by Dennis Daniel
"Cool." Isn't it amazing that an adjective like "cool" is one of the last remnants of the "Beatnik" and "Hippy" cultural vernacular that's made it, meaning intact, to the 1990s? After all, does anyone say things like "Out-a-sight," "Groovy," or "Far out" anymore? (Well, maybe at Grateful Dead shows.) Yet "cool" is still "cool," right? Wanna know what "cool" is to me? "Cool" is being asked by FirstCom, one of the world's most respected music and sound effects library companies, to join them in their booth at the September NAB Convention in New Orleans to show prospective clients how to use the library to create killer spots. Right there. Live. These folks built a mini studio for me, to my specifications, brought every music and sound effects library they sell and basically let me go hog wild cutting spots in front of hundreds of people! Is that "cool" or what?! Best of all, they actually paid me to do this...God bless 'em! And that was just the beginning! "Cool" is also being asked by the NAB to be part of a wonderful production seminar that focused on Station Imaging. I had the privilege and pleasure of conducting a fun one on one interview with VO and Laugh-In legend Gary Owens (which will be appearing in a future R.A.P. issue). Best (and "coolest") of all, I actually got the chance to give a big bear hug to our very own R.A.P. creator/editor Jerry Vigil and the lovely, J.J., who I have been friends with for over seven years of writing for this publication, but never met in person! And it was a surprise! I didn't know they were going to be there!
(Lots of stations paid big bucks to hear what I'm about to relate so...be a hero...show this article to your PD or GM).
Let me tell you about this "cool" seminar. It was called "Imaging Your Station with Production." This session offered us Production Director types a dream opportunity to flap our jaws to a room full of Program Directors and General Managers about why we're so damn important to their radio stations (a fact that seems to slip their collective minds, en masse). I was frothing at the mouth for this chance to finally confront a bushel full of upper crust radio hierarchy and blow them away with the simple fact that we are just as important (if not more so) as any other "titled" radio station position! (This is no egotistical mucky-muck. This is the f-ing truth.) The four panel members joining me were truly the cream of the crop! I was really honored and humbled to be among them. They were: Panel Moderator, Doug McGuire, Vice President and National Program Director for EZ Communications (I know what you're thinking..."A Program Director moderated this!" But, fear not...Doug is "cool" and is on our side big time), David Jay, Production Director at Q102 in Philadelphia, Randy Thomas, one of the nation's leading female imaging/spot VO talents (she recently voiced the Academy Awards and Miss America, as well as being the voice of those "Hooked On Phonics" spots we've all heard) and Scotty Webb, Production Director of WHUR in Washington. The session started with Doug playing a six-minute montage tape of all our work to let the crowd know why we were there (and I gotta tell ya...these folks did amazing stuff. This is no exaggeration. A-MAZ-ING. Once again, sincerely...I was humbled and honored to be included in their company.) Once the tape was played (and several dropped jaws were realigned to their respected faces), we got down to the business at hand...explaining to these broadcasting semi-would-be-demigods why they should thank the deity of their choice for talented folks like us. Oh, it was a beautiful thing. Ya woulda been proud! Imagine, Program Directors and General Managers actually taking time outta their New Orleans/Partying/Big Easy day to come hear four production people speak. It was almost surreal!
Question: How does a Program Director start the process of properly imaging a radio station?
Answer: A Program Director should start by having a very close creative relationship with the person doing their imaging. They should work as a team in understanding the demo, lifestyle, and region. Dig down deep into the minds of their listeners. Create an image and sound that truly speaks to their audience. This involves a lot of reading, research, and field work. It also requires solid creative writing. (Scotty was lamenting the fact that a lot of the copy he's given is either too long with too many facts and products or...just poorly written. Amen.) Give listeners really "cool" giveaways or, if the promotion closet is empty due to lack of funds or market size (i.e., they don't get much help from record companies or megabuck advertisers), come up with wacky contests and prizes so that the promos kick, no matter what.
Question: How do you prevent falling into the trap of using the same old phrases, contests, and specialty weekends that everyone else is doing?
Answer: Don't do it! Put your heads together and go for the brass ring of creative originality! Turn a tired phrase like "Less Talk, More Music" into "Some stations talk a lot...we don't" or "We don't feel like playing a commercial right now." Granted, that's not completely reinventing the wheel, but it's a start. Randy suggested listening to the alternative station in your market to see how inventively they image their station. (The Modern Rock format is tailor made for being wacky, edgy, and different. Has to be! Generation X gets bored easily! One of the main reasons why I love it.) You'd be amazed how the same theories apply to all formats. Once again, it helps to have a creative production person on staff.
Question: What's involved in the care and feeding of a Production Director?
Answer: Teamwork! If sales or programming shove work at us with no regard for the outcome, how can we feel motivated to do a good job (besides our own motivation that comes from the heart)? If you don't care, why should I? We are directly responsible for at least fifteen minutes an hour of the station's sound. We take great pride in our work and realize how important it is. We don't want to do crap. We want to feel proud every time we open our mouths and put voice to tape. Help us help you. Communicate your needs thoughtfully and thoroughly.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to hear the whole seminar, it's easy! Contact the NAB in Washington, D.C.. Ask for a copy of tape #RAD 95-25 from the September Radio Show and give them the aforementioned seminar title. Give this tape to your PD or GM. I guarantee they'll get something out of it! If not, I guarantee they're brain dead. You gotta hear this tape, man. (If you have a hard time getting one, write or e-mail me and I'll try to help.) There were portions that got pretty hot and heavy, especially when it came time to defend what we production types do. I was kinda shocked listening to it myself! What a set I displayed (and so did my fellow panel members)! Believe me, you all would have LOVED IT!
Lastly, I must say that I was very impressed with PD and Moderator, Doug McGuire. This guy really got the deal down. He was very concerned about the state of radio and the overall lack of originality and creativity, not to mention the lowly position we production dudes and dudettes hold. He's truly a man for the ages! Thank God he programs the entire EZ Communications stations. You can bet each one of them has a Production Director who's well thought of, appreciated, and cherished. Bravo, Doug!