Stew Herrera, Production Director, KLOS-FM, Los Angeles, California
One only has to check out some of the RAP Cassettes to get an idea of just how incredible the imaging production in Los Angeles radio is. Naturally, with LA being the second largest market in the country, you would expect some of the world’s greatest producers to be there, and they are--John Frost/KROQ [September 1995 RAP Interview], Howard Hoffman/KABC [December 1997 RAP Interview], Jeff Thomas/KIIS [October 1995 RAP Interview], and Don Elliot/KFI/KOST [February 1990 RAP Interview], to name a few. This month, we check in with another outstanding imaging producer in the Los Angeles market. Stew Herrera landed his first radio gig in LA at KNAC and was the Production Director at the station by the time he was twenty-one. A few years later, his skills earned him the Production Director position at the great KLOS, the second of the only two stations Stew has worked for in his ten-year career. His talents have apparently worked well for KLOS. A few days after this interview took place, the Fall ARB numbers arrived and Stew forwarded this message:
“...Persons 12+ went from a 2.0 in the summer to a 2.6 for the fall. (If that sounds small, consider that KROQ, the top rated rock station in LA has a 3.0.) Our cume went up by about 100,000 listeners and TSL went up by about an hour. KLOS is just a tenth behind our main competitor, Arrow 93, and four-tenths behind the mighty KROQ. And AM drive went up substantially, from a 2.7 to a 3.4, beating KROQ. In our key target demo, Men 35-49, we went from a 4.4 to 6.6, putting us first in LA. Men 25-54 went from 3.8 to 5.0, putting us fourth in LA.”
R.A.P.: Tell us how you got started in the business.
Stew: The long story probably starts when I was a little kid. My mom and dad got me this little Fisher-Price record player which was essentially a music box with a bunch of little plastic records, and I just loved that little thing. Then I graduated to a real record player, then a little cassette deck, the kind they had back in the seventies. It would record and play back, and my friends and I would just scream, yell, and make each other laugh. Anybody else would have thought we were just nuts. I was probably eleven or twelve then.
I deejayed a couple of dances in junior high and high school, but I really wasn't into the music that my contemporaries were into. I went to Fullerton College in the fall of '85, and somehow I wound up in a mass media course. That peaked my interest on getting into radio, and it looked like the guys who were in the college station were having a real good time. The college actually had two stations. One of them was really nothing more than a loud speaker blasting into the quad; that was the free form radio station. Then there was another one that I didn't know about until later which was broadcasting at 90.1 I think.
So, I got involved with all of that in those first couple of years in college. At the same time, because I was interested in music, I'd been playing guitar a lot, and I started in with the studio recording courses they had there. They had a 24-track machine and a big mixing console, and I really wanted to learn how they put albums together. I don't know at what point I realized you could take what you learned in one and mix it with what you learned in the other, that there was a place for something like that. I wasn't doing much in the way of production. You had to take some production courses to get the certificate, but it didn't occur to me that I was going to wind up doing that or that this was even necessarily what I really wanted to do. I thought I just wanted to wind up on the air.
R.A.P.: What was your first gig out of college?
Stew: The first gig I got was at a club in West LA called The Troubadour where tons of people had been playing for years and years. It's well known, and I was mixing the bands there. Most times, I'd wind up just running the stage and doing the monitors on stage. But many times, somebody wouldn't be able to make it in, and I'd mix the house. I was happy just to have my hands on the console, twirling knobs and pushing faders. By that time I was already out of the college program, and I knew that I wanted to work at a radio station, either at a radio station or in a recording studio.
So from the club, I went to KNAC, which is gone now. KNAC was, I guess, one of the first hard rock stations, at least one of the first successful ones in the country. It started back in 1986. I came on in '88 or '89 as an intern. Actually, I started answering telephones for a few months, then I managed to sneak my way into a yearlong internship in production. Then somebody quit, some positions were shuffled, and that made an opening for me in production. I stayed there for about four and a half or five years
R.A.P.: Were you on the air at KNAC?
Stew: Yeah, I was. They put a guy named Gonzo Craig on mornings, and they basically signed me up to assist him as the morning show producer. It was called producing, but I was really just slapping his bits together. We'd come up with ideas, song parodies, bogus phone calls, and silly morning show stuff. At some point, I did a promo because there was nobody there to do it, or I thought I could do a better job than what I'd heard. Then the Program Director at the time, Pam Edwards, eventually had me doing the creative stuff, too. So I was Gonzo's sidekick and did promos and image liners. I was burning the candle at both ends. I would work sixteen-hour days, eighteen-hour days for three, four days a week.
R.A.P.: You mentioned song parodies. Did you play in any bands?
Stew: Yeah, I played in bands throughout college, but I started learning about parodies especially from Gonzo. He taught me how to take out vocals. You couldn't always do it, but if you had a center channel vocal that was pretty dry, you could take it out. I watched him put together one that he did to the tune of Guns and Roses Welcome to the Jungle. His was called "Welcome to McDonald’s," and it was the most hilarious thing I'd ever heard. And it was just a mystery to me how he put it together. Eventually he told me what he did. He summed the buss and made the whole thing mono. Then you just take a channel and flip the phase, and whatever is in the middle goes away. So we did stuff with White Zombie, and I also put some stuff together from scratch. Those were daylong projects where you call in other musicians. We didn't even have microphones that you could set up on the floor. We’d stretch the boom, which was mounted on top of the console, as far as we could, and I'd have a drum kit right up to the edge of the board. The mikes were just kind of in the vicinity of the kit. It was a challenge, but we made it work.
After about a year, Pam decided she wanted me in production full time, and as it turned out, she also wanted to get rid of Gonz. So about a month or two after she put me in production, she got rid of him. Then she had me doing weekends. So I was still getting some air time which I really, really dug and I miss today.
R.A.P.: That’s quite an accomplishment, to become a Production Director in Los Angeles almost right out of college.
Stew: Icouldn't believe it. I was twenty-one or twenty-two. She offered me the job, and I just stood there stammering for a couple of minutes because this was all way above me. And I don't think I really got out an answer before she said, "Well, if you don't want to do it, I'll just get somebody else to do it. But I'm offering you the job first.” I was wigging out.
R.A.P.: What was it like working for KNAC?
Stew: Well, KNAC had a little signal problem. It was a really dinky signal. But KNAC was like this thing. Unless you were there, it's somewhat tough to explain. Working at KNAC was like being in a rock band because the type of music we played, nobody else was playing. We had this niche carved out, and nobody could get into it for awhile. Pirate Radio came along a few years later and tried to get in on it, but there's no substitute for being first, I suppose. We had that niche cornered, and the fans of that music will just die for you. We would go out on a stage and introduce a band, and when you'd get on a microphone and say who you were and where you were from, people would go nuts. It was hilarious. We had the whole city covered in bumper stickers. When you opened any of the rock magazines, the bands were wearing our clothes. When any of the bands came to town, it was our show. Everything was KNAC. It was really something else. But because of the signal and because it was such a niche format, it never got higher than a 1.6, I think. We peaked out in '89. It would have been interesting to see what it would have done with full coverage, but you couldn't get it in the Valley. You couldn't get it in a lot of LA. It was mainly an Orange County station. We were strong in Orange County.
R.A.P.: Well that had to be an education in radio production. What did you learn about being a Production Director there? Were your duties just on the imaging side or did you also handle the commercials?
Stew: I did everything. Sometimes I'd have a little help from interns. We did a lot of spec spots. I did dubbing, labeling, all of that. I was really buzzed on doing it, and I don't know that it was what I set out to do. But once I got it under me, I was thrilled to be doing it, absolutely. You learn so much from so many different places. I'm maybe not so great at articulating all those things I've learned, but I would read Radio And Production magazine, listen to the tapes and read all the articles and just pore through the thing--Dennis Daniel and John Pellegrini, everyone who would write stuff. And I’d pick up a little here and a little there, all the tips they'd have about how the writing is really the essential nut of the whole production process. Without good writing, you're just playing with lasers, noises, and stuff.
R.A.P.: You mentioned in a previous conversation something about doing radio's first live on-air bungy jump at KNAC. How did that go?
Stew: It was a Friday the thirteenth, June 13, 1990. At the time, I was involved with the morning show, and Mark and Bryan at KLOS were just everywhere. Everyone was talking about them. They're on the cover of every magazine everywhere, so you would get to work and it's like, "Oh, did you hear what Mark and Bryan did this morning?" They were just doing these just mindless stunts. So Gonzo and I wanted to do something crazy, but we didn't have any funds. I mean, you're talking about ABC with the number one morning show, and we're KNAC. We're owned by Fred Sands, who was seriously struggling in real estate in LA at the time. So, I came up with the idea of a bungy jump off a bridge and started putting the whole thing together. I think our Program Director and Promotions Director just thought I was nuts and would never be able to do this, so no one really tried to stop me.
I got in touch with a guy who did jumping. I called around and got a permit from CalTrans and from the Long Beach Harbor Authority, the San Pedro Harbor Authority, and before I knew it, this thing was turning into a reality. So we had a stunt, but there was no reason for it. Then the day before, on the radio, we had the bungy guy call up and say, "I'll bet you won’t do this on Friday, the thirteenth!” So we flip a coin in the studio and suddenly there's a reason for Stew to go bungy jumping. It was totally stupid, but it was something to do. And we figured out a way to get it on the air. As it turned out, Mark and Bryan had the day off, so it was a super hot day. There was nothing going on in the news that day either, so we had coverage from Channel Four and Channel Two. We made newspaper headlines that day, which isn't a big deal until you consider this is Los Angeles and some moron jumping off a bridge attached to a bungy isn't exactly news, but it was that day.
R.A.P.: For those of us who’ve never done it, what's it like?
Stew: It's like committing suicide, I imagine; I don't know. I'll never forget the feeling of standing at the edge of that bridge. We did it from underneath the bridge. They have this bungy rigged up, secured to the bridge. It just hangs way, way, way, way down then it makes a U-turn and comes back up and connects to a chest harness that I'm wearing. I have a wireless mike on, and the rest of the broadcast is originating down at one of the shores on the San Pedro side. My Program Director is out there with me, and so is the fellow from the bungy jumping company. Then I finally work out to the edge of the bridge and look down. It's two hundred feet down! Right about that time, we hear from the Coast Guard. They're pissed off because they're not in on the loop. We didn't know that we were supposed to contact the Coast Guard, and they say that if I touch the water, I've ventured into their jurisdiction and I'll be arrested immediately. I'm laughing. I’m saying, “You're gonna have to slap the cuffs on real quick because I'm not really hanging around.” I didn't hit the water, but as I'm looking out over the edge I'm thinking, "No, I'm not doing this." I really didn't have time to get the thought out of my mouth. They're counting me down, “five, four, three, two, one.” God, it's so tough to articulate what it feels like. It's like nothing else. When you jump out of a plane, you can't really distinguish anything that's on the ground. It looks like a map.
R.A.P.: Have you jumped from a plane, too?
R.A.P.: Did you do that some time before the bungy jump?
Stew: No, I'd never done anything like this before the bungy. The bungy gave me balls to do all this other nonsense. That sensation you feel when you're on a roller coaster and you get to the top of the hill, then you pick up speed, that loss of inertia…it's like that times ten. And you really feel like you're just throwing your life away. The bungy gets all the way down, then it recoils. All anyone on the radio hears is just me screaming at the top of my lungs holy murder. You can also hear the crowd in the background. They're cheering me on. We had our listeners come down and fed them donuts and whatever. They didn't need a reason at KNAC. If you said you were going to be somewhere just sitting on the street, people would come out of the woodwork to watch. It was a wild experience. It was definitely my fifteen seconds.
R.A.P: How did the gig at KLOS come about?
Stew: The guy who quit KNAC and eventually wound up making the opening for me to get in at KNAC went to work at KLOS. Then he left KLOS, maintained a relationship with Carey Curelop over there, and wound up coming back to KNAC. One day he walks into the room and says, "Stew, you gotta call Carey Curelop because you're the man for the job. You've got to take this job if it's offered to you, and it will be.” He was so confident that I was going to get this job, and I was thinking, "You're out of your mind.” I never really thought that I was KLOS material. And it was not that the production they did was anything I couldn't do; they were kind of bare bones about everything before I got here. There was not much image production at all, and what there was, was usually just a swoosh and a standard ID statement, something like "The best rock of the sixties, seventies and eighties--boom--KLOS,” and that was it. So I placed a call and sent over a tape. He called me back and asked me to put a tape together using KLOS stuff instead of KNAC. I originated two or three little pieces for that, and the next thing I know he's offering me a job. He tripled my pay, put me in AFTRA, gave me a five-year contract at the end of which would be like quadrupling my pay, and I was just dumbfounded. So I left KNAC in June of '94 and came to KLOS. I don't think it was six months later when KNAC announced that it had been sold and was going Spanish. So, as it turned out, it wasn't such a bad move. I persuaded Carey to bring a couple more people over from KNAC, and we set up camp here for awhile.
R.A.P.: It’s sounds like you've never really had a taste of merger madness. You’re a “one station guy!”
Stew: I really haven't had a taste of that. I read all about these fellows who are doing work for three, four, five stations, and I'm in awe. I've done some work for other stations, but it hasn't ever been assigned to me as part of my duties. I kind of take it as it comes. I've done a bunch of imaging stuff for Scott Shannon, Scott and Todd's morning show at ‘PLJ, and I was doing some stuff for Y100 in Philadelphia. I did some stuff for The Edge in Minneapolis, but now I'm just doing voice work for another station in Minneapolis, which is basically what The Edge turned into. It's called The Zone now. And in Philadelphia, I'm no longer at Y100; I'm helping out at MAX 95.7.
Being at KLOS affords you the opportunity to be heard by a great many people, and it's really worked out well so far. I just narrated my first movie trailer, which will be coming out real soon, a new Paramount movie called "Dead Man on Campus," and I'm super buzzed about that.
R.A.P.: What's an average person going to make doing a little movie trailer like that?
Stew: Well, it depends on how many sessions and rewrites there are. I mean, you can make as little as five hundred bucks or, if you're someone like Don LaFontaine, I don't think he reads for less than five grand. I'm just guessing, but I know it isn't cheap. He doesn't even come over unless there's going to be four figures going into his pocket later. LaFontaine is just the god of voice-over talent. He's the one everyone's heard of, and I suppose he's the one everyone would like to trade places with.
R.A.P.: You're doing a lot of voice work, but it doesn't sound like you really went out to pursue that in the beginning.
Stew: No, I really didn't intend to pursue it. I think the first thing that came around was when Carey put me in touch with Scott Shannon. And Scott was consulting Y100, so Scott hooked me up with them. Suddenly I'm doing voice work in Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia, and I'm like, “What!”
I haven't really gone out and solicited too much. I finally put a tape together to send to E! Entertainment. I wound up getting an audition out of it. I didn't get a job, but they said they liked my voice and thought I sounded “E!” and if there were something in the future I'd hear about it. Fair enough, I figure, since I wasn't really all out to get this job in the first place. I feel like I'm very fortunate that way.
R.A.P.: You’ve brought many skills together at the same time, your vocal skills, your production skills, and your writing skills. How did you develop the writing skills?
Stew: I think a lot of it was really wanting to be as good as those people I heard. When I go back and listen to the old stuff, I'm horrified, but I'm sure everybody has a similar experience when you're just starting out. You don't have it yet, so you listen to the people who do. For me, that was Ron Russ, who was our engineer back at KNAC. He won awards every time he submitted anything, and it wasn't because the production was outrageous, because it wasn't. It was because he could write a really clever spot with characters that moved.
R.A.P.: He was the engineer?
Stew: Yeah, it was pretty ironic. Our Chief Engineer, our only engineer at KNAC, was also the guy who did the best production. They used him a whole lot before I got there. I got to work with him on a couple of things. I think I took part in one award-winning spot. We did a parody of an old Tom Bodett commercial for Motel Six, and we called it Motel Sex. “We'll leave the red light on for you.”
But it was Ron, and more than anyone else, it was John Frost. To be doing production in the same city with John Frost is maddening. I really think that just about everybody, whether they realize it or not, emulates John Frost in some way. It may not even be first hand. It may be second or third hand. He is so good at doing what he does, and he's really been inspirational to me, all the way back at KNAC. At some point we were just doing the same old announcer stuff, just giving the facts with some kind of smart aleck remark at the end about how bitching we thought KNAC was. At some point along the way, I started realizing that really sounded dumb, and I was hearing this cartoon-like madness going on down the dial. We were head-banging then, and they were more into the Depeche Mode and Cure thing. So we didn't sound similar, formatically, but I could tell that with what he was doing with the production, it didn't matter. It crossed all boundaries. What's fun is fun, and it doesn't matter what's in between. I mean, I listen to KROQ just for the production. I listen to it for John Frost.
He really was, and still is today, a mentor of mine. And there are so many people today who have learned the lesson he learned early on, that it's about characters, and it's about having fun and putting together something on the air that the audience can really sink their teeth into and get a laugh out of, and at the same time they know what you're doing.
R.A.P.: You must have a Program Director who gives you quite a bit of freedom.
Stew: Actually, the guy I'm working for now, John Duncan, is the most challenging guy I think I've worked for. I've always been used to having totally free rein, and he is a little different. He wants to see what I'm doing first. And I'm not voicing everything anymore. I would do the narration parts in the past, but now we're sending them out to a guy named Steve Cassidy. What’s happening is I wind up producing everything twice, once with my voice, then again with Steve’s tracks when we get them. This happens because of the way I write with my assistant, Mark Mendoza. In the past, what we've done is outline a sketch of who's saying what and where the general concept of the thing was going to go. Then we would kind of write as we went along. We'd know the first few lines, so we'd start producing that. Even that was a kind of formula, but as soon as we lay down the characters on the 8-track from the script we had five minutes ago, it would change. Mark or myself would think of something. “Hey, how would character X react to this situation? What would he say?” “Oh, he'd say this,” or “He'd do that.” So we'd record that, and as soon as I'd hit the stop button, one of us has thought of something funnier or weirder.
Getting locked into a script is something I've got to grow back into. I always used to write a script at KNAC, and what I wrote was what we produced. But doing this by the seat of your pants really results in some great stuff. I have to find a way to bring them both together.
I'll write a script and get it approved from John. Then I'll fax it out to Steve. The parts that Steve is doing are still just the narrator parts, the announcer voice. So, we produce the whole thing once with me doing the announcer parts just so it's there and we can work off of it. We'll have fun with the script and produce the thing in its entirety. Then when FedEx gets in the next morning, I'll just take Steve’s parts and replace mine with his. So I have versions of everything with me doing the announcing, and I have versions of everything with Steve Cassidy doing the announcing.
R.A.P.: You're talking about a basic structure of a promo here, where you have several characters or a couple of characters doing their parts with an announcer involved in there somewhere, right?
Stew: Yeah. Generally, the announcer will set up whatever weird situation is going on. That'll play out, and then somewhere in the middle he’ll give the details of whatever it is we're actually doing, giving away a motorcycle or a trip or a party. Then, he'll go down and close it out. I'd say that formula probably works out about half of the time, maybe a little bit better than half the time. But once I see myself using the same old plan, I want to get away from that. As long as it's working, that's fine. But after a while, I feel like I'm stagnating if I'm doing the same thing too often.
R.A.P.: What is Mark’s title?
Stew: Mark would be production assistant, I guess. Mark is the guy who comes in around two and starts knocking out dubs. Usually, I'll let him know what idea I'm working on promo-wise, and he may sit down with me immediately if he has a good idea. Or I may drag him in and ask him to come and play with me for a few minutes. Or I may just wait until the end of the day, once the office goes home and the telephone stops ringing, so we can actually get some work done. It's tough when the phone is ringing and my door is swinging open all day long with people wanting this and that. I'm still pretty involved with sales, and there are meetings I've got to go to.
R.A.P.: You're handling the commercials as well as the promos and IDs?
Stew: Yeah. Mark does the dubs and tags. If there's a commercial that needs to originate from scratch, then I'll more than likely be the one to do that.
R.A.P.: Are you writing the commercials as well?
Stew: No. Most of the stuff that comes in is dubs, so we don't have any copywriters on staff. Sales winds up writing some of their commercials when they need to, and I'll do a fair amount of rewrites on their stuff just to make them flow better. It's a constant battle to keep telephone numbers out of commercials. That's one concept they never seem to grasp. The client always wants their telephone number in there. I would love to get into a situation where I could go out on sales calls and get to know the clients and really help them out and get some good spots going for them. But the truth is that ninety-percent, maybe ninety-five percent of everything is dubbed.
R.A.P.: Would you say KROQ is your main competition?
Stew: They were at one time the first couple of years I was here. Then we brought the guys over from KNAC, and we definitely added a harder edge and tried to get out on the street a lot more. It's virtually impossible to go up against KROQ, and they found that out after a few ugly books. Actually, we had a super killer Spring of '95 when we spiked hard, like up to a 4.5, which was like a point and a half jump. But it started trickling back down. It got to a point where they felt they had to make some changes, so they started tweaking the music here and there. Soon, we decided to drop the active bands altogether and went with a hard-edged classic rock type format. That didn't last but maybe three or four months. Our General Manager retired, and the new one got rid of my old PD and brought in a new fellow a couple of months later. During that time, they switched the whole format around and started playing more of that heritage stuff that we had success with so long ago.
So, it's not the same station I was brought in to produce for, but it's a different challenge with every incarnation. I came from KNAC where we were all about rocking real hard and being on top of everything that was new--very in the street, very young with attitude. Cool, I can deal with that. That's my lifestyle. This, now, is skewing older. They wanted it a little more female, at least at first they did. And now it's like a classic heritage rocker, which means almost no new bands. There are some in there, but the ones we are playing are a little mellower. Take the New Fleetwood Mac; boom, we're on that. No one else in town is. So that's where we're carving our niche now, and it's a different animal in a lot of ways.
R.A.P.: How has the style of the imaging production changed?
Stew: The production isn't so in your face, but I still try to take it up to as far an aggressive edge as I can and still remain true to the audience and the feel they're trying to get across. But at the same time, I try to keep it fun and hopefully unpredictable. The unpredictably, to me, is really important with a radio station. Once it's predictable, you know what they're going to do next, what they're going to say next, what they're going to play next, and I think that's when you're going to start losing. If you listen to the radio station because you don't know what they're going to do next, that's where it's at. You just can't turn away. I want to create a memorable promo, one that's going to make someone wonder what the hell we're on over here.
R.A.P.: Where do your ideas come from? Is it always a brainstorming session between you and Mark?
Stew: Most times it is. Many times I'll come up with something on my own. Not everything that we put together is something crazy and wacky. Actually, I don't think I've ever come up with a truly original idea of my own. I mean, you take something else that you've heard and give it your own spin, and it's different enough that it sounds like an original idea. But really, you and whomever you stole it from probably know that it isn't.
R.A.P.: Well, the object is to get the listeners' attention and amuse them, right?
Stew: Yeah. We just start out trying to amuse ourselves really. I figure whatever cracks me and Mark up will hopefully crack somebody else up. I don't know if that always works, because we laugh easy.
R.A.P.: Are there any guidelines that you use when you sit down to brainstorm on a promo, or is it pretty much just pushing the envelope to see where that leads you?
Stew: Well, Mark is the guy who will take it out to Venus. He'll go out of the stratosphere with what he's saying and what he's thinking. I'm the guy who has to kind of corral his brain and bring him back to earth and go, "Yeah, that's really funny, but remember, we're trying to get people to listen so they'll want tickets to the show." You have to remember what the point is in the first place, what it is you're trying to sell.
Mark didn't come along until a year and a half, maybe two years after I'd started here. I didn't know I needed him until I had him, and now I just love the guy. I know probably somewhere down the road he'll take a path, and I'll take a different path, unless the two of us decide to go into business together, which we've talked about. Wherever you go, I think you gravitate towards the people who are going to help you out, or you gravitate towards the people you just have a good time with and relate with. At KNAC, I had a couple of people I collaborated with. I have the most fun working with other people. And sometimes, whenever my name gets attached to the really good stuff, I feel kind of guilty taking all the credit for it because I didn't think of everything. Somebody else's voice may be on it in a character that was just perfect for that person, or they may have added a line here or come up with something there. Nobody does it completely by himself, but if you're the fellow who takes all those elements from everybody else and puts it together, you're the guy who gets the spotlight for a little while.
R.A.P.: Tell us about your production room?
Stew: It's killer. The studio I work in is huge. It's one of the biggest radio production studios you'll ever see. It’s well isolated. It's got a floating floor and no parallel walls anywhere, great sound baffling all over the place, sound baffles on the ceiling, on the walls. You could throw yourself into the wall here as hard as you want, and you won't hurt yourself at all. I think it was in '91 or '92 when they ripped down the old facility and Pacific Recorders was brought in to build this new place. Everything in here is Pacific Recorders. The console I work on is an ADX 34. It's a big recording console. I've got the Dawn ADX 8-track, which is just a dream. This thing is a Macintosh-based system, which was great because I already had a Macintosh at home, and it operates just like a tape deck. It's a killer machine--flying faders, the whole bit. I've got close to ten gigs of memory available on it, which is a curse and a blessing. When I only had the first drive, I just had 1.3 gigs of available space, which forces you to archive and optimize constantly. Well, when you have ten gigs, you can afford not to purge anything from the system for months. Then one day all you've got left is a couple of megs, and you've got a big project ahead of you purging the system, making sure you don't get rid of things that other files need to share. It gets a little complicated. I'm at that point right now where I need to purge in a big way.
I have a microphone that I bought myself, a Sound Deluxe UI-95 tube mike, and it's a beautiful microphone. I bought it myself because the station was going to be buying new mikes, but they had been talking about it for a couple of years. I thought, forget it. I'll buy a mike now, and at least I’ll know what I cut in this room will sound good. We had some old Shures, SM-5s or SM-7s that were in here, and they'd just had it. They're good mikes, but these mikes were really old. We have a killer Focusrite compressor, and for effects, I have a PCM-80 that I use almost exclusively just for reverb. And I have an Eventide H3000. It gets used for many different things. I'd die if I didn't have either of those items.
R.A.P.: Have you gone beyond the cart yet?
Stew: We are still carting stuff here. We're supposed to go digital, but that's another one of those things that's always being talked about. It's hard to get a bead on just how close we are to going cartless here because it didn't seem like we were any closer to getting mikes when I bought mine. Then, about six weeks later, there are new mikes all over the place.
R.A.P.: What are you using for production libraries?
Stew: For sound effects, I use Hollywood Edge. They have some great stuff. There's the Premiere Edition and City Trax. I use Premiere Edition probably more than all the others combined, but you can never have too many. I don't really use a music library much because we don't really do that much in-house commercial production. I don't really have a day-to-day need for that. For promos, more often than not, they're band specific promos, so the music kind of dictates itself. And I use Joe Kelly's stuff. The AV Deli/Chateau Brazil libraries are just killer.
R.A.P.: One advantage to working in a format like KLOS’s is that you have access to a huge library of oldies to work with on image promos and such. Do you find yourself digging through the music library a lot?
Stew: Yes. In fact, when you called me, I was sitting here with this big stack of CDs. My boss has a list of songs that he wants in music montages. Rather than just do the normal music montage that I've heard forever on other stations where songs just segue into each other, I like to do something else. I like to beat match them together or something else interesting. Since I don't have the software that does that, I use a hand-held metronome. I'm sitting here measuring the tempo of songs like Peaceful Easy Feeling from The Eagles and the Beatles’ music, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Doobie Brothers, stuff like that. Not all of it lends itself to a special mix, but I always try it at first. And John seems to like the way they sound on the air. They sound sharp, and they breathe new life into the old music.
I've really come to have a new appreciation for the old Beatles music because of the way it was produced. You can take a bunch of Beatles songs and just mono out the left or right channel, and you've got a great drum loop totally in the clear. And you can loop that around a hundred times, and then find the other songs that are in the neighborhood and slap them over the Beatles. It puts a lot of fun into music that might otherwise sound dull.
When I started hearing beat matching going on and drum loops and so forth, I never heard anybody doing it with old music. Everybody is doing it with the newer bands, and that's what I really started getting into. When I found we were going to be classic rock, I was pretty bummed out about it at first because I thought, “Well, I can't do that anymore.” That's the rule. You don't do with a new music format what you do with a classic rock format. The audience is too grown up for that or whatever. I don't know what the thinking is, but that was sort of the unspoken thing that I'd had stuck in my head. Then, at some point, I thought, “Why the hell not?” What sounds good sounds good, I think. So I started experimenting with it, and I found out you can do anything. You can match new with old, and anything you can do is fair game.
R.A.P.: Would you say you are able to incorporate these musical techniques into your promos mainly because of your musical background?
Stew: I guess I had a little intuition about these things, maybe just because of the musical background, but it's not anything so profound that anyone with a sense of rhythm couldn’t figure out on their own.
R.A.P.: Have you used your musical skills to produce music beds from scratch on the keyboard or with other instruments?
Stew: Yeah, I've done some musical pieces for the Mark and Bryan Show, and I've done a lot of a cappella singing. But it's all hack stuff. I mean, it's funny sounding to me. I don't necessarily think it's all that good, but it fits the bill. And I guess you can get away with being corny because it's the morning show, and it's the radio. I've put some song parodies together in here, and those are almost always completely from scratch.
I also like to take bizarre old records and do stuff with them. I use a lot of vi nyl in my production here--old, weird stuff, sound tracks from the fifties. There's an old series of records that Capital put out a long time ago for ABC called Media Music, and they are the corniest music beds you've ever heard in your life. It’s like stuff straight out of The Brady Bunch, like the music they would have used for a scene where Marcia is listening to music in her AMC Pacer. It's really horrible. So I'll take that and sing a jingle along to it, make up some melody and sing along. That's when I think I have the most fun
R.A.P.: Do you have any plans for the immediate future?
Stew: Well, I would love to see the radio station really shine and come back and kick ass. That to me is the fun of radio, when you're part of a winning team. Back at KNAC, we had this whole thing where everybody hung out together. Promotions, station events, everybody came out to them, and we got to know listeners on a first-name basis. Even though we weren't number one in Arbitron, we were having a blast. And I still do, but that type of community and a bond with everybody at the radio station is a really special thing. I guess I'm learning that maybe it's not as common as you would think. A lot of people just come in and do their thing. What's the saying? Do your four and out the door? You get some of that here. But folks here are a little older, too, so in a way, they've done all that. They have wives, family, and other outside interests, and I appreciate that. But if you can come to work every day and have a really good time at some aspect of your job, it’s great.
There’s always going to be something that you wish was different, but I love this job. Even on the days when I'm ripping my hair out and thinking that I hate it, I know that I still love it. When we put a good promo together, we get such a big thrill out of it, even still. That's why I do this, because it's fun. And that's why I got into radio. I found out it was fun. I don't remember the last time I brought a band out on stage or when we had a really wild club night, but we still get a real big kick out of putting together a really fun production and playing it, sharing it with each other. The money's not bad either.
R.A.P.: You’re a great inspiration for those starting out, having accomplished so much so quickly. What advice would you give to those wanting to pave their road to the major markets?
Stew: The first thing I'd say is don't be afraid to try something new. It sounds kind of cliché, but it true. And the flip side of that is don't be afraid to try something old, because when you do something old, something you know has been done before, you're going to find a way to make it different, and that's when it starts sounding like something new. So when you're stuck for an idea, just do anything. Start that tape rolling and just start with a noise.
Also, I think you have to have fun and you have to be able to mesh with other people. That's really what will keep you afloat just as much as technical ability. You've got to be able to have fun at what you're doing, because if you start not having fun, if you can't tweak with your own brain to make yourself think you're having fun…well, there's no sense in being miserable at what you're doing. We've all had those days, but if you're having fun, I think that rubs off on others. And then you'll be one of those people other people want to have around.