By Dennis Daniel
All my creative life, I've had the extreme good luck of being surrounded by people who inspired me to push the envelope, Program Directors like WBAB's Bob Buchmann and Jacob Media's Tom Calderone. Guys who said, "Come up with something. I trust you.” Guys who pushed originality in their staff. This is the first level of attack when it comes to creative! You must have the backing of people who are willing to trust your instincts. Of course, in order to trust those instincts you have to have those instincts! This article is about how to find them.
It is indeed the eternal question, “Where do ideas come from?” For this question, I have the eternal answer. "Everywhere!” To find creative inspiration, all one has to do is listen to the language of life. Trouble is, many of the people working in radio programming and production today are deaf.
Ironic, huh? Don't believe me? Think I'm a pompous asswipe?
All you have to do is hop in your car and drive across this great country of ours with the radio on. Keep flippin' around those channels, baby. Know what you'll hear? The same old crap! Production by the numbers. It's either boring straight reads with beds, or rip-offs of rip-offs! Seems like almost everyone out there is either sound asleep or wants to be Keith Eubanks or John Frost. Hey, I LOVE THOSE GUYS! I love them because they're originals! They found their niche and created a very distinct style of production. But damn it, the world of radio is a very wide and wonderful creative chestnut filled with innumerable stylistic possibilities! Why must it all sound the same? Just because you now have a digital workstation doesn't mean you have to start doing a million tight edits featuring equalized voices, movie drops, bleeps, and static! Yeah, it sounds cool, but it's not the whole enchilada by a long shot.
I know how it goes. I've been there. The production guy is called in to the Program Director's office. He/she just received montage airchecks from a variety of stations with the same format from across the country. They sit there and listen to the drops, promos, sweeps, and jock breaks. The best of the best all neatly sliced together. Very impressive.
"Know what we need to do?" says our programming-type person.
"What?" replies our production-type person.
"Sound like those guys! That's what!"
And so, the disease spreads. Pretty soon, it all sounds the same, like a giant cookie cutter of the airwaves slicing the same old sounds from format to format, state to state! KA-CHOONG! KA-CHOONG! KA-CHOONG!
Can we...can we just all...stop the madness?
I believe the problem lies in a lack of knowledge as to where all this stuff originally comes from. By "stuff" I mean all that's gone before in radio. In order to have a wide appreciation we all must do a little homework! There is much to be learned from our radio forefathers. Things like pace, timing, performance, subject matter. The ear candy of your station should not be just a bunch of bleeps, static, and drops. A lot of voices, lots of styles of promos (like well written little quick sketches), and lots of well produced in-house commercials. These are the things that help get that TSL up! BE AWARE OF YOUR DEMOS! Take the Progressive, Alternative, and AOR formats, for example. When you're speaking to the 18 to 54 demo, the sky is truly the limit! What a wonderful gap of time to play with! The cultural junkyard that resides within the minds of that demo is never ending! Tap into that puppy! Look back over the last fifty years and see what we've all been into! Jeez, just one look at the movies being produced today will show you what Hollywood is stirring up in the memory pool! Remakes of Godzilla and Lost in Space! (I was doing Godzilla parody promos ten years ago!) Look at the retro world that can be found on Nick At Night, TV Land, and Cartoon Network. Even cartoons like Dexter's Laboratory hearken back to Bullwinkle and Hanna Barbera stuff. (George Of The Jungle was a successful live action version of the Jay Ward style of animation and narration.) Now, I'm not saying to rip off these shows, per se. But finding the way to tap into what they represent within the consciousness of your demo audience is what will make them stay with you when the songs end.
Zero in on the culture! BE THE CULTURE! Go out to the malls, restaurants, fast food joints, clubs, bars, and supermarkets. Listen to the way people in the 18 to 45 demo talk! Listen to the subject matter that interests them. Suck it in and spew it out! Don't wait for someone to tell you what to create for him or her based on someone else's shtick. Damn it, get up off your butt and go out there and LISTEN TO PEOPLE. What books are on the New York Times bestseller list? What films are in the top ten for the last twenty years? Go to your local bookstore or library or CD store and listen to the radio and album work of people like Orson Welles, Ernie Kovacs, George Carlin, Robert Klien, Garrison Keillor, Bob and Ray, Jack Benny, Stan Freberg, Cheech and Chong, Monty Python, Jerky Boys, and Adam Sandler. Marvel at the impeccable timing and brilliance of people like The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope. Read the work of some of our greatest writers and thinkers! Everyone from Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe and Dorothy Parker to John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and William S. Burroughs. You don't have to rip them off, believe me! Just finding their point of view is all it takes to send you off on your way. These are the giants! These are the ones who will live in infamy. What teachers to learn from!
Get into the history of the world! There is a bottomless well to draw from. I've done parodies on FDR, JFK, Nazis, The Hindenburg, D-Day, Reagan, Clinton! I've made fun of the things in my youth like those horrifying driver's ed films, getting beat up on the playground by the dumpster, not being picked for sports teams, my first date, and on and on.
A virtual gold mine of ideas awaits you! These are the things your target demo will get! THEY'VE BEEN THERE! All it takes is the idea. You can plug anything into it! A station contest, ID, radio spot, it doesn't matter. The idea carries it through.
Think, people, think! What good does it do you to just rip off the sound of some other station? What good does it do you to just do the mediocre work? Once you establish a creative beachhead, you'll be working for the rest of your life! Let them imitate you!
After more than twenty years behind the mike, I'm still blown away by the wonder and majesty of it all! We create worlds with sound! We place audio images that create visual pictures into the minds of man. This is an amazing way to make a living! It's a form of power that is mind boggling in its beauty! Don't take it for granted! Don't blow it on mediocrity!
I often thank God for allowing me to be born in the year 1960. In my last thirty-eight years on the planet, I've been able to absorb all aspects of the culture. I love everything from Charlie Chaplin to James Cameron. I can appreciate things people ten years younger than me won't even understand. I know what it's like to stay up until three a.m. because Channel 2 is running A Hard Day's Night. Now, I have over 1000 movie laserdiscs filled with creative inspirations that will take me way into my old age. I have a deep and abiding love for the medium that I work in. It's things like these that keep the creative juices flowing, which translates into a more pleasurable, fun listening experience for my audience. That's why I'm here.
It's why you should be here, too.