R.A.P.: What's an example of something you've done in the past week or two that makes you say, "Here's something we haven't done before?"
John: A friend of mine came up with this idea and I don't want to--yeah, I guess I can give this away. He'll get mad, but.... Jim Pratt is the creative producer at KOME, our sister station in San Jose, another modern rock station. He came up with getting your call letters off the Wheel of Fortune. The people spin the wheel, then you've got Pat Sajak going, "one fifty," and somebody says "K," and he says, "Yes, there's one K." Then you spin again and get an "R" and then they buy a vowel, which is an O and so on. Then it's all produced with some really fast moving, industrial type rock that makes it into kind of a little mini-promo by the time it's all put together, and it really sounds cool. We hadn't heard that on any other station, and it really stands out. People call and request the stupid thing.
R.A.P.: What's one of the wildest promotions the station has done recently?
John: This is going to sound weird, but this will give you an idea of how KROQ just wants to goof around. Every weekend we give away something. It's usually music or a lifestyle intensive thing such as concert tickets, music, trips to see bands. It's all lifestyle oriented stuff. But we're always, every weekend, giving something away--I mean, forever, for as long as I can remember! This last weekend we gave away nothing. Not only did we give away nothing, but we had promos, a half dozen promos, that ran all weekend talking about how this weekend KROQ is giving away nothing in a variety of different ways. There were a lot of funny ways of putting it. In one of the promos it said, "Listen this weekend; you've got nothing to lose. But at best, you've also got nothing to win." Another promo was, "Thanks, KROQ! Hey, it's the least we could do." Of course, it is the least we could do. Now, there's not going to be any forced listening in that. But we didn't want to throw something on the air like some lame prize and try to make it cool. We didn't have anything. It sounded like a good idea, so we went on and promoted the fact that we had nothing. It was a nothing weekend all weekend, and, actually, people would call in and say, "Did I win?" It was really weird. It's not the most earth-shattering promotion we've ever done, but certainly one of the weird ones.
R.A.P.: Tell us a bit about your Program Director, Kevin Weatherly.
John: Kevin has been here for probably three or four years now and came from Q106 in San Diego, which was a Top 40 station. He's exactly what we needed, though. He brought a lot of Top 40 programming philosophy to KROQ and had the sense to listen and figure out what the format was before he started changing things. He knew what could be changed and what couldn't be changed. He asked a lot of questions, which seems really obvious, but he's the first Program Director I've ever had do that. He would ask interns handling the phones what they thought was the cool music out right now. I'm to stuck up to do that. I don't want to give interns the time of day, let alone take their opinions to see whether or not we're playing the right music (laughs). But the interns are college kids for God's sake, and that's right smack in the middle of our demo. He'll ask questions of each of them about what they think is cool and what they think is going on musically so that we can keep one step ahead of everybody else in trying to figure out where the music is going to go. That's got to be the hardest thing in the world, and that's why I really admire him. We're playing the hits in a high octane rotation, though, just like any Top 40 station or anybody else who gets ratings. So, it's kind of up to me to entertain them while we play ten songs every two hours or whatever it is.
R.A.P.: How many hours a day are you putting in?
John: Me? Oh, I'm a slacker. Let me see, I guess I'm in about nine and I'm out by four. It used to be ten to three, but my Program Director challenged me to go nine to four, and so I have. It's really hard to say how many hours because I goof around a lot in the hallways. I probably get a good solid four hours of work done.
I've tried it all ways. Kevin has driven me like a son of a gun when we've needed a lot of different things done all at once, and it works that way. I don't like my work as well that way, but I am able to create that way. But Kevin, for the most part, wants us to play around a little in the hallways and wants us to goof around because he understands the creative mind. There's no way of managing two creative minds the same way, and he's been great.
R.A.P.: When you sit down to knock out a promo, what's the first thing you go for? What's the first thing you need to make a good promo?
John: The first thing you have to know is what you've got to communicate. What is this big selling point that deserves a promo? Now, you can't lose that. No matter how much right brain you want to put into this, you cannot lose that in the fashion of the thing. It's got to be functional as well as fashionable, so you've got to keep that in mind first. Then, we usually start by writing it and realizing what the easiest way is to get that point across. But that's usually pretty straightforward and blah, so we end up rewriting it or thinking of some angle of which we haven't heard recently or haven't immediately thought of, but that fits perfectly. If that means creating characters in a little situation or something, so be it--whatever it takes just to make it stand out and sound different. We're giving away concert tickets this weekend, last weekend, the weekend before, the weekend before that. That needs to be different each week, and it's up to me and the Program Director to do that. And it's up to each of the jocks when they deliver it.
I've got to say to producers everywhere, don't be afraid to try new stuff, even if it doesn't come out as a natural, perfect, A-one award-winning promo first time. You'll get better at that kind of style. You'll try it again some day, and it'll come out a little better each time. The more styles you're able to do, whether it's comedy writing, singing, serious, direct promos, weird frenzied promos, whatever--the more styles you're able to do, the more valuable you are. And if you can be like a whole image department in one guy, imagine how valuable that's going to be to a Program Director.
I've been through four or five Program Directors all thinking we had a different focus for KROQ that was going to get us to the next level. You've pretty much got to be the person that each Program Director can come to, and you've got to deliver the task in a reasonable and competent manner.