by Rick Allen
"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times..." the opening line from A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. That about sums up what it's like making a living in radio production these days. We've never had it so good and it's never been tougher.
The tools we have to create our craft allow us to be more creative than ever before. Digital workstations give us the opportunity to stretch the limits of our imagination and make our production the very best it has ever had the chance to be. Inexpensive effects boxes help our mixes sizzle. Advances like ISDN let us tap into distant studios with just a phone call.
However parallel to this technological revolution, the radio industry also entered a new kind of economic reality. Simply put...at many stations, the "tools" are thought to be more valuable than the craftsmen who use them. This broadcast management style holds that "anyone" can do production. Hey, all you need is a big rack of this fancy new digital equipment. As production people, we know this is dead wrong. You have to build a strong foundation based on the talent of people before this new gear is worth a dime in the studio. I truly believe this. I also believe there are still managers and owners out there who think this way, too. If you work for one of these far-thinking teams...count your blessings and don't let these people down. On the other hand...if your management wouldn't recognize creativity if it bit them on the collective butt...it is in your best interest to convince them of your contribution to the bottom line.
While it's next to impossible to prove any direct effect on ratings or revenue, there are some things you can do to point out to upper management the value of good production. Way up on top of the management ladder, the workday is eaten up with the "big picture." Many GMs don't have the time to listen to the radio long enough to get an overall representation of your work. Take steps to make it easier for them to appreciate the cream of your crop. Every business quarter, dub about five minutes of your best promos, sweepers and spots from the last three months onto a cassette. Label it "Quarterly Production Update" and drop it on the GM's desk. Also look for facts and figures that highlight your productivity. Each month check with the sales department and make a quick list of spec spots that sales converted into a commercial schedule. Turn that list into a "Spec Spot Revenue Report" for the GM. Caution: Always remember that you are looking for ways to keep management aware of your contributions. Never let a chance to make a positive impact turn into an ugly ego trip. Inform...don't brag.
These are the best of times and these are the worst of times for radio production people. Is the glass half empty or half full? It all depends on who is pouring. In the long run, we will get the respect we deserve if we continue to prove our value to this industry. The good news is that I hear the creative work of talented Production Directors doing just that every day.