by Craig Rogers
Subtlety. It's an under-utilized technique in radio production. Drawing the listener in, instead of grabbing them by the ears and shaking them. This month, Producer's VU spotlights a promo from Lonnie Perkins of WIBC/Indianapolis that reaches out, puts the radio station's arm around the listener's shoulder and says, "Hey, got a story to tell you." Check out Lonnie's fine work on The Cassette and read the details about its production here.
When this promo was produced, Lonnie had the good fortune to have a studio at home featuring a Spectral Prismatica DAW with JL Cooper CS-10 controller. Most of this was produced in his home studio, the rest at WIBC. Other toys at home included a Mackie CR1604 mixer, Otari MX5050 2 track, Aphex 651 Expressor, dbx 166a compressor/limiter, Alesis MidiVerb IV, Lexicon Alex effects boxes, Rane PE-17 5-band parametric EQ, AudioTechnica 4033 mike, Sennheiser MD421 mike, TASCAM 112MKII cassette deck, TASCAM DA30MKII DAT deck, TASCAM CD401MKII CD player, Yamaha NS-10 monitors, and Fostex T-20 headphones. Now that Lonnie's at WIBC, he's moved his equipment into his own studio at the station.
The inspiration for this promo came from a rash of tractor-trailer accidents around Indianapolis this last summer. Lonnie decided to produce this piece to promote WIBC's news and traffic reports. The promo contains two music cuts, one from the country swing group Asleep at the Wheel, the other a cut from the Killer Trax library. Lonnie found an Asleep at the Wheel cut that had the effects of a semi starting, plus the spoken words, "Let's roll" at the open. Perfect for his concept. He found a similar sounding cut from Killer Trax and recorded it to reel. Then, by slowing the speed of the library cut with the tape deck vari-speed, he matched the tempo and keys of the two cuts. At the beginning of the promo, Lonnie added the effect of the semi door closing from the Sound Ideas library.
The music and voice track were assembled at Lonnie's home studio on the Spectral. The finished bed with voice over was then transferred to DAT to take to WIBC. The promo was completed on an Otari MX-5050 four-track at the station since that's where the sound effects library was. The music bed with v/o was loaded onto tracks 3 and 4. Sound effects are all mono and go to track 2.
The music bed begins with Asleep at the Wheel, segues to the Killer Trax cut, then segues to the bridge of the Asleep tune with the end of the song edited to it to provide a cold ending.
For his v/o, Lonnie uses the AT 4033 mike through the Rane EQ with boost of 6dB at 60 Hz, 1dB at 1kHz, 5dB @ 2kHz and 9 dB at 8kHz. He then runs through the Expressor with the threshold at -10, ratio at 10, attack at 10ms and release at .1. He adds some extra boost at 5kHz to emphasize the "raspiness" in his voice.
When recording his voice track, Lonnie says, "Things are kind of liquid. I'll work with the music as I hear something happening. I like to let the music lead the attitude of the production." For example, at one spot in the music bed, there is a spot where the music repeats a climb up the scale. Lonnie rewrote the script to work the copy around these music phrases. The phrases then helped accentuate each of the copy points.
Lonnie also sings the few notes at the open when "Billy" is climbing into the cab. By the way, the name and hometown of the trucker, Billy Wendell, is another little subtlety in this production. It's a nod from Lonnie to an acquaintance at his old station, WSM/Nashville. The real Bill Wendell is the president of Opryland USA in Nashville.
There's no question the copy is front and center in this promo. Lonnie says, "I never like to let the sound effects lead the production. I treat them as sweetening so that it's a little subliminal picture in the background." You'll hear a terrific example of a subliminal picture with the accident scene.
Putting together a literal audio picture of a big rig overturning could be quite complicated and loud: screeching metal, crashing glass and, pardon the play on words, tons more. Lonnie manages to do it in a more subtle way. The scene contains the airbrakes of a bus, a car skidding which Lonnie vari-speeded down to lower the pitch, traffic jam sfx and sirens. They help paint the picture without becoming a distraction. That keeps the listener focused on the message in the v/o.
All the effects were punch-ins on track 2 of the 4-track. Lonnie says, "That's one advantage of being subtle with the sound effects. It helps mask those punch-ins." In similar instances, he has premixed the effects to the 2-track, bouncing between tracks, then dubbed that to the 4-track. Toward the end, the music bed switches from the Killer Trax cut back to Asleep at the Wheel. The tire screech and start of the semi engine help mask the edit. The semi engine winding down at the very end is part of the Asleep at the Wheel cut and provides a terrific ending.
A large part of this promo's effectiveness is in Lonnie's delivery. As you'll hear, he has great abilities as a voice actor. He also has a great stable of voices he developed when he was on-air. (Call him and ask him to do Granny for you. You won't believe it's the same guy). He had some top of the line guidance developing his abilities. When he was 15, he wrote to another master of character voices who was working at WHAS/Louisville, Gary Burbank. Burbank responded and he and Lonnie began talking on a regular basis, developing Lonnie's voice acting talents.
In the final mixdown to cart, he runs the full mix through the dbx with 4:1 compression ratio and threshold at -10.
Lonnie says, "My philosophy is take a good solid concept and don't let the production get in the way. It seems some guys want to take a mediocre concept and produce the heck out of it."
Thanks to Lonnie for sharing his studio this month. In January, a visit with Dennis McAtee, Director of Creative Radio Advertising Productions at KKOW/Pittsburg, KS. His motto? "If it isn't CRAP, it's probably crap!" You know this one will be fun!