The following is a letter sent to John Pellegrini in response to his article, "Some People Think You Have An Attitude Problem, Jerk" from the February 1995 issue of RAP.
I just read your most recent article in the February RAP, and I must say that I've been hoping to see an article like this for some time. I'll clarify. I agree with what you had to say one hundred percent. I thought you were honest and fair to both sides of the argument, i.e. being a Prod. Dir. is tough, but any intelligent individual would have to admit to some degree of personal responsibility in any situation of disagreement or conflict (dare I say it's almost fifty-fifty?) Don Henley once said: "There are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the cold, hard truth."
As a footnote to your article, I would like to suggest the following: For about a year after I became a full time Production Director (I had done just about everything else prior to the job), I was often unhappy because I was realizing what all Production Directors find out eventually: you love pushing your talent to the limit every day, but no one seems to really notice or even care how hard you work, how important your work is to the station, or the fact that you are literally always trying to please everyone--Sales, Programming, the Clients, the Jocks ("Make my promo really hot, Don," as though all of the other ones that I produced weren't -how insulting), etc.. What a daily tap dance!!
What I came to realize, though, was that it was wrong of me to even expect these people to behave in such a way that I thought they should, to heap gracious verbal praise upon me every time I just did my job, or to expect them to always follow my idealistic system for getting a spot from Sales to On-Air. Why was it wrong? For many of the reasons that you already stated (i.e., your fellow employees happen to believe their modus operandi to be superior, just as you believe yours to be, and they already have their own set of problems to work around, and just how sensitive was I to their woes?...not very), but mainly because by building my idea of the perfect radio station in my head and on paper (memos), then expecting to see it there in all of its glory every day when I walked in the front door, made me realize that I was setting myself up for daily unhappiness and disappointment!
I stopped bitching so much and tried to roll with the punches a little bit more, and I truly regret that I hurt my image with some of my earlier selfish, sometimes uncooperative behavior--a very dangerous and bad idea, when you consider how tightly knit our little radio community is. To those that I afflicted, I have made an indelible negative impression that I will have to live down and deal with when I see them at the next station (that is, as long as they haven't told the PD at the next station not to hire me because of what a pain I am).
A true professional in this business (or any business for that matter) is someone who inspires their fellow employee (be they above, below, or equal to him/her in position) to want to do their best to cooperate, assist, and give their all for you, and visa-versa. I believe you go further and get more out of yourself and your fellow employee with a mature, always professional, kind, and understanding attitude, not a bullying one which, in my experience, always inspires people to do as little as possible to cooperate, builds hatred, and helps to add a negative vibe to any and all dealings that people have with you. Is this the kind of fellow employee that we really want? One that we "control?" Is this the most important thing we can get from our fellow employee, a power and ego trip for ourselves? A true professional doesn't start every conversation with, "Well, first off, you're doing this or that wrong to my way of thinking. Go back and do it the way I want, and then I might grant you an audience," but rather takes the approach of, "Okay, this isn't the way that I believe we should go about this, so make a note for next time (or "please remember to try and do it the way we discussed before"), but meanwhile, let's get down to work"...modus vivendi.
Point being, let the other person have the attitude problem. Let the other person slow their career growth with their sloppy work and bad habits. Let the other person sell short themselves and their career. Don't be party to their problem. It's always the nobodies who have to throw their weight around and behave as though it's "their way or the highway." I've met some of the biggest names in film, and it always surprises me that almost hands down, the bigger the star, the nicer they are...and the smaller the ego! Tell me that their attitude didn't have a lot to do with where they are now. By in large, until I became a Production Director, this was my attitude...I just strayed from the path a little. But now, I think I'm back. My original attitude served me so well at the beginning of my career that I almost forgot about it. You can never stop being humble, in my opinion, no matter how long you've been in the "Biz" or how much you think you know.
I love Production (at least as much as On-Air work...sometimes even more), and once I realized that other people are not as perfect as us Production Directors (ha ha), I was able to get on with enjoying my job and stopped worrying about everything having to be done one way (my way), because there are two sides to every story, and Utopia-FM (K-UTO?) is one station that none of us will ever work at.
D.A.M Productions, Santa Monica, CA
Thank you Don for an illustrious response to John Pellegrini's article. The following letter is from Mr. Pellegrini, who has some comments on Mark Margulies column about "theater of the mind" in the same February issue ("Way Off The Mark"/Feb. 1995 RAP). Now, if we can just get Mark to write a letter about Don's letter about John's article.... Anyway, John writes:
...I'm here to praise Mark, not bury him. But he raised what, for me, is an interesting misconception that so many people have about that misused phrase.
If the "Theater" is in my mind, then how much should I charge for a balcony seat? I wish to state, by way of beginning, that I read Mark Margulies' article on "Theater of the Mind" with interest and appreciation. I, too, am a fan of old time radio and a bit of a purist with the idea of replicating "Theater of the Mind." I also agree that the AEs and clients who talk about using the concept in their spots, ten times out of ten, haven't got a clue as to what they mean by "Theater of the Mind." But, I disagree that the concept needs to have sound effects or that "Theater of the Mind" can only happen in certain types of spots.
Radio is a non-visual medium. There is no picture or graphic frame of reference to anything we do. Therefore, EVERYTHING connected with radio broadcasts require your imagination to fill in the blanks. That's "Theater of the Mind," even the music. When you listen to that new song from Stone Temple Pilots, what do you see? Maybe the video? Maybe you get a remembrance of a party you attended where they played that tune right when you were getting friendly with a person you'd like to know better. That's "Theater of the Mind" (aka, Imagination).
One of the greatest spots I've ever heard that utilized the "Theater of the Mind" concepts had absolutely no sound effects whatsoever. Dick Orkin and Bert Berdis created a commercial for Clark Industrial Forklifts that I only heard once, just once, twenty years ago in fact. That shows you the power of imagination, to get me to remember this commercial even though I heard it only one time twenty years ago.
I cannot quote it verbatim, but what I can give you is the premise, and what I hope is dialogue that was close to the original. Bert welcomes Dick to his pizza parlor. I forget the name of it. Dick says, "Pizza parlor? What happened to (forgotten name) Steel Mill?" Bert says, "Oh, they closed down and I bought the place for my pizza parlor." Dick says, "You turned (whatever) Steel Mill into a pizza parlor?" Bert says, "Hey, I make a popular pizza. I got parking for forty thousand customers out here, and with these blast furnaces, I can make twenty thousand pizzas at once, or one big one." Dick says, "But why did (so and so) Steel Mill close down?" Bert says, "Well, their fork lift broke and they couldn't move anything, so they went out of business." Dick says, "That's a shame, because I'm from Clark Industrial Forklift and we could have helped them with a new forklift." Bert says, "Hey, maybe one of them forklifts could help me move my ingots of mozzarella. I make a popular pizza." Then came the announcer with the closing information.
Again, it was twenty years ago, and I know I haven't got all of the wording correct. But, and I emphasize this, it was just clean voices. No sound effects. No music. Just two guys talking. Another example of this can be found in virtually everything Bob and Ray did. Minimal effects, if any at all. Nothing but the voice and a script.
There is something understood by these pros that many of us in this day and age of modern computerized technology have forgotten. Radio is "Theater of the Mind" ALL THE TIME! There is no separation. I don't disagree with those who consider "Theater of the Mind" to be a certain category. I just think they're being redundant. The printed word and the spoken word ARE "Theater of the Mind." Books transport you into another world, and so does radio. Bad radio happens when we forget that true "Theater of the Mind" is personal. Just because your imagination isn't doing anything doesn't mean your listener's imagination is off, too. Just because you don't see anything doesn't mean there's nothing there. If a tree falls down in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Logic dictates that if no one is there to hear it, then no one can see it, therefore the tree does not exist. But your imagination tells you it is there, and it makes a loud crashing sound. You can hear that sound in your mind. You don't need a sound effect to tell you what it sounds like. The pen is mightier than the sword. The written word is more powerful than the sound you're trying to duplicate.
If Howard Koch, the man who wrote the radio script for the "War of the Worlds" didn't have H.G. Wells' book to start with, there never would have been a "Panic Broadcast" and Orson Welles would have never had a career. Koch is the guy who's really responsible for the show because it was his idea to base the whole story as if it were a real broadcast. The sound effects and cues were all done in support of the story, but the story was the reason for the panic. That's "Theater of the Mind." Orson Welles, like all the great radio performers, considered himself a story teller, and the best medium for telling stories available to him was either radio or movies. Movies were very expensive to produce. Radio story telling is cheap and easy because all you have to do is read the story. Your listeners will use their imaginations to "see" the characters. That's what that over-used phrase is all about.
John Pellegrini, Production Director
WKLQ-FM, Grand Rapids, MI
And finally there's this letter that truly brings it all back into focus...
For Pete's sake! If I hear one more music library demo that promises to "meet my needs" and "take my production to new heights," I'm going to vomit ferrous oxide! I'm trying to put together promos for our programming, and all I need is a medium tempo, CONTEMPORARY SOUNDING, slightly urban, medium AC music bed. Is that an impossible request? All I get is Jane Fonda workout beds and the thump, thump, thump that made John Travolta famous.
You know, you pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy and lease these libraries and you get two types of product: One is the "home-studio," sequenced, Casio synthesizer garbage that sounds more like it belongs in my daughter's Fisher-Price toy than on the radio. The other is from the big companies with more than fifty CDs in their library. And with more than fifty CDs in their library, you know the first five to ten CDs were produced back when polyester and Earth, Wind and Fire were still in vogue. Can we use them now for anything other than parody?.......NO!!
Then the big companies latest releases are attempts to be everything to everybody--servicing radio, TV, video, weddings, Bar mitzvahs, conventions, dentists' offices, elevators, musical greeting cards, and other eclectic nonsense. The music is Zamphir pan flute sonatas and third-world music on Amazonian instruments meant for NPR documentaries on the cruelty of capitalism and the vanishing rain forest! Now, I like nature as much as you, but again, I ask you, can I use this to "sell soap?".......NO!!
Guys, I don't have a lot of money, but I do have plenty of deadlines and expectations. Is there a library out there that can "meet the needs" of RADIO and let someone else worry about where the dentist is going to get his music?
Thank you. I feel much better now.
John Bowen, Commercial Service Manager
Salem Radio Network, Dallas, Texas