Thom Streich, Production Director, WBEN-AM/WMJQ-FM, Buffalo, NY
by Jerry Vigil
Many Production Directors are former jocks with a flair for production, but many others enter the production room from studios outside of radio. Some come with an emphasis on voice or writing skills, others with technical or managerial skills. This month, we visit with Thom Streich, a Production Director who has spent the past five years at his first radio gig. His resume is replete with recording studio experience and hundreds of hours behind the audio console for television networks in the U.S. and Canada. With this background, Thom brings a highly technical approach to the position of Production Director.
R.A.P.: How did you get into the business, and how did you wind up at WBEN/Q102?
Thom: I started in high school. It was a unique situation because my high school had television studios. You run into high schools with radio stations, but in the late sixties, early seventies, this high school was fully equipped, and this led to internships at a couple of TV stations.
In my senior year I started working in a recording studio that had just gotten off of the ground here in the city. At the time, it was 8-track, going on 16-track. This is where it really began for me.
I have a B.S. in Communications from Ohio University. I went there because I was really interested in doing recording studio work. There wasn't a program at that point like some of the schools have now, but Ohio State had a really extensive independent study program, so I took advantage of that. I did fourteen or fifteen episodes of a PBS series called "Hocking Valley Blue Grass," a show similar to Austin City Limits, and we used to do a lot of classical music recordings for NPR. So, I had ties with NPR and PBS.
Eventually, I went to work for Trackmaster Recording here in Buffalo. This was the same studio where I interned back in high school. They had evolved to the point where they had three 24-track rooms. It was THE place to record! I was there from 1978 to 1987. The first years there, I was a staff engineer, then Chief of Engineering for a while. Everybody went freelance during the last three years I was there, and my next stop was WBEN.
WBEN is a pretty unique station in many respects. It has had four morning men in sixty years. Jack Parr was a morning man here, and Buffalo Bob Smith of Howdy Doody fame worked here. So, it is really entrenched as a big, traditional station. Technically, they have always been extremely progressive in embracing new technology and having really involved engineering departments. At that point, Dave May was Vice President of Engineering and Chief Engineer, and I had known him for about ten years because he did a lot of voice work at Trackmaster. Basically, the management here made me an offer to come on as Production Director for the two stations in January 1987, and it was a deal I simply couldn't turn down. And they offered me a lot of freedom to still do other things.
R.A.P.: What other things are you doing?
Thom: During the years at Trackmaster, I had my NABET and my IBEW cards and started doing a lot of television audio remote truck work. I probably did thirty to forty hockey nights for CBC Hockey Night in Canada, a lot of French Canadian television, auto racing for ESPN, golf, bowling, football for CBS-TV last year (all audio), ESPN, CBS, NBC.... I've done Monday Night Football for ABC, plus I get calls from Unitel and NEP, big remote video trucking companies that crew out. NEP wanted me in Cleveland to do Brown's football, and ESPN asked me to do the Bills/Detroit Lions pre season game this coming Monday here in Buffalo which is a national feed. So I do a lot of TV audio. My agreement here allows me to do that kind of stuff. The only thing I can't do in this market is competitive radio.
When I came on board, they wanted my client list as a freelance engineer which really included a lot of potential ad clients for them. So, I brought most of my clients from the studio with me. When you are a freelance engineer you develop relationships. At that point I was doing a huge amount of work for WGRZ-TV which is the NBC affiliate in town. They had gone stereo very early on, and NBC was very aggressive about stereo television. They had made a decision internally that they were not going to build stereo production facilities to do their promos and stuff. It would be more economical for them to go to outside producers to produce things that needed to be done in stereo. So, when they made the changeover, they really made a big noise about it. It was in those Miami Vice days when NBC was really doing a lot of musical things and really pushing their affiliates to do so, too. I had developed a lot of the TV stations' markets by doing a lot of promotional work which carried over into doing all their radio sweeps work. That kind of thing solidified buys here. And it also helped the sales department's revenue by adding income from production time, dubs, tape and that kind of stuff.
R.A.P.: You mentioned a couple of unions that you are a part of. What are they again?
Thom: NABET and IBEW. It's not a union shop here in radio, per se. Even though NABET is in radio on a network level, it is more for NBC, and CBS is IBEW. If you want to work network television from an audio standpoint, you have to have a union card. NABET is the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, and IBEW is the International Brotherhood of Electronic Workers. The TV stations around here are all union.
R.A.P.: With all the network audio work you've done, some radio people are probably reading this and wondering why you aren't working full-time for one of the networks.
Thom: Networks don't really hire audio engineers. When they do, they let those guys retire, and they don't replace them. Everyone's a freelance, so you're really self-employed. There's no such thing as a guaranteed check every week or two. But, you can make great money. You can work fifty-two weeks a year for the networks. I know people who go from ESPN to CBS and right on down the line. They are on call all the time. You can make seventy-five to a hundred thousand per year, but there's a price to be paid for that. You are living on the road, and television life is tough on the road. I think that's true for remote vehicles of any kind whether it's recording or broadcast. It's a tough hard grind. I don't want to do it seven days a week, and I can pick and choose, at this point, how much of it I do. I like being able to go to a home at night. If I had come across it when I was twenty-one, I would have said, "Yea."
For me, I don't look at it any differently if I'm doing a mix for hockey night in Canada for a game that's going to be broadcast live from coast to coast, or if I am mixing a commercial that's not going anywhere outside this market. The parameters are still the same. I don't think twice about it anymore. I don't think I ever really did.
When you are doing live television, particularly sporting events, there's only one shot to get it and get it right. When you work for CBC, you're only as good as the last show you did. If you mess up, you probably won't work again. If you are good, you get asked back by people. The tech supervisor from TSN, the ESPN of Canada, will come down to do a show, and they will arrange for a remote facility that sends video trucks in. They'll crew it and specifically ask for people in the market -- people they've worked with before that they know can do the job. That's very, very different from sitting down and doing a multi track music session where you may spend five or six months on a project, which is very different from knocking off thirty or forty commercials in a day. I would get bored doing any one thing. I'd be bored if I just did audio with TV lock. And I got bored in recording studios which is why I took this job. There's stability here, too. It's a base I can work off of and still do other interesting things.
R.A.P.: Are you finding time to do network audio?
Thom: I don't do as much as I used to. I do hockey, and I get more offers then I can handle. At this point, I do mostly Sunday night games. The first two years I worked here, I did Wednesday, Friday, Sunday each week, and that involved being here at eight in the morning, rolling out at five, and driving to the venue. I would walk in and mix the show, tear down, and by the time I got home it was two a.m.! The money's great, but you look like you're ninety by the end of the week.
R.A.P.: Are you doing any freelance work in a recording studio? Maybe an album or two?
Thom: Yes. I have two projects lined up. There are potential albums, but that's a difficult thing. I don't think I would take anything right now that would be definitive label work because it would involve three to six months of your life just doing that. I can't afford that amount of time. But I do do projects for people who want one or two cuts done and are looking for a different engineer or a different sound.
I don't take every recording gig that comes along. I take what I like. It is not being selfish. I have "X" amount of time to do it, and I like to enjoy it. Right now I'm working with an improv group who has a contract to do little one-minute comedy snippets for a 900 comedy service up in Minneapolis. That's been two nights a week for the last month. Once again, that's something neat and different. There are a lot of sound effects, and a great deal of it happens live, straight to computer. And that's different from doing commercials, which is different from TV audio, which is different from recording studio work.... I like getting my fingers into as much as I can.
R.A.P.: It sounds like you're able to get your hands into several aspects of audio engineering there in Buffalo.
Thom: Buffalo's kind of a strange market. It is not listed as a really large broadcast market, but they don't include Toronto, and Toronto is an enormous market. There are an awful lot of people living between here and Toronto, and Toronto is a really major recording center in Canada. You have CBC radio and wonderful audio/video production houses. But, it is not like New York or Chicago where you have thousands of people freelancing. Here you have just a handful. You can be the big fish in a small market and work a lot. And you can live very nicely, very inexpensively in a city like this. There are certainly other cities like that; I think Cleveland's that way. Cincinnati's like that, and Atlanta. There are lovely places to live outside that craziness both coast extremes have.
R.A.P.: You're a veteran user of the Studer Dyaxis. How did the system wind up at WBEN/Q102?
Thom: We have three production rooms in the facility. Production 1 was rebuilt in January of 1991, and it was built specifically as a digital production room. It had been 8-track at one point, and it was going to be rebuilt as such. The reason we went the way we went is because we had roughly $30,000 budgeted for an 8-track board, which is average, and we were looking at a Wheatstone. Then Dave Bulanka, an equipment supplier rep in town, called up Dave May and said, "Look, I've got this digital audio production system you've really got to see." So, we went and saw the demonstration of the Studer Dyaxis. It did everything we wanted it to do or could evolve into what we wanted it to do in the foreseeable future. It was not the kind of system that was so closed that you couldn't update it software-wise. At this point, digital I/O standards really weren't set. AES/EBU was just coming out as a balanced interface system, and no one had really locked into sampling rates and all that. The Dyaxis was the first system I saw that had virtually every kind of digital and analog port in and out, and various sampling rates. It had flexibility that would allow us to not become antiquated should we go in this direction.
So, we scrapped all our ideas for an analog room and built a digital room. We built the whole room, the board and everything, for $30,000, and the analog room was going to cost $30,000 just for the board. It becomes cost effective to go digital if you are totally rebuilding a room, and you have to be willing to take that plunge and be flexible enough to learn to do things all over again, because you are not mixing on a board, you are mixing on a computer and making decisions on it. A lot of people and engineers are hesitant about that. Engineers can't get their hands on tape, and they don't like it.
I have found that the Dyaxis allows more time for doing creative things. You can work on one part of a mix, be it a sound effect or whatever, and assign certain functions to that part of the mix, whether it's panning or EQ-ing or making level changes. You make those decisions, assign them to the computer, then go on to something else. You are not making repetitive mechanical moves which really detract from the creative process. You have made a decision and the machine will constantly repeat it until you update and/or change it. In the end, your product is much, much better because you've spent more time being creative and less time pushing faders and buttons.
So, this room was based around the Studer Dyaxis production system. We bought a half hour drive, expandable to two and one half hours, I believe. The half-hour stereo time really suits us because we're working in a thirty and sixty second world. We also bought 4-millimeter tape backups as a way of dumping our drive. We don't use it as much as we thought we would because the broadcast world is pretty short. You're not working on a lot of long-term projects. But, it gives us the ability to work on a project then dump the drive onto a data backup tape so somebody else can work on that system. Then you can come back later and dump it back in.
R.A.P.: How are you archiving your work?
Thom: We decided to scrap our analog storage system, which was 15 ips 2-track, in favor of DAT archiving. We archive for about a year. We bought four Sony 2500 DAT machines. At the time, they were Sony's most professional machine, and they had, just like Dyaxis, all the digital I/Os and sample rates. We really weren't sure if they were going to lock onto 44.1kHz for production, or if that was just going to be for compact disk. Was 48K going to be it? The Sony machines gave us the flexibility, and we got a great deal on them since Sony was superseding the 2500 at that point.
R.A.P.: How is the main production studio equipped, aside from the Dyaxis?
Thom: We have a Wheatstone SP5A board that is strictly for analog ins and outs for the digital production system, although you can mix analog straight to 2-track if you wish, and some of that does happen -- down and dirty stuff where you have a voice over music to do quickly. There are two of the Sony 2500 DAT machines in here. We have both analog and digital patch bays. We brought SPDIF and AES/EBU digital languages out from all the digital machinery to this patch bay which allows us to move information around, dump information back and forth from CD or DAT or Dyaxis without ever going back to analog.
R.A.P.: What about effects processing?
Thom: Processing? There is next to nothing. The Dyaxis system has digital EQ, both parametric and graphic, and if we equalize anything, it's for effects purposes, and we do it in the digital domain. But, as a rule, we don't use equalization, and we don't use any analog EQ at all. That's station policy. Nor do we compress or limit. There are a pair of Urei LA-4s in here, and we use those when we really want to compress something for the sake of an effect. But the station philosophy from the engineering department on down is that the station processing for both stations is pretty much set, and the idea is to have the listener not be able to tell if it is an announcer reading a spot live or if it's an announcer on tape. So, we're not doing heavy processing on our production elements and then passing that through our on air processing chain where things are getting processed twice.
The in house microphone is the Neumann U87. We have fourteen of them, and there are twelve Neumann KM84s. When you deal with a microphone of that quality, the transient speed and the frequency response is so wide that we just don't get into processing at all. In fact, we bought the Wheatstone board with EQ just because it was an expensive option to order the board without it, but the EQ just sits there in bypass. If we want EQ for some particular reason, we transfer to digital and then use parametric or graphic EQ in the digital mode, which doesn't have any of the pitch shift problems or "ringing" that is inherent in virtually every analog EQ.
R.A.P.: Your station's philosophy on the processing aspect is quite different from that of a lot of other stations.
Thom: Yes, and it has caused a lot of problems with employees, jocks in particular, that are used to stations with very, very heavy processing. That's how they get their wimpy voices to sound big. If that's the kind of processing you like, this is not the place for you.
I've never had a client say, "That has to be EQ'd. It needs to be limited." That has never been a factor. So, when the final production hits the air, it has exactly the same processing as the on air music and the on air mikes, and the end result, in our opinion, is very seamless.
R.A.P.: Does this processing philosophy apply to both stations?
R.A.P.: When mixing a voice track with some music that has been processed with emphasis on the highs, do you ever find a need to boost the highs on the voice track to get it to cut through the music?
Thom: We don't have a problem with that, not with the Neumanns. We have a totally non smoking environment here, and it has been for years, long before that sort of thing was popular. And all of our Neumanns are rebuilt on a regular basis. So, the capsules don't have deposits on them, and they're in top condition. The frequency response on these suckers exceeds any of the digital processing or any of the digital storage modes. There's information on a Neumann way up to 30,000 Hz. When our spots hit the processing chain, there are some things that happen there that bring that voice up, and no one has noticed any problem with processed music in the background. We're using Killer Tracks right now, and I've used Network in the past. I've never noticed a problem with anybody's music being so hyped that it's a problem. The only problem I've noticed is when stuff comes hyped from another station. I think most library music from the big guys - Network, Killer Tracks, FirstCom -- is all very well recorded. I don't find them that hyped.
R.A.P.: Do you have any special effects processing in the studio?
Thom: Old Yamaha SPX90s, which are wonderful. They do really nice things. We also have some old Eventide 949 Harmonizers that were around here from way back that I kept because they do wonderful, 200 millisecond repeats and other stuff. We have done some work on some of these units to quiet them down. We have replaced chips in the D/A converters because it's pretty old technology. Those are second generation Harmonizers, but they still do a lot of nifty things. These boxes are on the effect sends and returns on the boards.
R.A.P.: What analog machines are running around there?
Thom: I'm an old believer in the MCIs. We've got a bunch of MCI 2-tracks, the 110 series, around here. Every room has at least one. We also have four old Scully 280Bs that are still workhorses complete with multi syncs.
R.A.P.: What's in the other two production studios?
Thom: The second production room will be the next one to be rebuilt. It too will be rebuilt as a Dyaxis room, and it will probably be bigger and better than the main one because we've learned a lot. But this second studio right now is analog. It has a custom Ward Beck board, one of a kind. It was a turnkey installation in the early seventies, but it's real fine. It's a 14x4x2x1 which is a real strange combination. There are JBL monitors, and two Sony DATs. So, while the room is still analog, the storage medium is still digital. And, we can dump back and forth from room to room. There are digital and analog interfaces between production rooms.
For tape machines, this studio has MCI 110B 2-tracks, Scully 280 2-tracks, and it has a 110C one-inch 8-track. We had two of those at one time but we sold one. We kept the one-inch 8-track because there is one thing that digital doesn't do well, or is practically impossible to do with the equipment we have; when we were CHR we used do a lot of beat mixes, and it is still easiest to do that on analog 8-track. There's now the 2+2 version of Dyaxis that you can do that kind of thing with, but the 2+2 was not available at the time we bought the Dyaxis.
The MCI is a great machine with the full MCI remote, and it doesn't have that many hours on it. This room gets used as a straight 8-track production facility, and everything analog either runs at 15 or 30 ips. We don't use any noise reduction on the machines.
There's the usual complement of cassette decks and cart machines. This room has more cart machines than any other production room because it tends to get used for a lot of network stuff and a lot of out of house stuff that comes in and needs to be carted. This production room also has a large studio associated with it with a round table and six microphones on it.
The third studio is pretty much just a mono production room, and it gets used by a whole lot of people outside the production department. It gets used by jocks doing interviews, news people doing interviews. It has a custom Ward Beck board in there also that's a 16x3x1. It's a duplicate of our AM board, essentially, but it's used for production. There are Scully machines in there with multi sync, ITC cart decks, and Neumann microphones. The room has a lot of phone patches and things like that. All the rooms have Technics SP 15 tables, and we have complete satellite uplink and downlink capabilities.
R.A.P.: How many people are in your department?
Thom: Two, myself and one full-time assistant, Mike Waz. We work sort of a swing shift where we overlap. I'm usually in by eight-thirty or nine a.m., and Mike comes in at two and works until ten p.m.. That gives us two people during that two to six p.m. shift where there are a lot of salespeople coming back dumping a huge amount of stuff that's going to happen for the next day.
R.A.P.: Do you have any deadlines for the salespeople?
Thom: Our department has a guarantee to both sales departments: if a piece of production is into traffic by five p.m., then we guarantee we will have it ready for a midnight start that night. Now, there are exceptions to that. If they want twelve women on a spot, that may be impossible to get. We're talking within reason. But, if I have a salesperson call me at three p.m. and say, "I'm not going to make it until five with this piece of copy and it involves A, B, C, & D," I'm going to do my best to get it on.
Anything that needs to be carted we'll take as late as ten o'clock at night, as long as the salesperson has prearranged things with the traffic department because they assign the cart numbers. This is no problem; we guarantee it will be on.
We make every effort to do any ASAP kind of thing. Certainly, if the Program Director comes in and says he needs two or three hours of time to do promos and booked that a couple of days ago, I'm not going to throw him out. But as soon as I get done, I will prioritize things as much as I can and take care of any ASAPs that have to happen now. We try to get everything that comes in here out of here as quickly as possible, because the next day's load is going to come through.
R.A.P.: Do you keep track of how much production your department is doing?
Thom: We track everything. We track paid spots, promotional spots, and things that come under other categories. There are various features the production department ends up recording like a farm show that's recorded every other week with twelve segments. There are various sports shows that get recorded. We tally all that stuff up, and in the last year our low month was 950 pieces of production, and our high was 1,500. It is generally right around 1,000.
R.A.P.: And these figures include features, commercials and promos?
Thom: Right. Anything that's a demand on our time.
R.A.P.: Do the numbers include dubs, too?
Thom: No. That does not include dubs. We have about 1,200 to 1,300 dubs going out of here every six months.
R.A.P.: Do you charge clients for production time?
Thom: If you're buying one station, we're going to give you a reasonable amount of production time for free. If you are going to sit in here all day, then we're going to charge you a reasonable amount, and we're really liberal with that. And you get your production music. We'll toss that in. Voice is tossed in, too. But if it travels, talent gets paid because it's going to another station in the market. If you buy both stations here, I'm going to toss five dubs in for free, which is something the sales department likes. Otherwise, it is straight a la carte just like a recording studio; time, tape, music - you get charged for everything. Most people don't bat an eye at that. We may do all the radio and end up doing the TV/audio too in a lot of cases.
R.A.P.: If a spot does travel, is it only the voice talent that gets a fee?
Thom: Yes. The company would get fees for dubs and stuff like that.
R.A.P.: And you get nothing?
Thom: Yea, nothing.
R.A.P.: Is that a fair deal?
Thom: Well, I'm a staff engineer in the sense that I'm going to be paid whether something travels or not. So I wouldn't think twice about it and wouldn't have any problems with it at all. I get tapes in with "produced by such and such" on it, and I think, "give me a break! Who cares?"
R.A.P.: Aren't these announcers that get paid also "staff" announcers?
Thom: Yeah. Although, I use anybody in town from any other station I want, too. I mean, if a client comes to me and says I want so and so and he's at another station, I give him a buzz and say, "client wants to do it at one o'clock. How does that fit your schedule?" They say, "Fine," and come over. It's no problem. That goes back to my recording studio days when I used to keep samples of people's voice work.
My interest from the production department is really two fold. I want to keep the client happy; I want him to be happy doing broadcast. If I can do that and also get a buy on the station with them...BINGO! I've succeeded then. Also, if I can charge them production dollars, then that makes me look good. But, as anyone will admit, production dollars are generally going to be far less than a buy. Buys are where the big money is. If he is happy with the production, he is going to buy the station, generally.
R.A.P.: Are you writing any commercials?
Thom: I don't write any commercials. We have a creative services department that has people that write - two full time copywriters.
R.A.P.: Is all the voice work done by the announcers?
Thom: Correct. Announcers have set production times. Some guys are around all day, like the PD and other managers. So, if I need voices I can grab them. But, generally, the jocks have assigned production times which may be an hour before or after their shift. They have folders in the hallway with their copy. It's highly systemized, simply because there are so many people working here, over one hundred.
AM has about sixteen salespeople alone; FM has eight. Our production department deals with over twenty salespeople plus two Sales Managers. Then there are two separate traffic departments. When you involve that many people, plus copywriters, you have to have a system to follow. So, copy generally goes from the AE to the copywriters, from the copywriters to traffic, from traffic to production. Then we have these folders we set out for all the jocks where their copy is placed. They have to be ready at a specific hour. They pull out their packet, roll into a production room, and they read. Then they're done. They don't have to piece anything together.
R.A.P.: Do you or your assistant engineer all the voice-over sessions?
Thom: Yes. Mike and I do them all. That maintains in house quality.
R.A.P.: How many scripts are being produced a day on the average?
Thom: Maybe thirty a day. On a Friday, when we had football, it was not uncommon to do a hundred pieces of production. We had three full-time people then.
R.A.P.: Thirty spots a day between two people, on top of everything else you must do, seems like quite a load. Yet, I get the impression that you're pretty calm about it all.
Thom: Yeah, there's only one thing that rattles me -- and it is the nature of the business -- I get really pissed when we're doing a revision because someone didn't get an address or phone number right. That's what pushes my button. There's no excuse for that -- an AE that has called on a client several times and still can't get the address right on the copy.
R.A.P.: Is there much "creative" copy being written by your copywriters -- let's say, three-voice stuff with sound effects? Or is that kind of copy kept to a minimum because of the work load?
Thom: No, it's not kept to a minimum, but it may be an exception to that five o'clock rule simply because we can't get the people. But, with the Dyaxis, it's easy to overlap the various elements and make people sound like they're in the room at the same time. So, if I can get the people, even at different times, I can put that spot together quickly, in no more time than it would take to do a down and dirty voice over music.
There are a lot of people out there trying to get the media dollar, so if you can put a twist on a spot, you've got a better chance of attracting someone's attention. Television is competing for radio dollars now because they've dropped their rates so much. And you've got cable competing with broadcast TV. It's a fight out there on the streets. I wouldn't want to be an AE.
I'm thinking of one client we grabbed through production. Our spot was very different from everybody else's with a lot of our voices and a lot of our effects and such. It was a combination of selling them a good schedule, good copywriting, and good production. When it all comes together and you net somebody, and you make it work for the client, it makes everybody feel good. But, getting back to your question, doing the creative stuff is not a problem. We're a factory. We churn the spots out. The philosophy from the boss -- and production comes under engineering here; it doesn't answer to programming or sales, which eliminates conflicts of interest or abuses of systems -- the philosophy is, "I want ninety-nine percent of what a recording studio would do, but it has to be done in a third of the time." That is the challenge.
R.A.P.: How does having the engineering department overseeing your department eliminate conflicts? Give an example of that.
Thom: Sales can't say to you, "Well, I've got to do this favor for a client, so you've got to do all this production, and you've got to do his TV for free, and no, you're not going to bill him for dubs." That doesn't happen. It just doesn't wash.
R.A.P.: If they want it to happen, would they go to the head of the engineering department?
Thom: Right, if they want to do something special like that. From a programming standpoint -- and the Programming Directors are the best I've ever worked with in the sense that they are not abusive -- programming can't come in and say, "I'm going to take all day, and I don't care if the AEs rot in hell and none of their stuff gets done because I want to cart my new jingle package." They book time like everybody else.
R.A.P.: And if they have a problem with it they have to go to the Chief Engineer?
Thom: Right. We don't have the abuses that some places would, and frankly, it's the only way I'd do the job here because I wouldn't work for programming or sales.
R.A.P.: Have you ever worked for programming or sales in this capacity?
Thom: I've never worked for another radio station except for my broadcast experience with NPR type stations which is a wonderful little utopia. But it's not like the real world. You don't have sales departments.
R.A.P.: What are your policies on spec spots?
Thom: We do specs. I'll tell you what the rules are that we set down, then I'll tell you that we break all those rules. The rules are that I guarantee any salesman that I will get him the spec he wants in five working days or less, and that we will do one spec per client on a cassette. The rules we break...we'll do it in less than five days, we'll do it in the same day if they need it, and we'll do multiple ones if that's what it takes to get the client.
R.A.P.: Is that something that every Account Executive knows?
Thom: They know if they need it to ask for it and not to cry wolf on it. I don't want to hear that they need it for everything because that tells me their sales presentation is a spec only presentation, and they are not doing their part. If that's a problem, and it has become one at times and it is always on an individual basis, then I'll go to the Sales Manager. But it's not a big problem.
R.A.P.: Are you producing the promos for both stations?
Thom: Yes, I'm doing those, about three dozen a week for both AM and FM, and news. I do twelve or fourteen just for FM. There are daily ones, like the morning show promos which are done every day at nine-thirty.
The news department is very aggressive here on AM. It's a big news department. News promos in particular are on demand. The newsperson will say, "I've got to do something this afternoon." So we accommodate him, but I may say, "It's got to happen at six because I can't get free till then."
The job is with the understanding that there are days you are going to get out a little early and days you can take breaks. But the nature of production is that Fridays are always going to be bad, and the day before a holiday is going to be bad. Because Thanksgiving is on a Thursday and everyone's off on Friday, on Wednesday you're producing for that Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through Monday morning, so it's going to be hell. You don't leave until the job's done. This is not a place where you walk out at five o'clock every day regardless, and say, "Well, that happens mañana." That doesn't fly.
R.A.P.: Is the Program Director writing promos, or do these also fall under the copywriters' duties?
Thom: The Program Directors write some and News Directors write some, but copywriters are also at their disposal for input to clean up copy or to generate copy.
R.A.P.: You mentioned that you use Killer Tracks for production music. Do you have any other libraries?
Thom: Killer Tracks is the main library, and I think we're going to get Network. I also have Answer Disk.
R.A.P.: Answer Disk?
Thom: Yeah, it's an old one we had a buyout on. It's twenty albums...not bad. We've got a whole lot of stuff that we've bought on reel to reel. A lot of times you'll see stuff advertised, "Buy out! 300 bucks! One per market!" I'll buy anything like that.
R.A.P.: Do you have any "promo" music libraries?
Thom: No. We use music from the same libraries we use for commercials, but we will use the Dyaxis to cut up and rearrange stuff. Plus, if I need something else, there are some guys that are very proficient on keyboards. We'll do custom stuff here if we need to.
R.A.P.: Your station's philosophy of no EQ, no processing -- should it apply to other stations as well, or is it just for you guys?
Thom: I think other stations should apply it. My general feeling is this: a lot of processing -- and I'm not talking about overall station processing, I'm talking about production processing -- it's just to jerk off the talent or the engineer. Does it matter to the listener? I don't think they give a damn. I've never seen anybody at any study, or any consultant convince me that any black box adds any more listeners. The only study I've ever seen, that had any credence, was just the opposite. It found that when you highly process things, particularly with a lot of high frequency accentuation, it turns off females because their hearing is better than the males'. And any sales department will tell you you don't want to turn off your female listeners. In all the research and focus groups they've done here, only once did they ever have anyone ever mention processing.
R.A.P.: Now does this include pitch shifters and delays and flangers, etc.?
Thom: Oh, no. I think that stuff in spots is wonderful. Those are attention getters. I'm talking about heavy equalization and compression, and magic boxes that play around with phase to widen stereo bandwidth. If you talk to music producers -- that's my background -- they just roll their eyes and get so pissed at people that do that because their music doesn't sound like what they spent weeks and months and maybe even years producing.
I know there's one system they were touting that extended the stereo width and dimension, and on stereo records that used a lot of effects and enhancing to begin with, it just drove that stuff crazy. There was an old Fleetwood Mac song that was just bizarre when you passed it through the stuff. And when you talk to the company about that...yea, they know that, but they can sell black boxes to Program Directors or consultants who are getting kickbacks from these companies. Let's face it. You know that, and I know it.
R.A.P.: So you're not opposed to processing for special effects, correct?
Thom: Hey, I use compression. We do spots where we take all the breaths out of the spot. Then we time compress the whole thing together, and then squash the dynamics right out of it with a 12:1 limiting ratio because you want a particular kind of sound for a certain kind of effect. I think that's great. I've got no problem with that. I just want to do that as cleanly as possible. And for me, doing that is not running it through six black boxes with twelve different kinds of EQs; but it does involve using the very best condenser mike you can get with the very best and cleanest preamp you can get and the best storage medium you can get. Then you put those things together.
I love SPX90's and Lexicon delays. You can do some wonderful things with those. We use those heavily on everything. We use them on our news promos. We use inverse room programs to add edges to things. Use processing and use effects for creative means where they're needed, where the demand requires. But to do it just to do it.... I've seen places where they had EQ settings for every announcer, and mike processing and all this. It's a waste of money. That's a personal opinion and a philosophy here, but that's why I'm here.