P.: Country is one of the hottest formats in the U.S.. Is this music in Australia?
Steve: Country, in major markets, you never hear. We don't have country radio stations. Our country radio stations are called country radio stations because they're located in the country.
R.A.P.: Are all stations in Australia highly produced, regardless of format?
Steve: Our network and our direct competitor are the ones that go hardest at production. The news/talk stations produce themselves, but to a lesser degree. The soft stuff, well, there's not much to produce there, so they run pretty clean.
R.A.P.: Do you have any musical skills?
Steve: I played the drums for about six years and fiddled with guitar and piano like everyone else, but I couldn't call myself a competent musician. I've got to say, though, one of the things I think is really important to any production is making sure the music and the read are working as one. So, the musical background has been fantastic in helping develop great editing skills and finding the good music edit points. It also helps you know when to add a certain piece of music under a certain part of the read to add to the feel of what the guy is saying, if you know what I mean. The music and the read should be one, wherever possible.
R.A.P.: Any good job opportunities for American producers looking to move a few miles away from home?
Steve: Well, we're interested in talking to anybody who wants to talk to us, but radio in Australia is going through a period. The country is going through a recessional period, so times are a bit tight, as they are in America I hear. It's a real fight out there to keep your head above water. So, there aren't a lot of job opportunities, but I think if you're in town and your work stands up, someone's going to have a look at you. We'd be happy to make contact with radio stations over there and share ideas. No one's an expert. The more help you can get, the better chance you've got of achieving excellence, I think.
R.A.P.: Any parting thoughts for our readers about production down under?
Steve: If you shoot for an eight, the best you're ever going to get is an eight. If you shoot for an eleven and get a ten, you've done well. We try and not only get the creative and the music and all that right, but we work very hard at getting the sound right. We treat radio production more like the way music studios treat sound. But we're not doing one album a month, we're making thirty promos and a hundred commercials a week. But we're trying to do it in a professional environment, in a way that radio should be done... because... it's a jungle out there! (laughs)