by Dennis Daniel
There was a time, not too long ago, when the words "disc jockey" meant: the guy or girl on the radio who had a distinct air personality (attitude, rap, shtick), played a specific kind of music that the audience identified with him/her, and represented a unique form of individuality among his/her fellow jocks on the station. Remember those days? Remember when the music was, in many ways, under your control? Maybe you had the old "dot system" -- you know, three blue dots an hour, two red dots, two no dots (of your choice) an "opps" cut (could be anything!) and an A, B and C card rotation. You could talk about almost anything that made sense to you, and you read your promos and liners according to need.
For just about everyone, those days are over.
From what I understand, there are a few new stations (one of them is in San Francisco) that are trying to attempt a return to that kind of free form style. God speed. I hope it works.
Anyway, my point is this: the days of creative, on-air freedom are basically dutti finutti. Unless you're part of a "wacky morning zoo" show or "zany afternoon drive," (Is there such a thing?) you're basically doing that computer read out, plug away at those promos, getting in and out of spots fast, less talk, listen to the research/consultants, hit those demos kind of radio. And even when you're "allowed" to be zany, the reigns are still pulled pretty tight. Of course, if you're one of those "shock radio" types, you can do almost anything. But...really....
So, what is a poor, badgered, burnt out, uninspired, computer/consultant controlled disc jockey supposed to do to have a little creative fun and excitement on the radio?
Who can guess what I'm about to suggest?
Spots. Yes. Spots. Commercials. Promos. Drop Ins. Fake Spots. Fake songs. The choices are endless and the creative possibilities boundless.
Which leads us to motivation....
All the preaching and logical choices I present don't mean diddly if the person (i.e. jock) I'm addressing could give a crap. Unfortunately, this is the case with most jocks.
"Production? Oh shit. Do I have to?" I hate assigning production to anyone with this attitude. I'd rather do it myself. The key to great spots, whether they are masterpieces or straight reads with beds, is CARING. If someone walks into the studio with a lousy 'tude, chances are it will be reflected in the read. Mind you, I understand why many jocks aren't into production. Reasons range from their sense of getting mistreated and under-paid to being burnt from too many club nights or promotions. The old "I do enough around here" attitude. It's not for me to say whether it's justified or not, it just seems to be a major reason. In other instances, PD's may not want jocks appearing in spots for one reason or another (not good image, cheapens their voices, etc.), although I find some of those reasons hard to swallow. A jock cutting a spot gives the client validity in the listeners mind. (Of course, it has to be the right kind of product, something that fits the jocks image and personality. This is a very important consideration to take.)
Being intimidated by equipment is another reason jocks may shy away from production. Some of them just aren't studio literate. In cases like this, it's to the Production Directors advantage to get them in the studio and teach them the board. Personally, I LOVE teaching jocks how to use our 8-track board. It's exciting for me to sort of, I don't know, "show off" my skills and knowledge. Many jocks have no clue about what we really do for a living behind those closed doors. They don't realize all the fun they're missing! Many a time, I've had someone from the air staff standing in Studio A with me, glassy eyed and filled with wonder as I show them how to cut a concert spot without making a single edit! I show them what a breeze it is to do updated versions of spots ("this Thursday," "tomorrow," "tonight") merely by leaving holes in the copy and filling them in on the different tracks. And you should see their faces light up when I teach them how to use the SPX-90 or the equalizers. They can't wait to get in there and play! I have to be careful with them, or every spot they cut will have voice effects on them!
Some of you may be thinking, "Hey, it isn't my job to train anybody. If they hired jocks that don't know how to do commercials, that's their problem. I don't have time to teach and do my job." I used to think that way. The end result was, I ended up doing ALL the production. The jocks that had a slight idea how to cut spots soon lost all their skill. When I finally needed their help, they couldn't cut it. They were out of practice and sounded stale. This, in turn, made them sound like idiots, thus ruining their on-air image. It was a real Catch-22. Either I did all the spots (making each spot break sound like THE DENNIS DANIEL SHOW, even with all my different voices and inflections), or I had jock's spots that sounded like crap. Believe it or not, it's our job to provide as much diversity in spots as possible. What we do fits right into the programming aspects of the station. If the spots don't provide a diverse air sound, we'll be blowing off listeners who hate our spot breaks! As hard as it may be to accept, it's our job to train jocks and encourage them. Many jocks sound good on the air, but have a hard time reading copy. Help them out! Give them pointers about inflection. (One of the best ideas you can offer them is to pretend that they actually own the place they're reading about. It gives them some kind of perspective.) It makes us look good when we have a wide variety of great sounding, up, positive, in-house production. Also, try and avoid overloading any one particular jock; keep it wide spread. (Again, I realize that some jocks may be better than others, have a better attitude...whatever. Just try to keep it all as balanced as possible.)
Let's get back to the bored, uninspired jock.
Getting your jocks more involved in production can accomplish two terrific goals: 1) It gives them more experience and skill, and 2) you can instill the MAGIC back into their radio lives. That's what it's really all about, isn't it? How many times have you seen ads in radio publications that ask for prospective jocks to have "great production skills?" Some jocks just don't realize how important it is. Many is the time a DJ friend of mine finds himself unemployed and sending out tapes. They always come to me and say, "Help me put one together. Tell me which spots I should include." If the person only did straight reads with beds, all their stuff sounded the same.
Sometimes, a jock can work at the same station for a long time and become lazy. They figure they'll always be there, and they don't need to stay fresh or creative with their spots (or their on-air sound, for that matter). But, we all know how fast that can change! The almighty ratings rule all our lives, and there's no time for complacency! You would be providing a great service to your fellow employees (and friends, I'm sure) by getting them hyped about commercials. You have to be in it to win it, as they say, and jocks having their voices on spots helps to sell their voices! There's some money to be made in free-lancing, and this is a neat way to get heard. The station is like a billboard for their work, a way for potential advertisers and agencies to hear what they have to offer. Get them in that studio! Get them excited! Show them that there's more to radio than reading liners and playing music off computer sheets! Let them know that production is a place where radio magic and fun can be found everyday!
I'm sure that if they really get into production, they'll thank you for your time and concern. Those who don't... !*%# 'em.