This month’s question aims to determine how many people it takes to handle the production at a radio station or group of stations in this day of multiple station ownership. We will publish responses to this month’s Q It Up in two parts with part 2 next month.
Q It Up: How many stations does your production department work for? How many full-time people are handling this production, and how many part-time people (if any, including jocks) also help? Do you feel your department is staffed adequately for the workload? If not, how many more people do you feel you need on staff? Please add any comments you may have.
Danny Bishop, KKDM-FM, Des Moines, Iowa: I’m happy to say that we’re still a mom and pop shop with only one station. In a top 100 market, I understand that’s becoming rare. So, I’m answering the questions for your stats only. How many stations does your production department work for? One. How many full-time people are handling this production? Four. How many part-time people (if any, including jocks) also help? One. Do you feel your department is staffed adequately for the workload? Yes.
Paul Kinsman, Production Director, OZ-FM Network, St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada: Here at OZ FM, there are 12 salespeople selling both radio and television (our sister company, NTV, is in the same building), two Program Directors (FM and TV), and five writers pecking furiously at their keyboards. I am the ONLY audio producer in the building producing commercials and promos for radio, imaging for radio and TV, audio for TV ads, audio for TV “daily lineups” promos, TV show promos, daily voice-overs that run over closing credits on TV shows, recording clients who want to be the stars of their own ads, and various other feature bits for our morning show. Sometimes I can get a jock to read a script, but most of the time I get, “can’t read for you; I’m busy.” So I end up reading most of the stuff myself. When the boss hears a spot cluster of 5 ads and I’m on 4 of them, I get a call telling me to get more of the announcers on stuff, but that lasts about 2 days. Do I need help? What do you think? Do I sound bitter? I’m really not.
Dave Hilton, Production Director, 97.5 KLAKE/93.1 KMKT, Denison, TX: I am in charge of a Production Department for 2 stations (an AC and a Country). I have 6 voices including mine and the jocks to work with. I am the only Production person and have to do all the copy writing and producing. The only thing the jocks have to do is voice some of the commercials. In my opinion, I need another person to help with all the dubbing we have to do. That way I can spend more time on the creative side and write effective commercials instead of commercials with just a voice over music.
Craig Jackman, CHEZ Inc. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: CHEZ-FM Inc. is a 3 station group. The following comments apply to the current situation only. As we are waiting CTRC approval for the sale of the company to Rogers Communications Inc., everything might change in the next few months.
CHEZ-FM Inc. has 2 locations: Ottawa for CHEZ-FM, and Smiths Falls for CFMO-FM and CJET. The Ottawa location has 2 studios with 2 full-time producers. The jocks do not do any production save for voicing spots. The exception is the Morning Show, which has its own separate producer who does the most of the imaging for the show. The CHEZ producers contribute “bits” to the show on a regular basis. There used to be a part-time production position but it was downsized. One producer at CHEZ handles most of the commercials and most of the Morning Show bits, the other handles all the promo/image stuff plus the remainder of the commercials and Morning Show. We are quite satisfied that this is adequate for the workload.
Smiths Falls has one studio and one full-time producer who has some limited part-time help. Any overflow from Smiths Falls is sent to the Imaging producer at CHEZ who also does some of the imaging for CFMO-FM. This arrangement is just adequate. Note also that CHEZ has 2 full-time writers, as does CFMO-FM/CJET. Both locations write for the other, depending on client and sales requests. CHEZ has one part-time writer whose position is under review.
Thadd McNamara, Production Director, KUIC-FM, Vacaville, CA: What a great question! And it looks like this is one I’ll be spending some serious time on in the next few weeks because we are going through a change of ownership. So far, we know the new owners are looking to build a group of suburban stations (location, not format). I anticipate us becoming an LMA, but this time with a station that has a full staff and a high quality work ethic. So, I am looking forward to the new era.
Now to the question: I believe the size of the department needs to be flexible to accommodate the changes in work flow and needs of the clients. There should always be at least 2-3 producers to handle the day-to-day dubs and simple spots, preferably 1 that specializes in Imaging and 1 that specializes in Commercials, with a 3rd to maintain variety. We have a lot of local/regional accounts, and at times I call in outside talent to either just voice something or to handle the full production job. In the best of all worlds, having about 10 or more people available, at reasonable rates, gives your station enough ability to handle anything. That is assuming you have multiple production rooms that work! But don’t even get me started on that subject!
<stjames@rock104fm>;: Excellent question. I am the Production Director (really the only full-time person in production) for three FMs. I do most of the production whether or not it’s my voice. I can say that I have some of the most talented voices to work with however—Larry Blakeney, Bill Moffett, John Williard, John Pleise, and other outstanding people! Now back to the question: I think in this day when money is so important to keeping the station(s) going, only 1 person should be full-time per se, to make sure everything is done to its fullest. Therefore, no clients get pissed off and take there $$$ to some other medium of advertising. Yes, it calls for long hours but it’s right. We have about 6 other part-time voices as well as my best help (who does most of the dubs). Really, 1 more full-time person you could count on would be nice, but they are hard to find or already happily employed.
John Hammer, Production Director, WHZZ/WILS, Lansing, MI: I am the only one specifically targeted for production at our stations. I’ll pawn off dubs on jocks (3 of ‘em), but most of the writing and production is done by me, and that’s after I’m off the air. I’m also the co-host on our morning show. Our sister station in Saginaw, MI has a full-time production guy that I occasionally send scripts to, and that can help ease the load. Optimally, I’d like to see a full-time Production Director and then a jock as an assistant. For our 2 stations, that would work. Now, if only I could get sales to make some cash so we could hire someone.
John Pellegrini, WLS-AM, Chicago, IL: Here at ABC Radio Chicago (as Mickey’s calling us these days) we have separate production staff(s) for each station. WLS-AM is me, and Pam Murphey (my engineering assistant who handles dubs, in addition to other engineering department duties). At our only FM, WXCD, they have Ken Scott doing commercial production and Scott MacKay on imaging as well as several interns and others. We also have Nancy Turner doing voice work for both stations. We also have two new production people for our two new AMs, Brook Hunter, for Radio Disney, and J.P. O’Neil for ESPN AM 1000. Eventually, all four stations will be in our building, but for the time being, Radio Disney and ESPN AM 1000 are at other locations. We will be sharing voice-over duties on an “as needed” basis, but there are definitely separate staffs for each signal. And that is exactly how it should be.
I firmly believe you can tell the difference between the major players in radio’s future, from the losers and has-beens, by how they approach the production question. And by major players, I don’t necessarily mean major markets. The major players recognize that having 3, 4, 5, 6, or 20 radio stations in one market is great, but you can’t make any money without product. And the only product we sell is our production. One production person cannot handle more than one (maybe 2) radio station’s worth of production without their quality of work suffering, no matter how much you pay him or her. Any GM or Station Group Head who won’t consider hiring more production personnel for more signals is someone who’s not interested in succeeding. There is just no valid reason that could justify not doing so. The single biggest cause of listener loss outside of crappy programming, is crappy production. Even stations that have great ratings can still lose listeners during the commercial breaks. The real bottom line about profits is, if you don’t have any production worth selling, you won’t have any profits. Period.
Dave Foxx, Creative Services Director, Z100, New York: Ahh, the age old argument over the size of a production department. Different markets/stations, different needs. At Z100 we have two-and-a-half production people with a couple of guys who can fill in for vacations, ALL for one station. And yet, there are times when it’s still not enough. Between imaging, commercial work, research and sales presentations, some days we all feel like one-legged men in a butt kicking contest.
On the opposite extreme, when I worked for B-104 in Baltimore way back in the Steve Kingston days, we didn’t have ANY full-time production people. I was on the air and covered some production. Sean Hall did the AM news and covered some production. Willie B did afternoons, and...well, you get the idea. And frankly, the station sounded great!
I guess what it comes down to is: “How produced is the radio station?” If you’re running a ratio of 85% national spots and 15% local retail, the need for commercial production drops quite a bit. If you’re running a promo, one or two sweepers, and some jingles every hour, the load isn’t too bad. But flip around the national to local ratio and crank up to having SOME kind of produced element in nearly every break, and you’re cooked in no time.
Z100 is VERY produced, with a HIGH local to national ratio and an absolute TON of imaging elements going on all the time. Could we get by with less? No way. Do we really need more? Well, as much as I’d like to spend more time surfing the net, I’d honestly have to say no.
Mike Tuttle Strauss Media Group, Poughkeepsie, NY: My production department works for 9 stations: 4 AMs (3 News/Talk and 1 Standards) plus 5 FMs (a trimulcast Hot Country, 1 Hot AC, and 1 middle-of-the-road AC). I am the production department, being that I’m the only full-time production person operating out of the only full-time prod studio in the building. There are quite a few jocks though that help me in producing spots, doing dubs, etc..
I don’t feel that my prod staff is adequate for the workload, especially for this time of year and the amount of imaging that 9 stations require. I have voiced my concern to the owner, and he agreed that a part-timer would be of help to the prod department. The only catch is, it has to be someone that already works in the company that is willing to take the responsibility w/o the $$. That’s small market radio for you! So, it looks like we’ll eventually be adding a part-time prod studio in the second news studio which is used until about noon everyday (oh boy, think of the conflicts).
Luckily, I’m relatively fast at what I do, but not quite fast enough to keep up with every single detail a Prod Director needs to. My goal for the prod department is to have one other full-time producer that could handle the bulk of the spots while I handle the imaging and some spots, someone I could bounce ideas off of, and someone I could trust to do the job as good as I would.
Marc Pinieri, Assistant Production Director, WEOK Broadcasting Corp., Poughkeepsie, NY: By the way, I’m writing this in the studio between my 1PM client appointment and imaging an “A to Z” weekend. Yes, it’s safe to assume we could use another pair of hands, but couldn’t we all? Anyway, my production department services 3 full-time radio stations: WPDH (classic rock), WCZX (oldies), and WEOK (American Standards). Plus, I handle the image for WPDH with the help of Paul Turner Productions. All I can say is, “Thank God for interns!” Otherwise, my office would look like a fraternity house on pledge night. Kidding aside, our production office runs pretty smoothly. We have one other guy besides myself who holds the official title of “Production Dude,” plus a handful of about 6 full-time jocks float in after their air shifts to help us conquer the endless stream of agency dubs. Most of the time they will also have a spot to cut. We are very fortunate to have such a competent staff. Almost all our full-timers have a working knowledge of our digital production studio. Part-timers rarely do any production work, and if they do, it’s generally just a quick voice-over. Client sessions are always handled by my colleague or me. For now, our production department is staffed adequately, of course at times there are multiple fires to put out, and I threaten to give it all up and go back to school (but I’ve been saying that for years). One thing I wish we had was a full-time Continuity Director to handle general office work, write a few spots, and listen to the salespeople explain why they’re handing in a major concert spot at 6PM on the Friday before a long weekend. I know I will never solve this problem; I just like to bitch about it!!!
Jeff Wros, Quad Cities, IA/IL: Once I hear of a company that takes their Production Department seriously, I will attempt to gain employment there. As it is, I passed on my current employer’s opening as the job here has become a job for Data Entry Specialists. I am now a part-time board op with over six full-time years of experience as a Production Director. So, in answer to your question: a Production Department needs to be run like a corporation, devoid of creativity with both eyes clearly focused on the bottom line, pleasing every member of the sales department at all times if one wants to keep their job. Attempts at true creativity should be discouraged, as nobody will appreciate it. And, hey, who knows, if you “hang in there” long enough, by the time you’re 50, maybe you’ll qualify for a salary that approaches $30K a year! A Production Director is not a damned glorified DJ!