R.A.P.: When you say it's a self-op studio, do you mean self operated?
Steve: Yes, self operated. There isn't a separate voice booth, so when we're using those studios as continuity, it is driven by the news reader, the continuity announcer, who will be operating all the equipment, reading the news and directing the station simultaneously. It is very efficient.
R.A.P.: The continuity announcer. That's a new term for me.
Steve: It's a very old term in Britain. It's based on one of the most traditional forms of running a radio network here. Because the programs are all made in individual centers, and they only form together as one radio station as they hit the air, the continuity of the station is very important. I suppose the continuity announcer will perform a lot of the promotion duty that would be done by a jock on many American stations and, indeed, on some stations in Britain. The continuity announcer is the focus of the station, really. He's a sign post. When your station output is extremely diverse and is full of little gems that you wouldn't want to miss, the continuity announcer performs a very important role in pointing, in sign posting those, and, as the term would suggest as well, providing a stream of continuity through the day. When the programming is diverse, in continuity and in promotion, you have to concentrate on what is consistent, and the continuity announcer is there to enhance the consistency of the station's style and, therefore, the station's identity.
So the continuity announcer is always pointing ahead, is always encouraging listeners to stay with us, is highlighting other areas of our output which would be attractive to people who've already been attracted to a particular program. That's all part of the function of the continuity announcer, and smoothing the junctions through so we don't lose listeners is key. We want to hold the listeners as long as possible.
R.A.P.: The SADiE digital system you mentioned...it's not used a lot in the US, to my knowledge, maybe because it's fairly new. How do you like the system?
Steve: It's actually quite new in Britain as well. But, it's made in England, so it's probably not surprising to find more of them here. It's based on a PC and runs under Windows. So, it was very easy for the continuity announcers I work with to learn. They also become directly involved in making some of the promos because they can operate the studio. It's not daunting because it looks like another Windows application, which is exactly what it is.
It has transformed the ease with which we make promotions. Before, we were just running on 2-track tape, and if it was something complicated, quite often you'd be bouncing from tape to tape and losing generations. Now we have none of that and the quality has improved dramatically. The speed with which we work has increased, and, also, the flexibility with which we can archive material is vastly increased. Quite often I'll make a promotion for a specific program--say a half-hour documentary which we're broadcasting on a Thursday evening--and I would need to make a promotion in several versions, a version that says "this Thursday," "tomorrow evening," "this evening." With the SADiE system, that has just become simplicity itself.
R.A.P.: What are some basic rules you apply when creating a promotional announcement for any program on Radio Scotland?
Steve: It needs to be relevant. It needs to be memorable. When I'm packaging promotionals, they're all self contained. They need to be creative. They need to be provocative. They need to form a bond with the listener, which is one of the great strengths of radio. You can have a relationship with your listener, your audience, which you can't from some of the other media. It's very much a one-to-one relationship, and I try to exploit that whenever I can with promotions in different ways, by touching on the realities of life more often than not.
R.A.P.: Since you don't have commercials, I assume the promos are all treated with much greater respect when it comes to scheduling as well as their content and creative appeal.
Steve: Yes. Frankly, they're made like commercials and scheduled like commercials. A typical Radio Scotland promotion would be broadcast a dozen or maybe twenty times, if it was a priority, at different times through the day. It would be broadcast within programs, and it would be broadcast between programs. The trailers, and we tend to call them trails...is that a familiar term for American radio?
R.A.P.: I believe what you're calling trails we call promos.
Steve: Right. That's the same thing, trails or promos. I think we talk about promotions being a campaign, or in commercial radio it could be a giveaway or some sort of gimmick, whereas the trail is actually the piece of creative audio which goes on air, which is the thing I produce. Anyway, these trails all tend to be self contained. They will vary in length between thirty and sixty seconds. Quite often, if we have a priority item on the air, for instance a new series which we want to promote quite heavily, I will make several promotions for that series drawing on different aspects of it or finding different angles on it that, in such a way, are all supportive, and yet there are enough of them that they can be promoted quite heavily without alienating the audience. Sometimes you can go to far, particularly if your audience is as ours is. Our audience is fairly upmarket--an articulate, intelligent audience who would find some of the more blatant commercial style of some of our competitors fairly off putting. We need to sell our programming in an original and sometimes humorous way, but an interesting way. We can't just go on air and say, "Listen to it." We need to draw on strengths. We need to provide real reasons for listening.