by Dennis Daniel
Last month we debuted part one of my interview with Tom Calderone, programming consultant for Jacobs Media and host of the nationally syndicated "Modern Rock Live." Tom and I had a lot of fun working together at WDRE, and I learned a great deal from him on the Production/Programming relationship. This month we continue our talk about the importance of symmetry between those two departments.
Tom: Everybody wants to be challenged. The sales department has goals they have to meet every month, and maybe that goal will get them a trip to Bermuda or something. Program Managers get their challenge every month when the trends come through on the fax machine. GMs have power ratios they have to match. The only thing Production Directors have to lean on is a street level response to a promo or spot they did...or maybe every year a Mercury Award.
Dennis: It's just not a department where you can experience immediate gratification other than your own feelings about the work or praise from within.
Tom: You know, I saw the most intriguing thing happen in one of our stations. In the lobby there was an "employee of the month" type thing that all stations do. But, they broke it up into categories, and the Production Director got the award for the most outstanding "use of time." Everyone was in awe with how much creative stuff this guy was putting out on such a consistent basis. I thought that was a really good sign that at least someone is appreciating the production, because all the GM hears most of the time are the negatives. You know...how the Production Director didn't get this spot done for "Joe's Cleaners" or something. I think the Programming Director needs to tell the GMs all the good things he's hearing from production. After all...commercials or promos...it's all noise that comes between the records, and it's just as important as the songs you play. Why not let the GM know you're happy with the work?
Dennis: After my experience with you, it seems almost inconceivable not to have a relationship with your PD. Having meetings with you every week gave me such a complete sense of what you wanted to accomplish for the station. There were a couple of meetings where you gave me a good kick in the ass and said, "WAKE UP!" If you didn't, I might have just been on cruise control. Can you imagine how many people need a swift kick out there, and Program Directors aren't even thinking along those lines?
Tom: Again...PDs have to look at the in-house production just as much as they examine the music and promotions.
Dennis: You gave me options. You said, "Here's how you can do a better job." If you really care about your job, your creativity and what it represents to you, you're going to seek out help and advice as well as dish some out. Which leads me to my next question. What scenario do you find to be more advantageous: Having a Production Director or a Creative Director on hand at the station to do your imaging, or getting imaging from an outside source?
Tom: That is a tough question. It falls under the guise of how much your radio station is willing to invest in the product as far as production goes. The ultimate thing you would want to have is a good "imaging" production guy who oversees programming production for all the radio stations, maybe not using the same voice, but creating the final work using the various elements. Then you have your "commercial" Production Director take over all your spot loads. That's where I see this whole thing going. There are actually times when I am meeting with the imaging production guy as opposed to the spot guy because the spot guy is dealing with an overabundance of work. It all depends on how much the radio group wants to invest in their product. It's sometimes a lot cheaper to hire someone outside than to do it internally.
Dennis: Right! My dream job would be a "Network Creative Director" position where I would oversee all the production work for the various formats. I'm sure a certain percentage of the alternative stations you are programming are going for the same sound, while others, because of their market size or their competition, need a slightly different sound.
Tom: True. For example, the production at WHFS, a station we deal with, is a lot different than "The Edge" station in Minneapolis.
Dennis: When it comes to production, what's the best scenario for a Program Director?
Tom: Hire an image Production Director, especially when it comes to a contemporary music format, whether CHR, Urban or Alternative. Have a secondary person to take care of the commercial spot load, dubbing and copywriting.
Dennis: How do you feel about jocks cutting commercials?
Tom: I've never been a fan of that stuff. The jocks don't like to do it. They're bored with it. They begrudgingly do it, and then you end up creating more work because you have to fix it.
Dennis: A jock should be a live air personality. They're selling the format and the station. They should not be selling shoes!
Tom: It's more of a jock's responsibility to be entertaining instead of just pressing buttons and going off and doing their four hours of production. Granted, there are some jocks that love to do production, and that's to be encouraged if they're good.
Dennis: If there is a jock out there who loves to go into the studio and do lots of voices and goof around, that's one thing. But there is nothing worse than hearing a jock go into break and the first commercial is the same jock doing a straight read. It just breaks down that fourth wall. All of a sudden they're an entirely different persona.
Tom: The jocks should be preparing their show and working on their air shift...not worrying about the spot he has to cut for a local record store.
Dennis: Let me ask you one more question about originality. You always used to play me what the competition was doing as examples of what was going on. You never, ever said to me, "I want you to imitate what these people are doing." You always said, "Den, I need you to get this kind of feeling because this is what's happening in the format." I always respected you for that because I hate being told, "Just imitate that." I think that's rampant in the industry! Everybody is imitating everybody else.
Tom: Yeah, that's boring. I think the lack of originality right now is coming from bad time management and just slapping something together because it had to be done yesterday. People have to really be pushed to be different and try different things. There definitely is stagnation out there.
Dennis: Yeah...just grab a movie drop.
Tom: Right...grab a movie drop and a wacky guitar rift and here it is! So I think people aren't pushing themselves enough. It's so easy to just rip off so and so or whatever.
Dennis: You can just listen to a piece of production and know who's being imitated. The trick is...you being the one who is imitated!
Tom: Absolutely! Not the other way around. I think you accomplished that, Dennis.
Dennis: Thanks, Tom. (Whisper) The check is in the mail.