Kurt Schenk, Production Director, WMAX/WMHX/WRCD, Rochester, New York
by Jerry Vigil
These are exciting times for radio people. You never know when you might go to work one day to find the nice little station you've been producing for has just become part of a seven-station facility, and you're the Production Director. Things change quickly these days, and this month's RAP Interview checks in with another participant in radio's wild version of Let's Make a Deal and Monopoly rolled into one.
As a multiple RAP Award winner, Kurt Schenk's name and work are familiar to many. About four years ago, he was a happy Production Director for a single FM station in Rochester. A year ago, that station became three. At this moment, Kurt is watching the three stations become seven as Jacor makes its move in market number 44.
This month, we take a close look at how Kurt is handling the changes, and we take a close look at Kurt, a rather unique Production Director, the kind of Production Director that throws picnics at his house for station clients, the kind of Production Director that teams up with the competition's Sales Manager to meet with a mutual client, the kind who has taken his writing skills to the next level, by doing a lot of free-lance writing and even conducting copy writing seminars for other stations. With over a dozen years in the business, Kurt is a well-seasoned pro in his prime and a good example of the type of person any fast growing company would be fortunate to have in their production department.
RAP: Tell us about your background in radio.
Kurt: I was raised in Rochester and always liked it here. I went to school here and got a BA in communications journalism at a small liberal arts college called Saint John Fisher. I was always involved with the campus station. My first paid radio job was in 1984 for WVOR which was a golden oldies AC at that time. I started as a board op and an intern. In 1985, WHAM, which is a big, flame-throwing fifty thousand watt AM news station here, hired me full-time as the morning show producer while I was still in my last semester at school. I was also a production assistant, and from that point on, I was always doing production in one capacity or another.
In '87, I went back over to 'VOR. Both 'VOR and WHAM were owned by the same company, the Lincoln group. I became a Continuity Director and an assistant production person to a guy by the name of Dave Roberts who I think a lot of people may remember. In '89, I took a bit of a rest and did promotions for about a year. I really enjoyed it, but they put me back in production. Apparently, management felt that was my strong suit. Then, from about '90 to '93, I was assistant to Georgann John, someone you've also profiled in RAP [January 1996 RAP Interview]. By this point, it was WHAM, WVOR, and WEZO, and I think they were adding a fourth, WHRR, when I was leaving. It was a pretty big group at that time, and my duties were to write and produce and do some voice work.
I left in 1993 and came over here to WMAX which was, at that point, one station, a small thirty-five hundred watt alternative rock station. I was the Production Director. We added two signals a little over a year ago, and now we're adding more as we're being bought by Jacor. I think we were around the one hundred and twenty-first station Jacor has purchased.
RAP: How has the purchase affected you so far?
Kurt: The effects are minimal at this point. Eventually, I'll be moving back with the people I used to work with at WHAM/'VOR because they have a very large facility in downtown Rochester. That could happen next week or in two months.
RAP: What are the stations and formats that make up Jacor's magnificent seven in the Rochester area?
Kurt: There's WHAM, which is a talk format; 'VOR, which is an AC-type format; WMAX The MAX and WMHX, which is a simulcast of WMAX's adult alternative format; WRCD, which is a jazz station; WNVE, The Nerve, which is modern rock; and I think last but not least, WHDK, an AM station which it seems they're going sports/talk with. It's a pretty big group.
RAP: How many buildings house all seven stations at this point, and what's the plan to bring them together?
Kurt: At this point, we're actually at three facilities. They took the 'RCD sales staff, the jazz station, and moved them over to the WHAM/'VOR facility in midtown. The 'MAX studios, where I'm at now, are on State Street, basically right across the street from Kodak's main headquarters. The plan is to have all seven stations at one facility, but this is conjecture at this point. Whether midtown, where WHAM/'VOR are currently placed, is going to be the home, no one really knows. I think it's a pretty big facility they have over there, but adding these other stations may be a strain on the facility from what I can tell. There may be plans down the road to just build another facility. Right now, I know they can fit one on-air studio and one production room in there. I don't know if it's going to be the modern rock station, The Nerve, or us.
RAP: How did your responsibilities change last year when the one station, WMAX, became three?
Kurt: More work. That was the initial difference. We first fired up WRCD. It's automated, but we hired a sales staff to go with it. We added another four to five salespeople to go along with our 'MAX staff, which is around seven. My duties really didn't change. I continued to write, produce, and voice. I'm kind of a complete package, and this is still what I'm doing.
RAP: At this point, were you doing the imaging as well as the commercials?
Kurt: Yeah. And even though WMHX is a simulcast of WMAX, there's actually additional work as though it were a separate station. We bought the WMHX signal in a town south of here called Canandaigua. We simulcast WMAX because our signal is a little weak in the area south of Rochester, and WMHX fixes that. We use the AudioVAULT digital audio system with our traffic system for commercials. We simulcast, but when the jock hits the button for the stop set, it splits the signal. At that point, 'MHX is broadcasting their own audio. So, they hired a couple of salespeople to go down there and open up an office, and WMHX is sold as a separate radio station. It's very fascinating.
RAP: So the spot breaks have to occur at the same exact time and be the same length, right?
Kurt: Exactly. Timing is of the utmost importance. They have to match up on both sides. A sixty-second commercial has to be sixty. We can't really go over.
RAP: And the result of this "simulcast" for you is actually a third station with more commercials.
Kurt: Yes, exactly. It requires a real understanding of that area down there, too, and how those people think and what their lifestyles are. There are a lot of commuters toward the city, and there's a little bit different attitude during the summer. It's a small, quaint town with big festivals. There's a college down there, Finger Lakes Community College, which has a large bowl that brings in some big shows like Sting, Lyle Lovett, and acts like that. It is definitely a market down there, and it's booming. We wanted to take advantage of it, so we added the salespeople.
RAP: How did you compensate for the increased work load?
Kurt: I told management that it was a heavy burden on top of doing promos, and they agreed. I suggested that our afternoon drive guy work closely with the Program Director and do the imaging. Originally, it was a guy by the name of Michael Chan who worked with the Program Director and did the IDs and promos and things like that, and I focused on the business end of production. Currently, we have a guy, Michael Gately, who is doing the afternoon shift and the imaging now.
We have two studios. One has the digital editing system, and I just free it up from about eleven to one-thirty for him before he goes on the air. And if there's anything else he wants to clean up when he gets off the air, that's fine. I use that time for writing.
RAP: Has there been any discussion as to what's going to happen to your department?
Kurt: I think it's kind of happening now. I've already seen some crossover on some of the writing and producing I'm doing, and some stuff I used to produce is being produced by somebody else now. If I know Georgann, we're going to make just one big department to oversee the group, and I think it's going to be run by three production people. That would be Georgann John, Gene Filliaci, and me. Gene is currently the Production Director at the modern rock station, WNVE, and he's got a heavy workload with on-air promos.
They've taken the 'RCD sales staff and now they're also selling for the AC station 'VOR. So what I'm seeing already is some stuff from here going over there and running on the jazz station and the adult contemporary station. I think when we all get in the same physical plant, it's going to make it a hell of a lot easier because the salespeople are running back and forth right now. Their offices are over there, but they have to come over here to do production. It's really strange.
RAP: Not only are production people experiencing increased loads during these times of mergers and acquisitions, but in a situation like yours, where you might produce a spot that will run on seven stations in the market, there probably won't be any talent/dub fees where there might have been before.
Kurt: Yeah, you're right. You can practically kiss dub fees good-bye.
RAP: How do you feel about this. Do you think something should be done to compensate for the added usage?
Kurt: I think so, but I don't know how management will address it. I can make a case in point that says, "Look, I was doing these spots before, and now it's going to cost me a few thousand dollars." And they'll say, "Well, you work for Jacor, and that is part of your job."
RAP: I suppose there's nothing to stop large groups from asking one person to voice, let's say, 20 stations in their chain. Even if they compensate the person, the compensation would probably be much less than they would pay for someone outside the station to voice 20 stations.
Kurt: That is true, and you've raised a question I don't know how to address at this point. It's kind of frightening, really.
My situation as a Production Director has been a little bit more unusual that most, I believe, because up until recently, I was compensated based on the total amount of direct business brought into the radio stations. That was my motivator to write and produce. I'd get a percentage of total direct sales, on top of a base. That's why Kurt Schenk will go on sales calls. I will go out and meet with clients. I will take clients out for beers. I will have a picnic at my house and have clients over. Basically, I've become a bit of a salesperson at the same time. It was easy for me to make that transition because when I spent my time over at what was the Lincoln group, WHAM and 'VOR, I was, shall I say, raised and trained to be a marketing-conscious Production Director, a person who would write to get results. That was my main concern every day, and there was always somebody else to do promos. That's kind of why they brought me over here in '93, because I had that background. They said, "We're going to offer you this with an incentive based on one percent (I believe) of total direct sales. Figure out the math. You want the job?"
RAP: That's a very good approach to use on any production person who is doing commercials. It ought to be standard throughout the industry.
Kurt: Yeah, I agree. And I think down the road we are definitely going to go back to that because right now, the way the market is, these salespeople are just duking it out on the streets and they really need their support people, and we are their support people. I know there is friction between production people and salespeople, but we've got to face it; we're their support. We are a tool for them to get a sale and get people on the air. We do a lot of specs here, a ton. I think it's ten-thirty a.m. my time right now. I've already written four scripts this morning, and there are more coming in.
RAP: And we're only talking three stations at this point?
RAP: How many commercials would you say you write and produce in a week?
Kurt: I'd say an average of about fifteen a week, plus an occasional promo. My Program Director, Tom Sheridan, will occasionally use me on certain big feature promotions, and I'll put something together with all the bells and whistles and spend a few hours on it. Every now and then I have to put my clients aside and make the radio station my number one client.
RAP: Once the other four stations are on line and the commercial load probably doubles, do you expect Jacor to follow suit and compensate commercial production people based on a percentage of direct sales?
Kurt: I know Georgann has also pushed for some sort of compensation for the production people the same way I have been compensated. She believes in that, too. That's why I think as our stations merge, yeah. It's going to be a little bit crazy at first, but we both see and view the departments in the same way.
RAP: This commission-based compensation might be the answer to the earlier question about talent/dub fees.
Kurt: Sure, because if you've got Joe's Bank, for instance, and he's going to spray money into Jacor between The Max and 'VOR, let's say, to hit some of the female demo, that would be two dub fees in the past. Now it's none. But if you're getting a percentage on the direct business, you're still getting a kickback on the voice, really. So that might be a way to address that. And it is an incentive to get that stuff done. It really is an incentive to make it work because if you write an ad that works, you're going get them back. They're going to keep spending money, and you're going to keep making more money.
RAP: Yep. It's an amazing thing that happens when a production person has the same concept of money in the pocket from the client as the salesperson does.
Kurt: Yes. It doesn't make me any happier when they come here at four-thirty and they need something on the air right away, completely written and produced, but when the commission check comes in next month, you forget that in a hurry. You really do.
RAP: You've won your fair share of RAP Awards, not to mention others. Tell us a bit about your production philosophy.
Kurt: Over the years, I've read interviews in Radio And Production where a lot of the creative writers think of radio as a visual medium. I do also. And I think the definition of "theater of the mind" has definitely changed in the last ten years. To me, theater of the mind can be a client testimonial if the person believes so much in the product that the emotion comes out, and the person listening to the testimonial actually gets an image of that person and what they look like. That's theater of the mind.
I've always pushed the envelope on production. I feel I've been a bit unconventional even to the extent of using voice talents from competitors' radio stations. I feel if someone is really good at something--and I want the best--I'm gonna get them. Over the years, Tent City has always been one of my favorite clients. During the last three years I would meet with the client along with Mike Pallini, the Sales Manager for a competing station. We would meet on a neutral basis with the client and hammer out the ideas, and it was with an understanding that we both equally wanted to help the client. We've always worked well together. We would come up with these very creative ideas, and the client knows that. We thought it was a fair way to do it instead of tugging at each other production-wise--"We'll do the production of your spot better than Schenk," or whatever. The client felt he knew who was best for the job, and it was me and another guy at a different radio station. It just happened to be that way. Mike and I always put our differences aside and came up with the best commercial for this guy, and we both got the buy. Everyone's happy.
The hard thing about theater of the mind is making sure you don't lose the message and the reason for the audience to respond. If you're doing a one-week run, there's got to be an offer in there to get people through the door. A client like Tent City has great offers and they work.
I think some production people feel that their idea is going to be the idea that hits the air, and they may want heavy control on what they write and produce, without any input. I sit down with my morning news guy every morning, and we kick around ideas for clients. I'll talk to a friend of mine who might be a salesperson at another radio station. "Hey, I've got this client. What do you think?" I take as much input as I can get. You mentioned how I have placed in the awards for a long time; I really feel I need other people to help me do that. There's no way in hell I'm going to come up with every creative commercial. Someone else is going to have a great idea. I really try to tap into other people, TV shows, sometimes magazines, the whole world around me. I was always taught to keep a pad in the car and write the ideas down, and I still do that.
RAP: You do more with your writing skills than just write commercials for your stations. You write free-lance and do seminars as well. Tell us more about this.
Kurt: I write on a free-lance basis for a number of ad agencies in town and a radio station that is in southern New York, WCJW. That's a country format, so I've got 'em all--I get to write for all formats, and it's great. I also consult for a group of radio stations north of Pittsburgh, the flagship is WDSN. I also consult for the station I write for in Warsaw. When I say consult, it's almost like a copywriting service. It starts with me going down there and getting their salespeople in a room for a seminar. I call the seminar, "Salespeople Can't Write." Basically, either in a half or a full day, I get them to think in a creative way. If your sales staff is writing the copy, which is very common, as we all know, I try to get them to not write this cookie-cutter copy, to learn how to always look for a different angle in everything. If you're going to write comedy, make sure it's funny. If you're going to write something visual, make sure the image is there. If you're going to write something straightforward, make sure the offer is strong.
It starts with real basic copywriting techniques, from the amount of mentions of a client's name in a thirty or a sixty all the way to how to write power copy. It culminates with having them write a bunch of copy in an afternoon and getting up and performing it. And what it does for these salespeople is make them go, "Wow, production people are performers! Wow, that's how you write a scene! That's how you write a dialogue!" You don't explain sound effects in copy. You let them stand on their own and help build the image. They start to get an understanding of what production people do, and the result is, it actually gets them excited about writing copy. And this makes the production person's job easier because the copy that is starting to come to them needs less overhaul and may not have to be rewritten at all. It seems to really work, and I know these people are really happy with it. I get thank you cards that say things like, "Thanks for making radio fun."
On top of that, if they want me to write for them, they can go on a monthly basis or quarterly basis or something like that. It's touching a need in smaller market radio stations where the salespeople really have to write. Again, I talk about how production people are a support system for a sale. In smaller markets, they can't always afford a full-time production person or a writing service or a writer/producer. The salespeople have to write all the ads. In this situation, it gives them a touch of big-sized market ideas for their needs. They're in just as much of a street fight as we are up here for direct business, and that's where you're going to win or lose the cash flow game because everybody is pounding the agencies for the money. It's pulling in that direct business that's going to get you ahead of that other guy and keep your radio station running.
So I'm always writing. I get home and I've got faxes waiting for me. I get on the computer and I bang them out, either late at night or first thing in the morning. Then I fax them off to whoever needs them.
RAP: You're cranking out these respectable scripts, several a day. Do you have some sort of a formula that you use in order to keep these scripts coming in such volume?
Kurt: When I look at the copy facts, I look for, first of all, an offer. I look for a slogan that I can play off of and turn into a situation or a scene. That's where I start. If I get writer's block, I walk away for an hour and do something else then come back.
RAP: Do the salespeople at your stations write any copy?
Kurt: No. Frankly, I want them just as much as the Sales Manager out on the streets knocking on doors, and now that they have a full-time writer/producer here, they should use me. That's what I'm here to do. Our morning news guy will also write some of the spots because, again, I like other people in the fold, and that is part of his duties, to be prepared to write commercials.
RAP: Do the salespeople have some type of form to take to clients to help gather the copy facts?
Kurt: Yes. We have a form that asks them all the same questions they ask the client in their customer needs analysis. I get that form and that helps me write the commercials.
RAP: What are some of the important questions on this form?
Kurt: Apart from the usual things like target audience, the big questions on here are "unique competitive advantage." That is very important to me. If you have two Italian restaurants, what makes Mama Mia's Restaurant better than Tony's Pasta? Well, they're both going to say their sauces are best. They're going to say that immediately, so you've got to keep digging. Well, why is your sauce the best? "Well, we actually take fresh tomatoes and make our own sauce," says Mama Mia's. Tony doesn't do that, but he uses spices that he only gets from his home town in Italy. There are the unique competitive advantages, and that's what you play off of. You don't say, "We have the best sauce." Why do you have the best sauce, and why is it the advantage? That's how you hook the listeners. "You know, Mama Mia's makes their own sauce from real tomatoes. I don't think anyone else in the city does that." And there is the unique competitive advantage.
Then the benefit is the next thing that's pretty important to me, which is on this form. It simply asks for the key benefit to the target audience. If it's a restaurant, the food's good. Then it all ties in again to what is unique. It's the sauce. Why? That becomes the benefit. Then I want to see an offer in there. "Friday nights are all you can eat spaghetti nights" would be great. There's the basis for an ad that's going to work. Now you can get creative with it if you like, but those are the key elements on the form, and even when I'm getting copy facts from outside, free-lance stuff, I look for those three things. If I don't see them, I send them back to the AE and say, "Get those facts down, please."
RAP: Regarding the free-lance copy you write for advertising agencies in your area, what kinds of rates can a copywriter like yourself hope to expect from an agency for copy? What's the range in your market?
Kurt: In this market, anywhere from fifty to one hundred dollars, depending on the size of the agency. That's what you're going to get. And we all know they're going to mark it up. That's part of the game, though. Anything else is on top of that. A voice in this market can go anywhere from seventy-five to one hundred and fifty for sixty seconds. A producer's fee, about fifty bucks. So they can get a completely voiced and produced spot for approximately two hundred to two twenty-five. That seems to be in the ballpark. And they'll certainly mark that up.
RAP: What's an average spot rate on the top five stations there?
Kurt: I'm thinking around seventy-five, eighty average. The top rate's probably around two hundred.
RAP: As stations continue to merge everywhere, I wonder if the role of Production Director will be redefined to mean specifically a "director" of the production department, overseeing several producers and writers, rather than someone who does it all. It seems this is a obvious role for radio's older, more experienced production people, the aging Production Director. What do you think?
Kurt: I hope that's the case, and I think you may have a point in that these larger groups are going to need experienced Production Directors who can do a bulk job. I think because of technology there may be a bit more of an even playing field for production techniques. These multitrack editing systems can even out the playing field on the quality of production, but I don't think good equipment makes a good producer. Good producers can do amazing things with cruddy equipment.
My only concern about aging Production Directors, and what I'm seeing myself--I'm thirty-three--is that there is a burn factor. You asked about the amount of writing I do, and it is a lot. How to keep it fresh is really tough to do. I think the key for an aging Production Director to stay fresh is to not close himself up to being the only person creating the great ideas for their groups, their stations, but to tap into other people and other sources to keep refreshing their creativity. My fear personally is that somebody cheaper and younger is going to come along and is going to be labeled the new, fresh king, the new Tiger Woods of production. I guess that's a good analogy because these guys at the recent Masters played pretty well. Tiger Woods played better. He's young. He's fresh. He's exciting.
If you want to stay in the same market, I think you can be viewed as getting a little bit old and a little bit stale, and I've heard that before--"Oh, it's Kurt Schenk again." That's my fear. I think if you have good writing skills, there will always be room for you somewhere because that game's never going to change. You still have to get business on the air.
But I can't say that these big groups are going to want older, experienced Production Directors. I really don't know. That's why I'm starting to go this route of being a consultant, but I want to do more than just be a seminar giver or consultant. I want to still offer a writing service, and I think that's what I might be looking at down the road. To me, that would be great. I'd still be creating. And it's amazing that people can build really good studios in their homes now for half the amount of money it used to cost.
You can still do this if you're good, if you want to keep producing ads, but I feel you have to move on eventually. I haven't seen many fifty-year-old Production Directors. I think the cap I've seen is really the mid-forties, and there's got to be a reason for it.
RAP: You mentioned a digital editor in the studio. What are you using?
Kurt: We use an editor called the SSHDR1 from SoundScape. It's British made, I believe. It's really nice. I think it's great for music producers. I do some ads for a local record store called The Record Archive that is more envelope-pushing production, as I like to call it. The production is out there, and it's to a point now where people expect it to be that way, like Tent City. I always incorporate the owner as part of the ad, as talent in some way or form, and he really likes to sing. Now admittedly, as the owner will say, whether he has a good voice or not is not the concern. But instead of bringing him in with his harmonica and pulling up a CD and chopping it up and having him sing over it, we brought a guitarist in from a local band and laid down a blues riff and then split the tracks and had him harp over it. Then we had him sing over it and kept bouncing the tracks down within the system, and it's such a beautiful, clean sound. You'd think you went to one of the big studios in town to do it. That's because the technology now is just great. I wouldn't have done that four years ago. No way I would have been able to do that.
The SoundScape has a lot of mixing capabilities. It's great for overdubbing and things like that. For my purposes, it's great. I think it's similar to ProTools, but very colorful and pretty. The tracks light up and are color coded, and there are a lot of labeling features. If you're getting into some serious 48-track production, you've got to be able to label what you're miking. My SoundScape works well with that. You can label this as "base pedal," this as "high hat," and so on. If you're going to use three or four mikes for a drum set, then you'll know what each track is. Then you can move it around appropriately within the window, so it's kind of neat that way. For my purposes it's been fine. The wonderful thing about these editing systems now is that in a bulk production situation, you get through the stuff a lot quicker when you have editing to do. Bringing a guitarist in and doing sing-over tracks and harmonica just took an hour. It's amazing.
RAP: Was the SoundScape unit there when you arrived?
Kurt: No. I started with the reel-to-reel 8-track. I pushed for digital a lot. My General Manager and I went to a digital audio conference in Buffalo, and we stumbled upon it. The guy did a demo for us right there, and I went, "Wow, it's like ProTools but cheaper!" And my GM said, "Great. It's cheaper," and he went out and got it. The cool thing about my GM is that he is an engineer by background, so he understands the equipment and what it needs to do.
RAP: At your present facility, are there any additional production rooms?
Kurt: Yes, there are. There's a room that doubles as the WRCD studio, and that has an old TEAC 8-track reel-to-reel with the Yamaha ProMix 01 board in there, a nice board. That room doesn't get used too often. It's got a lot of noise in it. There are so many computers in it that the fans make the room noisy, and it's a little cumbersome with the jazz station getting pushed through that it becomes more of a dub and a satellite feed studio more than anything else. Also, it is the news person's studio in the morning. He will record the news breaks in that station's automated system. So it gets some use, but nothing like the main studio.
RAP: Was the AudioVAULT in place when you arrived?
Kurt: No. When I came over we were using the DigiCart system, and all of the commercials were stored on there. That was okay. When we went to the split signal, we really needed AudioVAULT to make it happen, and that's been in place for a little over a year.
RAP: How do you like it? What are some pros and cons on that system?
Kurt: Pros: the speed of loading commercials. If there are still stations out there that are dealing with carts and things, if you had an AudioVAULT, you would just be in heaven. You just record it and it's in there. Boom. You're done, labeled and everything. Another time saver. Storage is another plus. It's great because I can keep stuff in there and it's digital. I'm not losing any generations, and I can just keep it in storage, If I know the spot's going to come up again two months down the road, it's there. I don't have to worry about rummaging through DAT tapes to find something.
Cons: really haven't seen any. The system has run fine. It's got a heavy load. It's got a lot of things it has to do between the three signals, but it hasn't crashed. Honestly, it hasn't, and I'm amazed. I try to keep it cleaned out as much as possible, and with any digital system you have to do that. If the hard drive starts getting filled up and basically is running out of time, it's going to start acting funny. You may lose commercials. If you're working on a digital editor and you're not defragmenting the disk on a consistent basis, something bad is going to happen. I guarantee it. So the production person has got to do that maintenance, you know, to keep things running smoothly. They really do.
RAP: Nothing new there. It's kind of like cleaning heads on tape decks.
Kurt: Exactly. It went from cleaning heads to cleaning hard disks. Basically, that's what it is now.
RAP: What about production libraries? You do a lot of production. What serves you best?
Kurt: I use some library music from the Gold TM Century library, and we have the old Trendsetter stuff which I've never used. I try to cut up a lot of stuff out of the kill pile that I'll get from programming. Now we can get into a discussion of copyright infringement, but a lot of people are cutting this stuff up. I'll tend to do that at certain times, but it's never core artists or anything like that. It's kind of unrecognizable music that just seems to fit the format. I'll try to search that kind of stuff out.
RAP: Sounds like you have a limited library, really. You're almost forced to go look at some of those CDs.
Kurt: Yeah, and I would assume that would change soon. It's been a little tough for the smaller company. It hasn't been easy to get things. Jacor has already made an impact with me. I've been having trouble with my cassette deck for a year now, and now we have full-time engineers. They came over and said, "No, I'm not going to fix it. I'm just going to buy you a new one. How old is this thing? Five years? You need a new one." Boom. New cassette deck, just like that. And now maybe I'll have access to libraries that WHAM has. That would be really nice.
RAP: You've got your hands full. What are some things you do to save time here and there? What are some shortcuts you take or some timesaving tips you might have?
Kurt: I have a Day Planner system that helps organize my day. Really, that's the first thing I did. I went from that clip board with a pad and Post It notes to something that shows me my day. It doesn't necessarily make me do things in order, it just helps me prioritize what's got to get done, and it also has a section for taking lots of notes. I use this thing and I re-review it every night before I go to bed, so I have a good idea of what's coming up the next day.
Organization is key. I think Production Directors have to be good managers. If they're good creators, they should be Creative Directors. I've really got to keep in touch with what my afternoon guy is doing with promos, what our evening jock is doing with production, what the overnight jock is doing with production, what I've assigned to interns, who I use a lot. Oh, by the way, use interns. I've got an intern, and this kid is a star. I love him. They're sponges and they learn quickly. They haven't been in the business so long where they've got a bit of an attitude that they can't learn something new, where they say, "Oh, I can do it better." Which reminds me, how many Production Directors does it take to do a commercial? Ten. One to do it and nine to say they can do it better. You get these kids and they're good. These schools have all of the digital equipment already. They're coming in with great experience. Use them. I have them coming in on weekends producing stuff. That's a shortcut. That's a workload relief right there.
Don't be afraid to delegate. Again, that's the whole thing of using your resources around you to get the job done. Don't be afraid to let some of the other people do the writing. If you're good, they know you're good. They're not going to dump you because somebody else writes well on the staff. As you said, there's a need for really experienced, creative people. I think you can keep your job, maintain it, and have other people help you. That's how I get things done. I've learned to delegate, use all of my people to their strengths.
With your side business, set goals. Just set a goal, make it attainable so you feel successful at it. For instance, with this consulting stuff, the Sales Manager at the station 'CJW who actually was my intern five years ago is now going to basically go out and sell Kurt Schenk. I delegated that to him. Whatever he brings in, he gets a cut of it, and I'll go take care of the rest. That's how I do shortcuts.
RAP: How about some final thoughts for others in the trenches?
Kurt: I think production people have to be open to input from everywhere and especially from employees they work with. You have to learn to toughen up your skin a little bit and learn to take criticism and learn not to take it personally. When I was young, that was always one of the hardest things to do when somebody didn't like one of my commercials. Oh, my God, I'd feel awful. If you do something and it's not flying, reload and fire again with more input, or even get someone else to do it. There's nothing wrong with that. If you're the Production Director and it winds up working, you're still going to look like the hero.
Aging, again, is really one of my big concerns most recently, and I think there are ways to take your current talents and branch out and do other things. Go that route and don't be afraid to do that. If you have children, keep them out of radio. Actually, I just had my oldest son in over the weekend, eight years old, and he's doing voice-overs for a car dealership in Washington, DC. That little punk, he's getting more work than I am! He's good.
Production is acting and it should be fun. I think we're a lot like baseball players--I hate these sports analogies. If you're still having fun, then keep doing it. Don't let the big corporations make you think that is going to go away, because radio is still always going to be fun.
RAP: What advice would you offer someone who is in a similar situation with multiple stations coming on board?
Kurt: Don't be afraid of working for these larger groups. I think Rochester is a great case study for how these things are going to happen. There are more pros than cons, I really feel. In the long run, you're still going to be trying to produce great creative ads or promos that work, and that is the key. It's still going to be your job. You're just going to have more people around you, and you're probably going to be working out of a cube. Those will be the differences.
Embrace it. If you're good, you're not going to get lost in the shuffle. If you come from the smaller company, you're going to feel the impact of a large company such as Jacor that understands programming and production and wants to always make it better, and you will really like that. You will have to start becoming more of a manager, too, because of the increased workload. You're going to have to delegate a bit more and oversee it and make sure it gets done right. The only constant is change, and you've just got to go with the flow.