R.A.P.: Your teaching a lot of good radio basics to some people that may get into the business to find things quite different than we found them ten years ago. You've kept up with the LMA and duopoly madness that's been going on. What thoughts do you have on this latest trend in radio?
Dennis: It's still shaking out, and we don't know really what's going to happen. I'm sort of disturbed by it, but I don't know why. I understand from a business point of view why it's happening. Part of it is deregulation. Why are we doing this? It's because we can.
R.A.P.: How do you think it will affect the Production Director of the future?
Dennis: I think the best production people in the next five or ten years are going to be production people who are extremely organized, and I would suggest that rather than take lessons in creativity, you take lessons in time management. I was in a situation at one point in my career where I was responsible for five shows. I wasn't producing five shows, but I had to at least know what was going on in all of the shows so that if I got a call because something was going wrong, I knew what was happening. A Production Director with three or four stations will have to be extremely organized and have to be able to say, "Well, what's the most important thing I have to do right now? What's the most important thing I have to do today? What can I delegate?"
And I think we constantly have to be on the lookout for people who can help us. One nice thing about teaching is that I meet young broadcasting people. Occasionally, one or two out of a class are really interested in radio and audio. It's good to keep tabs on who is out there because you never know when a lot of work is going to come in, and you may need to farm something out.
Doing more and more with less and less is going to get you only so far. If I were a Production Director today, I would be very organized. And if I wasn't organized, I would figure out how to get organized and make sure I could do the work so that the station's sound won't suffer. The whole switch to digital from analog is going to create lots of ways to save time. It's just incredible the amount of time you can save with the digital editing systems. I worked on a digital workstation for the first time last summer. I used to work on montages that would take twelve hours to do. We did one in three. That kind of stuff will save a producer time, but in the end, there's only so much one person can do. So that one person has to become more efficient if that person is to have a life outside the radio station.
R.A.P.: What thoughts would you pass on to managers and Program Directors regarding their Production Directors?
Dennis: Your production people are a rare breed. They combine technical expertise with creative expertise. And producing commercials is a very specialized thing. I've watched big advertising agencies produce radio commercials, and very seldom, if ever, do you find technical people who are also adept at being creative, not to mention being able to voice the commercial, too. So, a production person is a real rare breed.
If you're a Program Director and you find a good one, take care of them. Be good to them because if you can get somebody who can write, who can enhance the image of your station and turn the biggest negative you have, which is commercials, into a positive thing that will keep your listeners listening longer, you've got somebody who has a rare talent, and you should nurture them, keep them happy, pay them what they are worth. They're on your radio station sometimes eight to ten minutes out of the hour which is more than your jocks are on any more. It's a big investment that you make.
A production job is basically a job that doesn't have a career path. Look at who gets promoted at radio stations. The General Manager generally comes from the revenue side. The Program Director generally comes from the ratings side. And the production person is generally kind of in the middle of programming and sales. He has to sort of serve two masters but, of course, usually reports to programming. Where does a Production Director go when he or she wants to advance in the company? There really isn't a career path for a production person. They reach a certain point, and they can only make a certain amount of money. The budget only allows so much for a production person, and after that, where do they go? They have to go sideways. They can't go up. So it behooves management to look at that person and treat that person with a lot of care and a lot of respect.
I have a lot of respect for Production Directors, not just because I was one a long time ago, but because it's very difficult work, and the more combining of stations we do and the more duopoly that comes along, these guys are just going to be doing more and more and more. And they don't have that promise of a place to move up, not unless they want to go into programming or management. You can do that, but then you basically have to get off the track you are on. So I just say, if you've got a good one, keep him happy.
R.A.P.: What's down the road for you?
Dennis: Right now I'm expanding. I want to do more work for Major, and I'm a free-lancer, so I am available to anybody who will hire me. But I really like Major's focus, and I really like where they are going. I'm really excited about developing new programs with them during the next year. I may be expanding my room here away from the editing station and more towards production, but I don't have any walls built yet.
A lot of my goals are personal goals. I have three kids, and they need a lot of care and attention. I really enjoy the flexibility that being a free-lancer allows me. If I want to take off early one day and go see my kid play soccer, I can do that. And because I work out of my house, I see my kids a little more often, I think, than the average dad does who is working twelve hour days. When I'm working and go down to get a cup of coffee on Saturday morning, they are there and I get to see them.