by Jerry Vigil
Hal Knapp/Z100/HSK Productions and Johnny George/Hotspots! Creative Communications were in an AOL message board for production people and came across a pretty interesting conversation about Production/Creative Services Directors who take their own studio equipment to the radio station to do their jobs with. Apparently, this goes on quite a bit (and station management must love it). So, this month’s question was directed at any of you who have personal gear installed in the production room or take gear to the station from time to time. What’s the arrangement with the station? What happens if it breaks down? Who else gets to use the gear, if anybody? How do you rationalize providing the station with equipment that you paid for? What other interesting aspects of this arrangement have you discovered? If you don’t participate in this type of arrangement, but have some prior experience or other interesting thoughts about it, please share.
Here are some of the responses we received:
Pete Jensen/KZZU, KTRW, KKPL, KXLY AM/FM/TV, Spokane, Washington: For a time, my station was in receivership, and had no budget for any equipment whatsoever. I bought a Symetrix 528, installed it in the studio, and we all used it. My rationale was simple: If I didn’t buy it, I wasn’t going to have any voice processing...period. Usually the situation is quite the opposite: I do free-lance work on the station’s equipment.
Dennis Coleman/ARS, Austin, Texas: I don’t ever bring personal equipment into the studios I work in. It’s easier for me, nobody can lay claim to MY stuff, and the company’s only liable for their equipment. Plus, you never know who’s going to be in the studio after you leave. From a repair standpoint, I’ve never met an engineer that wouldn’t take a look at a something that wasn’t the company’s—they love to tinker if given the time. The other guy that works in here at night, Jim Little, has his own stuff in here. But then again, he’s been working for this station group since the Eisenhower administration, so I guess that’s to be expected. He lets a few of us use his stuff if needed, but only if he knows we won’t break it. (Man, those Edison cylinders sure are delicate.)
John Pellegrini/WLS-AM, Chicago, Illinois: Apart from some CDs that contain some production elements that I can’t find anywhere else, I don’t use my personal equipment at work, nor would I recommend anyone do so, for several reasons, primarily concerning theft. I’ve had personal stuff stolen from stations in the past, and I have no intention of allowing it to happen again. Secondly, if something of mine gets damaged at work, like my Beyer Dynamic DT990 headphones which retailed at over $200 when I bought them 8 years ago—and I’m sure have gone up in price since then—I would be out of luck trying to get compensation for their repair.
So, if I break them at home, that’s okay. But if the cleaning person at work accidentally knocks them apart in a vacuuming frenzy, too bad!
If a station is willing to pay rent on my equipment, then they should buy their own and let me use it. Why should my equipment suffer for their benefit, and I don’t even get the depreciation write-off that they could have (largely because their tax base is much bigger than mine to allow for depreciation write-offs)? Thanks for the space to rant!
Steve Taylor/WJBX/WIMZ, Knoxville, Tennessee: In the past, I have had to use my own equipment from time to time to get the ‘pizzazz’ that I was hearing in my head. For instance, at one station I worked at, I took my own EV-RE20 microphone to the studio to produce voice-overs for commercials. The station has some rather drab Sennheiser mikes that lacked any semblance of high-end. In another case, I took my personal Yamaha SPX-90 to the station and had the engineer hard-wire it into the production studio for use by the general staff. It sounded great on the products that it was used on. This was in the mid-eighties and effecting of sound by the Yamaha was getting more and more popular. I was a guitarist that had this unit but never considered using it in a voice-over situation. The idea was given me by a fellow employee who asked if he could use it for some special spots. “Sure,” I said. Well, six months later, the unit was basically destroyed. Not good for a seventeen-year-old guitarist on a budget, to say the least.
Nowadays, my own equipment is MY OWN EQUIPMENT. No one borrows it. It stays in a rack and is not tampered with. After all, if you can afford your own Neumann mike and the station can’t...well (and I say this in all humility), said station probably doesn’t deserve a Neumann. (Really, that’s not ENTIRELY true.) The stations for which I work are very well equipped. We have the DSE and recently added the Audicy. We have Sony MiniDisc and tons more stuff to play with. They even bought two Audio-Technica Condenser mikes for the production studios. Our in-house stuff sounds as good as most agency material we receive. I count myself lucky. The only thing that I have of my own that I have allowed the station to use daily is ME and MY CREATIVE ABILITIES, which, when you look at it in this regard, they have complete right to.
Hal Knapp/Z100/HSK Pro-ductions, New York: I feel strongly about not bringing in my personal gear to work. If I brought in my own equipment to work, I might as well bring in my own bed since I’d never be at home. My hours at the station, along with my freelance work, add up to about 70 hours a week. If I’m working on a special project, those hours can be even more. Having equipment both at home and at work allows me to draw a clean line between station work and freelance work, see my wife daily, and get some sleep. I never do freelance work at Z-100, and I seldom do Z-100 work at home.
Z-100 has had four different owners in the last four years and they all had different policies regarding freelancing in the building and “intellectual property” issues. I have found the best way to avoid conflicts with a company is to separate work and home. I have too many projects from “Backtrax” to “XFX” and “Aural Impact” that if I did those at the station during regular business hours it could create problems. I guess I only associate my personal gear with freelance work and I view the station’s equipment for station purposes only.
I’m fortunate that Z-100 has many of the latest tools available to facilitate my work, but they don’t have everything. I do bring in from home various copies of software and some effects CDs, but my hardware certainly stays at home. I realize that every station doesn’t have the budget to buy all the latest gear, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to “solve the problem” by supplying the station with your personal equipment. There always seems to be problems no matter what. A few years ago, I tried to bring in a multi-effects processor and asked management to sign a waver in case someone broke or stole my gear. Well, they wouldn’t sign it. But, I proved I needed one in my work, and within a few months, they bought one for the station. If a station truly wants to stay competitive, they will buy the equipment (within reason).
Jeremy Godfrey/Virgin Radio, London, England: I have a shedload of keyboards, a Vocoder, Logic Audio for the Mac, and various other bits and pieces that I take into work from time to time. I used to keep them at the station permanently, but I find I get more use out of them by having them in my studio at home. It’s useful in a work situation just to have that extra flexibility (especially with the Vocoder). Also, if I can’t find just the ‘right’ bed, I can make my own with the keys and the sequencer. Having been a musician longer than a radio guy, it doesn’t take me very long any more. It’s also useful for atmospheric drones and stuff tailored to fit in key with any other stuff that might be in the spot. The station doesn’t really give a %#@! either way, however. They just bring the most important clients through my studio when it’s full of keyboards and flashing lights to try and impress them into spending even more money! Such is life!
Donnie Marion/104 KRBE, Houston, Texas: At 104 KRBE, we have both situations. Recently our Creative Services Director bought ProTools and brought it to the radio station. Our engineer Chuck Underwood installed it. I don’t know any of the specifics of the arrangement between Rob (CSD) and the station. KRBE bought Sonic Solutions for both production rooms. From the perspective of someone who must cover while Rob is on vacation/sick, etc., I don’t know ProTools. Usually he gets everything that must be done for station imaging done before he leaves. If something unplanned comes up, then I start from scratch, no problem. But last time Rob was on vacation, a change needed to be made in a promo, and I didn’t know thing one about ProTools. So I take the dub and chop it. Speaking as a coworker of someone in that situation, that is the only thing I see as problem.