Pete Jensen, Production Director, KZZU/KTRW/KXLY, Spokane, Washington
by Jerry Vigil
There are a lot of changes affecting everybody in radio these days, and for the Production Director, the changes are often drastic ones. Deregulation has thrust untold numbers of Production Directors into multi-station situations without a manual to show us the way. Furthermore, the digital revolution is just as quickly ripping friendly and familiar tape decks and cart machines from our studios and replacing them with digital devices of all types and sizes. One new piece of technology that's invading our production rooms is the giant digital storage/retrieval system that's replacing the cart systems in stations everywhere. There are several systems to choose from, and a Test Drive on any one of these would be difficult. The best review of this kind of gear is one by someone who has been using the system, in a station, for months. These systems affect several areas of a station, not just production. As a result, Production Directors often have little or no input regarding these systems. But the systems are very closely tied to production, and it is very important that you become as familiar with these systems as you are with DAWs. We will begin spending more space discussing these storage monsters, and we'll do that partly in the RAP Interviews.
Pete Jensen is a veteran Production Director with over two decades in the biz. Recently, dereg paid him a visit, as did the DCS digital storage/retrieval system from Computer Concepts. This month's RAP Interview visits with Pete to find out how dereg has changed his production world in one of America's medium markets (ranked #92), and we get some user comments on the DCS - Digital Commercial System. There's a lot to learn for even the most experienced of us, and this month's RAP Interview is filled with some worthwhile information.
RAP: Tell us about your background in radio.
Pete: Well, I was raised in a media wasteland called Southeast Idaho, so all those Idaho jokes sometimes hit pretty close to home. I'm old enough that I remember free-form FM radio, and I first heard that when I was in college and was pretty awestruck. That's when I first got interested in radio. I was a music student in 1975, and I got my start on a ten-watt college FM station in Pocatello, Idaho. It was a classical format. They wanted somebody who knew how to pronounce the words. I auditioned for the job, got the job, and found out that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. But it was a real good experience, and to this day, classical music is my absolute favorite. I may be one of the very few people who was actually paid for working on a ten-watt FM station. Then I did a year at the public TV station there doing voice work. That was my first experience with production. When I was on the radio, what I did just went out over the air waves, and I didn't know what I sounded like. But when I started doing the production, I could play the tape back, hear myself, and make changes. That was my first experience with production, and I discovered I sort of had a knack for that and for the musical aspects of production.
I moved on in '77 to a real small station in Pocatello. I remember one day doing production and seeing the office furniture being repossessed. That's about as small a market as I think you can find. I actually quit radio then. I thought it was kind of a silly business.
I ended up going back to Maryland in 1978, and I worked there for about a year and a half during the height of the disco era. I was starting to network with people back east, and I had my sights set on Washington, D.C.. But then I decided that I would rather move back west, and I also decided that I didn't really want to live in a large city. I've sort of stuck with that, and I haven't regretted that decision except perhaps when it comes to my salary. From 1980 through 1985 I went back and forth between radio and college, and in 1985 I moved to Spokane, got what I thought would be a part-time job at KZZU, and discovered for the first time that radio could be pretty darn exciting. And my part-time job eleven years later has treated me pretty well.
RAP: How did deregulation finally interrupt your quiet little production world at KZZU?
Pete: KZZU has been phenomenally successful in Spokane. But the owners went bankrupt back in '89, and we had been looking for owners since. Finally, we found them at KXLY-TV, AM and FM here in Spokane in March of last year.
RAP: KZZU was a single FM station prior to this?
Pete: KZZU always had an AM sister station, KTRW. Its format varied from light rock to simulcasting the FM to traditional country to sports, which is what it is now.
RAP: What has the format on KZZU been throughout the years?
Pete: The format has always been CHR, but it has gone through many permutations as CHR has all over the place. It has always been very promotionally active and very successful. It has had some real high peaks. We had a twenty share ten years ago. I'd say five years ago we sort of bottomed out and then bounced back. And now we're back in the bottom of the cycle a little bit, but I think that's possibly the nature of the format and the nature of the business.
RAP: Tell us a bit about your new owners, KXLY AM, FM, and TV.
Pete: They've been around a long time. KXLY-TV is the ABC affiliate. KXLY-AM is the news talk station in town, and KXLY-FM has a long tradition in this town. The FM station used to be easy listening. It has in the past few years gone more toward a real nice, soft AC approach. It's funny that our station was bought by KXLY because, ten years ago, I wouldn't call our relationship real friendly for one reason or another. It's a great company and I love it, but it was honestly the last place I thought I'd ever work in this town.
RAP: When did you first find out about the purchase?
Pete: I believe we heard about the negotiations in mid to late 1995. So there was a period of four to six months where we knew that they were actively pursuing us and that eventually they would become our new owner.
RAP: How quickly did things happen after the sale?
Pete: I moved over there two days after the sale was made final. They replaced their traffic people and the Production Director, so they were casualties of the change.
RAP: You took their Production Director's gig?
Pete: Yes, I did. And for a good period of time, they had interim traffic people. They had a couple of gals who knew the traffic system they were using. One of them works in the accounting office, and the other one, I think, is a sales assistant. I was brand new and they were muddling through. They did a very good job, but it was pretty crazy for a while. The change for me was overwhelming. They didn't move the other two stations over until August or September.
RAP: So, for the first few months, you were only doing production for KXLY AM and FM?
Pete: That's correct.
RAP: Who took over your duties at KZZU?
Pete: After I moved, Paul Gray, who was our midday guy, pretty much handled a lot of the production there, including the image production. He picked up the slack, and I was real grateful for that. If I remember, we did consolidate a few things, but, for the most part, I was concerned with our conversion to digital cart storage and just sort of keeping my head above water in the new environment.
KZZU moved into the new building in September, and we brought all their carts over. I spent a long, long night dumping spots into the DCS, and at midnight that night they were all digital.
RAP: More and more Production Directors are having to deal with the conversion to digital storage/retrieval systems. Tell us about the system you're using, the DCS, and how it has worked out for you?
Pete: It's from Computer Concepts Corporation. DCS stands for Digital Commercial System. The decision to go to DCS was made long before I got there. When I got there, the unit was sitting there. We finally got it fired up in early June of '96. It's a great system. It's very quick, and it does something I thought no machine could do. When you're recording to it, you can leave it potted up. It has some sort of digital read/write operating system that you don't get feedback with. It was amazing to find out that you could just leave the machine up on the board, and the second you're done recording, punch a button and hear your commercial.
It uses alphanumeric "cart" codes in any combination of four. So I think the total is somewhere around a million three hundred thousand possible cart codes which, for a guy who used to go scrounging around every couple of weeks to get enough carts to make it through the weekend, was a real luxury. Another feature that makes it fast to work with is the Automatic Start. You can push the Auto Start button, and as soon as it hears sound above a certain threshold, it starts recording. You can roll a tape up to do some dubbing, and if you have lots of cuts on the tape, sometimes you don't even have to turn the tape off. You can just let it roll. If you're quick enough, it works great.
RAP: What problems did you encounter getting the system on line?
Pete: The main problem we had with DCS was not with the actual system itself, but with the interfacing between the traffic computers and the music scheduling computers for our automated station. We had some real headaches trying to get all those computers talking to each other. Now I understand that DCS is talking to one of the traffic companies, and I think they're trying to alleviate some of those problems they had trying to get all the different software to interface with DCS.
Another problem we had was that DCS is configured so your terminal can either be a Control Room or a Production Room, and I think it also has a satellite mode. Initially, we had one Production Room terminal and four Control Room terminals. The problem we found was that when it's configured that way, any cart that's created in the Production Room terminal cannot be altered by any of the other terminals. So, in effect, we had one input terminal, which is like saying you have one cart recorder for four radio stations, and it's not possible to go anywhere else to do anything to any of those carts. For instance, say you wanted to add another spot to a rotation; you could only do it in the production room where that cart was created on that same specific terminal. That created a huge bottleneck. Even if we had people available to do production in other studios capable of doing production, we only had that one terminal, so it was a nightmare.
RAP: How have you overcome this problem?
Pete: We went for an upgrade they offer that makes all of the machines equal. The upgrade involved installing some new hardware and some new software in the main server, and we added another terminal for the second production room. Now, instead of any one machine owning any particular cart, the server owns all of the carts. So basically, each terminal is treated equally in that regard. For instance, if I create a cart in one production room and "send" it to the other production room, then I can go do anything I want to it in the other production room. Before, we had one place to do it.
RAP: Elaborate on what happens when you "send" audio to the other production room or one of the studios.
Pete: Whenever you create a cart, it gives you a distribution list. You can send it to any station you want, or all of them, or to the other production studio. The way it worked before was that each terminal had its own hard drive, plus there was a server. But the server, apparently, was just a router, and I think it also provided back up of the hard drives. Before the upgrade, if I sent it to three out of four stations, the audio would be recorded in the hard drive in the production studio and also the hard drive in those three stations. But now the server owns everything, and I believe that our storage time went up incredibly. Initially, we had about thirty-five hours worth of storage time, in stereo, in each studio. And now, since we went for the upgrade, it's above a hundred hours. I would strongly recommend anybody looking at DCS to go for the "server as king" theory, because having mutually exclusive production rooms just didn't make any sense to me.
RAP: For the most part, it sounds like the problems you've had have mostly been with interfacing with other software.
Pete: Right. We're still experiencing a few real minor problems, and one of our engineers is working on them. Almost every day I think she calls DCS because we are occasionally getting some error messages and some mildly strange behavior. But overall I think it's a great machine.
RAP: What would you like to see changed or improved about that system?
Pete: One thing I don't like about it is that you can't just arbitrarily change cart numbers. If I need to change a cart number, I have to actually physically record the audio from one cart to another. Even so, the machine makes it real easy to do that because it will record right to itself. You can route it right through the board.
It has a 2-track editor, but it's pretty cumbersome to use. With a little practice you can get pretty quick at it. It's analogous to splicing a 2-track tape. But it's just a little bit cumbersome to use, so I don't use it much, especially since I got the Orban DSE.
RAP: What are some other features you like about the DCS?
Pete: It gives you the ability to design specific rotations. If you had two spots and you wanted a two to one rotation, you don't have to record one of the spots twice. Once they're both recorded, you can design the rotation any way you want for as many spots as you want. Each cart number will hold up to ninety-nine cuts. That makes rotating things almost a pleasure. You don't have to sit there and listen to the same spot over and over and over like we used to have to do.
I also use the system for storage. For instance, if I have a spec spot and I don't happen to have a DAT tape handy, I'll just create an arbitrary cart code and store the spot in the DCS. On the production order, I'll jot down the cart code. Then, if the spec spot needs to be altered or it's good to go, I know right where to go. And if I get an actual cart code because the spot is going on the air, I can just record it from itself to itself, from the old number to the new number. It's real handy.
Overall, I'm really impressed with it. The training I got from the factory was very good. But then, me trying to translate it to my jocks took a while.
RAP: Are all the stations on line with the DCS system?
Pete: Yes. All four of our stations are hooked up to the DCS.
RAP: So there are no more carts?
Pete: All the commercials are on DCS, but some of the programming elements are still on cart. For instance, on KXLY-AM, the news/talk station, we're actually still working to get all the elements they use on the log on the screen so they can use DCS for everything. You have two ways you can get a spot on the DCS screen: either it's on the log, or you can open a window that is a catalog of all the carts in the system, highlight a cart, and play it. Those guys who use a lot of programming elements are still working to get all their elements onto the log.
Some of the promos on KZZU were still on cart until recently, and we've just sort of gradually integrated those into the system as well. And, of course, the newspeople still use carts for their sound bites and their actualities. I believe that our goal is to get DCS possibly downstairs in TV news. I'm not sure. The future is wide open. I believe our goal is to get as much as we can off carts onto digital storage. I also have TV anchors and TV weather people who have to come upstairs and do regular reports throughout the day, and some of them are trained on DCS as well.
RAP: It's been about a half a year since the production for all four stations have been under your control. Has the quality of the output of your department suffered or stayed the same or improved as a result?
Pete: Well, technically, because we have new equipment, it has improved.
RAP: Have your hours changed?
Pete: My hours changed radically, especially during those times when we were converting to DCS. I put in some long, long days. I probably went from eight to ten hours a day. I probably averaged fifty hours a week there for quite some time. It's closer to forty now, but I still put in some long days occasionally.
RAP: What are some other changes you went through?
Pete: One of the main changes for me was working with KXLY-AM. It's a news/talk station, and it's very, very news intensive in the morning. And since they're affiliated with the ABC-TV affiliate, they have an enormous news gathering capability. They are far above anybody else in the market in their ability to report the news. I'd never worked at a station that had so many satellite feeds, program feeds, exacting schedules, etc.. I had to go buy myself a wristwatch with an alarm because it was my responsibility to catch the commercial feeds, and it still is. It took some getting used to. We have clients coming in constantly to record commercials. We have agencies using our studios quite a bit. All in all, it's a very busy place.
RAP: You must have somebody else helping with the load.
Pete: Yes. I have a couple of guys, Dan Roberts and Chris White, who are indispensable. Chris is actually a composer, a copywriter, a musician, and an excellent producer. He was in a rock and roll band, and he produced their CD. We call him Boy Genius. And Dan was actually someone who worked at KZZU and parted ways with them for a time. Our Operations Manager, Bryan Paul, saw the need and, thank goodness, he hired Dan back to do production. Dan right now is handling all the imaging production and all the promos for KZZU. That's a big change for me because I used to do all the promos for KZZU, and now I do hardly any. My focus is almost exclusively on the commercial matter for all the stations. I would prefer that it isn't. When I heard that we'd be moving over here, I was really hoping, to be honest, that I would stay with the imaging and the promos and the wacky, creative side of radio. I have done quite a bit less of that, although that's not to say that our commercials aren't fun sometimes, but you know what I mean.
The fact that we have Chris White, who is extremely creative, is very helpful. He writes a lot of spots, really good spots. I think initially when they hired him, they wanted him to be half TV and half radio. He's written music scores for TV. He's the guy who goes out with the salespeople to visit clients and turn their ideas into great copy.
RAP: Who's handling the imaging for KXLY-FM and KXLY-AM?
Pete: I do it for FM. Chris has been handling promos for KXLY-AM. The sports guys on KTRW, The Score, handle their own promos, although we help them out. And I just heard today that we're getting another station in house. I believe it's going to be automated, at least for a while.
RAP: Production of those commercials won't be automated!
Pete: No, no. I was just thinking today that I probably will have to get started on a whole new series of identifiers and sweepers and whatever they need.
RAP: How many production studios are there and how are they equipped?
Pete: We have two studios. Studio A has the Orban DSE-7000FX, the Broadcast Audio Series IV broadcast board, an Otari MX-5050 reel-to-reel, two Otari cart decks, two Tascam cassette decks, a Panasonic SV3800 DAT deck, the Orban 674A EQ, and two AKG 414 mics.
Studio B has the Tascam 48 analog 8-track, the Tascam M-520 board, an Otari MX-5050, an Otari cart deck, a Tascam cassette deck, the H3000 Ultra Harmonizer, and the Yamaha YPDR CD recorder. Half of the staff is afraid to even go in that room because of the board. Our nickname for it is the Feedback Room--there are so many audio paths, different busses and masters. With a little practice you can figure it out, but a lot of people just hate to go into that room. We're planning to put a digital audio workstation in that room sometime this year, I hope. And I've spoken to one of my engineers who thinks he can rework the board a little bit to make it a little more jock friendly.
Our sports station, when it's on satellite, can be used for dubbing. We also have two more dubbing stations with Mackie boards, CD players, reel-to-reels, cassettes, cart decks and mics. So at least we can usually find a place to dub stuff. Only studios A and B have the DCS terminals, though.
RAP: How do you like the Orban DSE-7000FX?
Pete: You know, after picking up the very first issue of Radio and Production, I've been reading it ever since and just drooling over the digital equipment. My first experience with digital was in 1990, not actually working with it, but watching someone else work with it. Now it's like, "I finally got it." I'm finally getting tape hiss out of my life. Before we got the Orban, I sort of got the impression that it was this sort of Ford Escort, if you will, of DAWs. I didn't realize what an incredibly wonderful machine it is until I started using it. It's just a fabulous machine. I love the ability to just hit that Undo as many times as you need to get things perfect, and it only takes a few seconds.
For the last twenty years, I have always sort of taken a musical approach to commercials. You know how a song ends on the tonic? It goes back to the home key, and it leaves you feeling satisfied. And if you end it on the leading tone just before the tonic, it really grates on your nerves. So I've always liked to make my commercials sort of end and finish and give you a satisfied feeling, and I did a lot of that with music. It's wonderful to have the Orban available so I can take any kind of music I want and put it all together any way I want. To be able to repeat a single note if I have to, to make that music and all the elements flow exactly the way I want is something I have wanted for twenty years, and it's just so great to finally have it.
We've got the FX package, too, and I've been using it for six months, now. It's so easy to use. It's got all the factory presets which are very useful. I find I do have to alter the presets for most of the things I do, but not much. It's just a fabulous machine. I need three or four more of them.
RAP: How many commercials would you say you're cranking out every week?
Pete: Every week in house, we're probably doing fifty to seventy. We do a good ten a day, and it varies.
RAP: Wow! Time management must be up on your list of priorities. What are some of your timesaving techniques?
Pete: When I first got here, I found myself running around like the proverbial chicken trying to get a handle on all the things that go on because there really are just lots of things that have to be taken care of. The fact that Dan is now there has helped me manage my time a little better because I can rely on him to take care of a few things. I find in my experience the biggest time saver for me is training my people to do the job right. When I walk in in the morning, I sometimes have to spend my entire morning taking care of problems that in some cases were caused by people who didn't know what they were doing. Training people to do the job right is very important. I found that is something that I have not paid enough attention to these past few months. It used to be that I would meet with every jock on a monthly basis and go over production matters.
I have a couple of jocks who do pretty good production. Our new night guy on The Zoo has been around for two months, but he's just starting to get up and running with production because I hardly see him, let alone have enough time to sit down and train him.
So it's moved slowly, but that's one of my New Year's resolutions, to get back to training people more because I find that for every hour I spend, and it usually does take an hour training someone, I can save several hours not having to fix their mistakes. There are many days when I walk in and there are lots of mistakes to fix, fires to put out, and explosions to take care of. That's the one part of the job I'd rather not have, but that's part of the job, taking care of all the problems. I expect that these daily types of problems will become fewer and fewer as time goes on.
RAP: What about training new salespeople on the procedures? What's one of the things you try most to get across to them?
Pete: I try to let them know that we have a system that they need to follow. I've found over the last ten years that salespeople get tremendous training in sales but real lousy training in two other important things: one, copywriting, and two, following the procedures we have in place. For some reason those seem to fall through the cracks. It's very simple. All they need to do is put it on a production order, and their stuff will get done. I guess when I first arrived, there was some confusion about procedures. We've straightened most of those things out, but we have still a few wrinkles to iron out as far as procedures go, for example, with promos that are sales driven rather than Promotion Director driven. Sometimes it seems that no one knows where those are supposed to go and who's supposed to do them.
I don't see the salespeople very often here and that's something new. They're in an entirely different building. We have a sales annex. I used to harbor a sneaking suspicion that the only time the salespeople ever talked to me was when they wanted something. Now I know it for a fact because that's the only time I ever see them. That makes it a little more difficult to communicate. Our company does have e-mail, but attending the sales meetings is the best way to communicate.
I used to be Mr. Copy for the salespeople. When I first started, I would make a grammatical correction here or a little edit there and somehow it evolved into me teaching them how to write copy, which a few of them took to heart. I was very proud of them.
RAP: The salespeople write copy?
Pete: Yes, sometimes they write their own copy. We have lots of sources for them, but if they can't get anybody else to write it, then they do it. And personally, I'm pretty good for a rewrite and editing. I find I'm a stronger editor than I am an actual creative writer. I try to encourage the salespeople to, if not be creative on their own, get it to me as soon as they can so I can work on it. It's a real joy to sit and create something. We all know the satisfied feeling we have when a project really sounds good or better than you thought it would.
RAP: You mentioned e-mail that the salespeople are using. Are the stations using the Internet to any degree at this point?
Pete: I believe all of our stations have home pages, and they've been on the Internet for about a year. I'm new to the Internet. I believe that Ken Hopkins, our Program Director on KZZU, and the morning guys on KZZU have been active with the Internet for quite some time. I believe they get a lot of helpful things from the Internet like the Bit Board. It's like a chat thing or a bulletin board for morning show guys. They've been using it for a couple of years. Dan and Chris are both net surfers, but I've only been on it for a week.
RAP: How often does the TV station utilize your department?
Pete: Whenever they need audio, and they need audio a lot. We schedule clients or agencies to come in to record audio for the TV spots. If our TV producers downstairs, which is where TV is, need something, they come looking. I'm doing lots of voice work for TV, and I find I'm getting stretched a little thin on the old airwaves.
RAP: Did the TV station have an audio producer of their own before you came on board?
Pete: They have always relied on radio. They've always relied on the people upstairs.
RAP: So you're department is basically producing audio for five stations.
Pete: Basically, and sometimes it sure feels that way. The workload is incredibly high here. It's extremely busy, like a bee hive. It's an exciting place, and it's never dull.
RAP: You must have a lot of voice talent running around.
Pete: I'll tell you, there are a lot of real talented people in this building. It's a different climate to go from a company of twenty to a company of two hundred. I get a huge demand for female voices. Thank goodness we have them. We have some down in TV who are very talented voice actors. I was very lucky to find, for instance, a female salesperson who could do a good job, and now I've got a few more to choose from. It's kind of a luxury.
RAP: You meet a lot of deadlines every day and work pretty hard. What do you do to get away from it all, to relieve the stress?
Pete: Well, I do have a family that I devote some time to. I've got a four-year-old daughter, and I read recently that when you have a kid like that, your work day doesn't end until they hit the sack. It was good for me to read that because I used to come home and think the work day was over. Now I just try to keep it going until the kid's in bed, then I can fall on the couch. And I like to fish. My wife and I are about to purchase a camper. We do like to get out of town and see the great outdoors because we have a lot of that here, and that's one of the nice things about living here. That's one of the reasons we chose to live here. And twice a year I try to go to the drag races.
RAP: It's pleasant to talk with someone in the medium markets who is talented enough to move up but finds himself in a comfortable enough position to stay. You seem surrounded by professionals and work for owners that have given you the tools you need to do your job well.
Pete: I know it's unusual to find somebody staying in my position for any length of time, let alone eleven years at one station. It's been a great place to work, and it's the people who count the most. I've seen literally hundreds of people come and go, jocks as well as salespeople, but the fine people I've worked with have really made the difference. I sure as heck wouldn't be here if I didn't have great people to work with.
RAP: Spokane's not that big of a town. I'll bet you live close to work.
Pete: Three miles. You gotta love that.
Editor's Note: Please note that comments made about the DCS system are simply Pete's interpretation of the system. We in no way expected Pete to speak about the DCS system as though he were offering a technical review of the system. The comments on the DCS are here to represent one user's grasp of the system. Any technical questions should be directed to Computer Concepts Corporation at 8375 Melrose Drive, Lenexa, KS 66214.