Bill Schultz, Production Director, WYNY-FM, New York, NY
by Jerry Vigil
This month's RAP Interview takes us to the nation's number one market for an interesting chat with Bill Schultz. Believe it or not, Bill's first production gig was in New York, at Hot 97! Nothin' like starting at the top! And like many CHR Production Directors, Bill found his way into a country station looking for a CHR approach to imaging. Bill's second production gig is, again, in New York! Bill tells us all about WYNY's changes and how his production style has helped turn things around at the station. Bill also claimed the Large Market Best Promo award in the recent RAP Awards competition with a memorable promo for WYNY's "Don't Let The Door Hit You In The Butt Weekend." We get insights into that promo and lots more!
R.A.P.: Tell us about your background in the biz.
Bill: I had always wanted to get into broadcasting, and my primary interest was radio. But I could never break into a radio station from high school. I was looking for radio jobs in Toms River down at the Jersey Shore, which is where I'm from. I managed to get into a cable TV station, so I started out with a lot of television experience. After college, I worked in Philadelphia at KYW-TV. I did a lot of fill-in work, and, as technology improved, the amount of available jobs decreased. So, I decided to come back to New York.
In New York I took a telemarketing job basically to pay the bills. A friend of mine from college, Rich Boerner, whom you interviewed a few months ago, was working at WQHT in New York. He called me and asked if I wanted to come in and do production work with him at night. I did. I decided I would work my other job from nine to five during the day and from six to about one a.m. at Hot 103, which is now Hot 97. About seven months after I started, Rich decided to move on, and I stepped into his job as Commercial Production Director. That was in December of 1988, and that's how I came to work under Rick Allen at Hot 97 for about five and a half years. I basically did commercials and produced some specialty programs. I was producing a show for a radio station in Tokyo for about a year or so. I got to do some promo work, too, and I got a lot of experience. There was a lot of retail work there, and there were a lot of locally produced spots. I counted them up once. I think I produced over ten thousand commercials before I left Hot 97.
In the fall of 1993, Hot 97 started going through a lot of changes. They were sort of backing away from the dance/CHR approach and going more with the hip hop approach. At that time, Broadcasting Partners had just bought WYNY, which was the country station in town, and they were trying to create a real hot CHR type of presentation for their country station--doing a "Today's Country Hits" type of approach. I applied for a Production Director opening there and got the job. So, at the time Hot 97 was developing into the hip hop station, I stepped away from it and got into the country station, and that's where I've been ever since.
R.A.P.: How did this CHR approach to country work?
Bill: We've taken WYNY in a lot of different directions. It started with a hot CHR type of approach, and that lasted a few months. Then we made it more hot AC, then a light AC approach. It was tough trying to find the right approach. It's a very limited market in New York for country music, and we had to find a format that would fit. A lot of the country listeners didn't like the real hot presentation, so we had to find a niche with the presentation and the music where we would interest the younger crowd without turning off the older crowd, and that's pretty much where we are now.
I think the younger crowd liked the CHR approach, but the older crowd didn't like it too much. They tried to embrace it, but you could tell from the reactions we were getting that people were either very dissatisfied or were pretending to be satisfied. It was never really comfortable when we were doing a real hot CHR approach. And, the music mix was all new country music, and a lot of the people who were tuning in to hear Patsy Cline and the old country records were turned off because they weren't getting to hear the heritage country they grew up with. And, in New York, you can't subdivide the country audience; you have to get all of them.
R.A.P.: Are there other country stations in New York?
Bill: No, we're the only country station right now. There are plenty of imbedded metros in New Jersey, Long Island...every little area around the city has its own handful of radio stations servicing a lot of different formats, but right now, we're the only country station. There's an audience for country music, but not a large enough audience that could support a whole bunch of radio stations.
R.A.P.: What kind of numbers does the station have?
Bill: Right now we have a 2.7 12+. We have a 3.0 25-54 which we're very pleased with. In the previous book, we had a 1.8 12+ and a 2.0 25-54. All of our marketing strategy, everything we've done since the first of the year, was designed to bring the ratings up and show country to be a viable format, and I think we're doing that. We fully hoped to improve upon the radio station, and we were really pleased with those numbers.
R.A.P.: Initially, when you started at WYNY with this CHR approach, what did you do with the imaging to make it sound that way? Was it simply a lot of in your face promos and sweepers?
Bill: When I first got to the station, the promos were real in your face. We used digital sampling. We used plenty of Harmonizer effects and lots of compression. We used high pass filter effects an awful lot. The only time you heard country music was when there were songs on or when there were commercials involving country clubs or country records, something country related. When I got over there, the Program Director told me not to use country music on anything except commercials. We had talk beds for the jocks that could very easily have aired on Hot 97 in the late '80s or early '90s--very dancy, up tempo, contemporary sounding music. That was the edict that was handed down at the time.
Our positioning statement in the beginning was something like "the only station that plays five in a row," and every time we came out of a stop set there were always five songs in a row. There was a jingle package that was real up tempo. We used jock shouts. It was such a short period of time that I have trouble recollecting exactly what the liners said, but five in a row was something we really pushed an awful lot, and "Today's Country Hits" was the station's slogan.
R.A.P.: When they decided it was time to make a change, how was that change made with regards to the imaging?
Bill: Initially, we took it down a few notches to more of a Hot AC approach. It became "Today's Country Hits and Familiar Favorites." The jingles were a little more laid back. There was a lot of emphasis on less talk--"We're the station with less talk." We had contests that were a little more family oriented--trips to Disney World and things like that. After three months, the listeners still weren't on board with it. We were calling the station Y103.5 during the CHR phase and this new phase, and it wasn't catching on with the listeners. In the Arbitron diaries, we had a really low recognition factor for Y103.5. They were still calling us WYNY or just plain 103.5.
I think we changed to the Hot AC presentation in the beginning of January, 1994, and by the end of March we pretty much decided it wasn't working. Our PD went on to another job, and we took the station down to a real light AC presentation where we had almost no production at all on the air. It was just a couple of dry liners with positioning statements, and the jocks talked only three times an hour out of commercial breaks. They only back-sold records, and we really zero based the station to the point where it was just music. The jocks would say everything dry--no beds for the weather, none of that.
Then we hired a new PD. Just about a year ago, Chris Kampmeier came in and slowly rebuilt the radio station to the point where I think it is a very solid presentation right now. We're doing pretty much a Hot AC presentation. We use a lot of contemporary music, but the whole focus of our production is to incorporate the music and the listeners. We're sort of inviting everybody to the party. The listeners are incorporated, and the music is incorporated into the promos.
We do special weekends every weekend highlighting different types of songs, you know, story songs, like the "Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Butt Weekend," which is all break-up songs. We pretty much just stick to one jingle that we incorporate into the promos so it will be familiar. It says, "103.5 'YNY" and our slogan is "New York's Country Station." We're trying to keep it basic and friendly. The listeners are loving it, and I just think we've pulled the whole thing together into one cohesive unit. A year and a half ago, when we were doing Y103.5, I think the production and the music were sort of co-existing in two parallel but separate universes. It was a strange mix. There was the production over here and the music over there. Now I think it all blends together really well.
R.A.P.: You had no experience in country radio before this. How was the switch for you from Hot 97 to country?
Bill: Well, it was kind of interesting. It wasn't as bumpy a ride as one might think because Hot 97, at the time I left, was in a transition where they were removing a lot of the high energy production elements from the presentation. And I was stepping over to WYNY who wanted the high tech presentation. They wanted the digital sampling and everything which we had long since stopped doing on Hot 97, so from a production standpoint, it wasn't that bumpy.
It was interesting for me as somebody who didn't have much experience with country music to go in and start learning a new kind of music. I really love music. I really enjoy getting into all kinds of music, and yet country was something I had not dived into before. So it was fun to learn a new genre of music and to find out what's good and what you like and what you don't like.
R.A.P.: What are your responsibilities there?
Bill: I handle all the imaging for the station--the promos, the sweepers. We use Randy Reeves from Atlanta as our voice for the station. Chris, for the most part, writes the promos. We fax them down and get the tape from Reeves, then I put everything together. I also take care of the commercials. Around the end of last year I hired an assistant who works with me several hours a week, and he's taken over some of the commercial work. He basically covers all the dubs and tags and that sort of thing, and he's coming along quickly. Jeantet Fields is his name.
R.A.P.: Are you writing commercials?
Bill: For the most part, I don't get involved in the writing any more, only because of the amount of time that's involved. But if it's a specific case where we have a big account we're trying to land, and the salesperson really needs help with something, they'll come in and sit down, we'll kick around some ideas, and I'll write a piece of copy for them.
R.A.P.: What's the studio setup?
Bill: We're still kind of in the rebuilding process. We moved to a beautiful new facility in Jersey City last summer. We're right on the banks of the Hudson River, so there's a beautiful view, a lot of light, windows everywhere...it's great. We have five studios. One of them is vacant. We're waiting to see if maybe we'll wind up with a duopoly situation. We have a small news studio. We have the air studio. We have my studio which is the main production studio. Then we have another studio that is still in the process of being put together, but it's basically set up so the morning show can do production. We do our public affairs shows in there and a certain amount of production, but there's no multi-track in there right now.
In the main studio I have the Orban DSE-7000. I have the Eventide DSP 4000 Ultra-Harmonizer, and I've got a Yamaha SPX-90 which I use primarily for reverb. We use dbx compression on the microphones and the overall production. We have a BMX console from Pacific Recorders. It's not a production console though, it's just a regular broadcast console because most of the mixing I do right on the DSE.
R.A.P.: How do you like the DSE-7000?
Bill: I absolutely love it. We got it back in 1990 at Hot 97, so I've been using it from that point on. When I came over to 'YNY, they intended to build a digital studio, so I went to the AES Convention with the people from 'YNY before I even started there just to shop around and look at different systems. I was open minded about it. I looked at a lot of different systems, and for radio purposes I just found that the Orban was really the best thing. Aside from the fact that I'm real comfortable using it and can work quickly on it, I like the fact that you can give someone a quick tour of the machine, and if they don't touch it for two months, when they come back to it, they'll remember how to use it. You don't need a refresher course every time you get back on it. I didn't want something that was going to be too complicated in the production studio. I pretty much want people who need to get in there and put little things together to be able to do that.
R.A.P.: Well you're practically a veteran of the digital production world!
Bill: I was lucky that I got in on it pretty early. When I came over to 'YNY, there was no digital, and I had to go back to using a 4-track for a while. I actually enjoyed it for a little bit. It was fun to go back to a blade and get back to the basics, but that got old.
R.A.P.: How long did it take for that to get old?
Bill: Oh, not too long. I would say a couple of weeks. Things all of a sudden were going so much slower, and it was kind of a drag. You have to give yourself a pep talk and say, "Look, there's a lot of gear in here that's good gear. There are a lot of guys around working with a lot less and doing some damn good work." So you work with what you have and you do the best you can.
The toughest part about it was going back to editing with a blade and editing country music as opposed to most of the editing I did at Hot 97. There, the music was dance music where everything is sequenced and looped, and you can almost do edits on the fly and they'll come out perfect. With country music, you're dealing with a lot of acoustic instruments, and you have to really, really listen in the background before you go ahead and perform an edit because you might find that a slide guitar or some instrument in there disappears when the edit goes by, and it may bring attention to the edit. That's what is great about having a digital workstation. You can try a lot of edits first before you settle on one.
R.A.P.: Are you doing all your archiving to the DSE-7000's hard disk?
Bill: We have the largest disk that was available at the time we bought the DSE which was about a year ago. It has eight and a half hours of disk space. I've got a couple of hundred library elements and probably seventeen or eighteen productions on the disk at any one moment. Plus, we have the data DAT backup system. So, I try to keep only active things, things that are going to be used pretty frequently, on the disk itself. Then, things that I want to store for future reference I load down to data DAT. It's amazing that one little cassette can hold so much. You can save library sounds and the entire production, all eight tracks. Then, if you decide later on that you want to go back in and get something that you used on one promo, or you need a line or something out of an old promo or an effect or whatever, you just pop the data DAT in, load it back onto the disk, then go in and get what you need. I pretty much archive everything I do in one way or another.
R.A.P.: How many promos would you say you produce during an average week?
Bill: Well, it depends. We were in a situation only last week where we were doing a promotion called the Fanfair Fantasy Flyaway. Fanfair is an event in Nashville every year. It's a fair and it's for fans. They go there and the record companies and the artists all have booths set up. They have concerts, and it's like mecca for anyone who likes country music. So, we ran a huge promotion for Fanfair and had a general promo that was running. Plus, every day, we would try to do one or two promos with winners reactions when they win. We were doing a mystery shopper giveaway where we would send a mystery shopper to a store on a certain night. You had to go up to everybody in the store and say, "I love 'YNY. Are you the mystery shopper?" And if you actually find the mystery shopper, you get to go to Nashville. We basically turned a couple of stores upside down with that because we loaded them up with piles of listeners running up to everybody saying, "I love 'YNY!" So, we had a promo going for that. Then the morning show leaves me bits every day, and I try to put together at least two promos every day for them so we can have two fresh promos alternating for the morning show every day. Plus, every weekend we do a special theme weekend, and that requires its own promo that needs to be updated as we get closer to the weekend. The weekend promotion also has its own top of the hour ID, its own sweepers, and its own entrance bumpers. So, in a typical week, you can have a couple of different big promotions going on that you have to update, plus promotions with the winners, promos for the morning show, and weekend promos. We're pretty aggressive with the promos.
R.A.P.: Eventually, after someone has been doing production for a while, they develop their own style of production. What would you say is your style of promo production? What is your mark?
Bill: With promos, I like to be very musical. That doesn't mean necessarily that there's a lot of different music incorporated into it, but I like everything in the promo to be happening for a purpose. Music changes, staging elements--they should all be there to accentuate different things that are happening in the voice track. I kind of pride myself in my music editing, so I like to combine a lot of different types of music, a lot of different songs into promos, and see how well I can make that work. I really enjoy using actualities when I can. I like getting reactions from listeners to put into promos. If we're doing promos that involve artists, I love to be able to get sound clips from the artists to put into the promos.
I like everything to be in the promo for a purpose, and I produce everything fairly high energy. Everything has a pretty contemporary sound to it. But I don't like things to appear in promos gratuitously. Sometimes, when I'm driving around different places listening to different stations, I occasionally encounter promos or elements with things happening--like laser zaps in talk beds--they're just sort of happening for no reason. They're just there. And I'm not one of these people who feel that laser zaps are passe. I don't think you really want to categorize any particular type of element and call it passe and make it so you can't use it anymore. I think you can use everything just as long as you use it properly. I like the promos that have integrity from the time they start until the time they end. Everything happens for a reason.
And I like the timing to be right on. I like the music in the background to reflect the copy. When you get to a piece of copy where the mood is changing, I like the music to really effectively bring home that change so that if someone is listening passively to what is going on, they'll notice the change. I almost produce them visually. There is a visual going along with the promo so that if a change happens in the copy, something will happen behind it that will help draw attention to what's going on.
R.A.P.: What's your approach to commercials?
Bill: I have a tendency when I write commercials to make them character spots. For some reason I think it can sound a lot more relatable. I'm pretty fortunate, too, in that we have an office staff at 'YNY that gives me a pretty large bank of people to draw from. I don't like using the jocks for characters because their voices are so recognizable. I have a tendency to use characters because I think it just makes it a little more interesting for the listener to hear as opposed to just coming out with, "Attention, somebody. If you like such and such, then you'll like this product." I try to steer away from that kind of stuff.
I think humor is a great thing to incorporate into commercials. Sometimes you can even incorporate a humor element that is not necessarily related to what's going on in the commercial, but it makes people chuckle for a second, and it keeps people interested.
R.A.P.: Are you a musician?
Bill: Somewhat, yeah. I play a bunch of different instruments, and I like to play around with music. I've written some music beds that I've used on the station. I wrote some music when I was at Hot 97, and I've written some music beds for Rick Allen's two libraries, Climax and Continuous Climax. I've actually written and played music for those.
R.A.P.: Are you still doing anything with Rick?
Bill: Not really, but he and I kick a lot of ideas around. Now that he's just working out of his house and working on libraries, he's always looking for opportunities to branch out; and I'd like to be able to do that sort of thing, but time is so tight right now. Rick has a killer studio in his house with lots of keyboards. When Rick and I were working on music beds, I would program drum rhythms on my drum machine, bring it over to Rick's place, hook up the drum machine, get the rhythm into the sequencer, and then we would just kick around ideas on his keyboards until we built some music beds. That was basically how we had that worked out. I would love to actually get back to doing some music again, but right now I'm pretty busy at the radio station.
R.A.P.: Before you got into radio, you had a taste of television. Why didn't you pursue television further?
Bill: I was working at a cable TV station and trying desperately to get into radio. I used to call the PDs at stations down on the Jersey Shore and try to get tours and see if I could get something, anything, to get into the radio station because I've just always really liked radio. In TV, you're one small part, but in radio you get to play a much larger part. It's one of the things I love about production; it's very gratifying to be able to hear your work in lots of different environments--at the beach, coming out of the supermarket, coming out of somebody's car as they're driving by. A lot of people ask me, "Are you working your way up to DJ?" No. I enjoy being a Production Director. It's what I wanted to do.
R.A.P.: Is this something you want to continue doing for a while?
Bill: Absolutely. Recently, our company, Broadcasting Partners, merged with Evergreen Media, and it's kind of exciting. I can look down the roster of stations that Evergreen has, and there are a lot of stations in some big markets. It's a neat bunch of stations to be associated with, and, with the two companies put together, there are an awful lot of great people in the company. I don't know what the plans are in New York for getting a duopoly. I think pretty much any company that has a station in a big market probably has their eye on a duopoly situation. I would love to be in a position where I could sort of oversee the creative production for two radio stations, regardless of format. I don't care what the format is. I just enjoy doing radio production and working for radio stations.
R.A.P.: What advice would you offer someone in the smaller markets about getting into New York radio?
Bill: Wow! Well, in order to get to New York I think you have to prepare yourself to do an awful lot of work. The higher you get market-wise, the more work there is to do. From talking to different people around the country, I feel that the higher up you go in markets, you're a little more tightly reeled in as to what you can do creatively. It becomes very important when you get to a bigger market that the station be successful, so stations have a tendency to take less chances. So you have to be able to work effectively within parameters that are set for you. The bottom line is that the station needs to make money. So you really need to be on board with whatever plan the station comes up with, and you have to be ready to do whatever it takes.
I think a really important thing in the business is marketing. Always make sure you do your best stuff and always get as many people as you can to listen to it. I think that's one of the most important things, just let people know you're there.
R.A.P.: What is your secret to creating an award-winning promo?
Bill: Well, I'd say it starts with good copywriting, and I have to thank Chris Kampmeier for the "Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Butt Weekend" promo. Basically, we did that promo at a time when we were taking the station up a couple of notches from a more laid back presentation to something that was slightly more attention getting. In that promo, the humor elements are there, and I think that's one of the things people really take notice of. The promo has a considerable amount of humor in it, even though a lot of it is very subtle.
I think that the promo has to flow. It's great if you can do a promo, even one that is a minute and a half long, and when it's over, it seems it was less than a minute long. It needs to flow, deliver a message, and still grab everybody's attention once in a while. It needs to be entertaining, with whatever entertainment elements you choose, be it how you put the music together, or be it clever copywriting. It really needs to be cohesive, and it needs to entertain. It should almost be like a movie trailer. They take all the best scenes from a movie--sometimes to a fault to where you don't want to see the movie because you've seen the whole story--and they assemble them into something that is designed to make you want to go and see the movie. I think promos are much the same way. You need to make sure that every element in there is there for a reason and there to entertain the person who is listening to it.
I think that "Don't Let The Door Hit You in the Butt" promo was there on two different levels. For people who love country music, they loved it because it was cute and had a lot of different song hooks in it, and it made them laugh. For people who were newcomers to the country format, the promo almost had a tongue-in-cheek effect because those breaking up songs are one of the things people use to categorize the country format--nothin' but a bunch of loving and leaving kind of music and all this other stuff. It's not really poking fun at the music, but it's like the promo said, "Yeah, we're loaded with breaking up songs." I just had fun with the concept, and of course, we threw a Paul Simon hook in there just to wake people up. The Paul Simon thing was the only one we didn't have in our music library, so I was running down to the mall on my lunch hour to pick up a Paul Simon CD.
R.A.P.: What's one thing that you'd like to see change in the way production is viewed these days?
Bill: I kind of touched on this earlier, but one of the things I find to be a little distressing sometimes is when people label certain elements of radio production as passe or something that's over with. Sampling is a good example because it was so widespread. Loading something into a digital sampler and having the announcer stuttering all over the place, that's passe. Using things gratuitously is passe, but I hate to see any element of production labeled as something you can't do. I think it's all there at your fingertips to use, and it can all be used effectively in the right environment. I think the key is just using effects judiciously.
I remember back at Hot 97, Rick and I kind of thought our hands were tied when they initially came down with the edict of no more sampling. You're like, "Wait a second! It's not all bad!" It's just that when sampling became so common, everyone used the hell out of it until it was just downright obnoxious. Provided that you're working within your format and your parameters, I think all the elements you have are there for you to use, and if you use them effectively, I think there's room for everything in a good promo. It shouldn't necessarily jump out at you, and it shouldn't be the main course. It should be the seasoning. I think if you're just going to throw laser zaps in the mix for the sake of having them there, if you're going to use them to cover marginal edits, or if you're just going to stick them in where they don't belong, then, yeah, that type of thing is passe. But you really shouldn't limit yourself. Personally, I try to avoid using too many elements like that in production, but if I find they are really going to help punctuate a particular element of the production, yeah, I'll grab it and use it. Content is the most important thing right now. Nobody wants to hear a lot of hype, and I think as long as you use everything judiciously, it will still sound good.