Steve Kelly, Bill Young Productions, Houston, Texas
If you love production, it’s still difficult to thread up a Bill Young Productions concert spot without cranking the monitors. You know you’re going to hear some great production, the kind that sends a chill or two up your spine. Steve Kelly has been part of the Bill Young team and sound for the past fifteen years. When Bill saw the need to expand his concert spot business, Steve Kelly came in with production skills and a voice that cloned Bill Young’s so closely, even regular clients could not tell the difference. Together, Bill and Steve have taken Bill Young Productions to another level, delivering entertainment spots by the thousands from seven state-of-the-art audio suites. And over the years, Bill Young Productions has expanded even further with departments delivering print, video, web design and maintenance, corporate services, and more, making Bill Young Productions the leading supplier of radio, television, print, and new media materials for the entertainment industry.
JV: Tell us a little about your background before joining Bill Young Productions.
Steve: Before Bill Young I was with Electra Records here in Houston. I spent three years with them. Before that I was in Little Rock at KAAY and KQ94. I had been in the record business prior to that and was really going to give up radio back in 1979. At that time, I was Production Director at KNUS in Dallas. David Flashman was also in Dallas with WEA. He was the regional rep for Atlantic Records. Vince Ferraci was the senior vice president of Atlantic and a friend of mine. I’d known him for years through radio contacts in Shreveport, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. So I called him and said, “Look, I think I want to get into the record business,” and he told me I needed to talk to the Flash in Dallas who was interviewing a lot of people. I called David, set up an appointment, and went over and talked to him. I think he interviewed like twenty-seven people for that job, and after about two months, I finally got it. So I went to New Orleans for a couple years with Atlantic, and that was a really good gig. I loved New Orleans. It’s a great place to be a record rep because you’re entertaining all the time, and that’s a city of entertainment.
Anyway, I’m not sure why I got back into radio. Multimedia, who owned KAAY, called me up and was just dying to get me to go up and take over the station. I guess it was in some disarray, and that was always kind of my forte in radio. I was good at going into disastrous projects and turning them around. We did the same thing at the old WYFI in Philadelphia in January ’73. That station was under John Tanaglia at the time. They had a walkout at the station with everybody leaving and basically shutting the station off and going black. When I got there, Tanaglia himself was on the air along with two or three other people, from part-timers to whomever he could find. I think he brought in a couple of people from other stations. So I walked into a pretty good mess, but we turned that station around real quick. George Burns was the consultant, and we came up with a format called the “Boogie Format” and really took the city by storm, even though we didn’t have a signal—we were really cracking some ice there. We later took the same format and went to Houston with it, KRBE, and it blew the doors open in Houston. We did the same thing at Z93 in Atlanta. All these were our parent company’s stations at the time—Z93 in Atlanta exploded, ‘GCL in Cleveland. It was one of the first Top 40 FMs in the country, and it was basically just a real high-powered Top 40 format—a limited play list, lots of promotion, lots of marketing, and everything was based around boogie. We had customized Volkswagen Beetles we gave away, and boogie book covers and boogie billboards and boogie this and boogie that, and it was a good promotion. It worked out real well.
From there I went to Cleveland in 1975. George Burns took over WIXY in Cleveland and we thought we could turn that station around. But again, they had a terrible signal. At night they were just non-existent. During the day it was okay, but nighttime was pretty bad. And there were a few stations in Cleveland at the time that were doing real well, so WIXY kind of lost its polish. We thought we’d be able to turn that thing in a year, but it just never happened. As a matter of fact, I’d been there like thirty days or something, and I was working late in the office one night. I turned on the news and there was a story about us being sold. It was an odd operation. We had no General Manager. We had a station manager who handled the sales end of things, and I was the Operations Manager and handled all the operations. We both reported directly to the president of Globetrotter Communications who owned the station. It was a strange alignment. Anyway, we were handed a real tough situation in Cleveland. I probably should have stayed in Philadelphia. I was there for three years.
JV: Were you a hands-on production guy during your programming years?
Steve: Everywhere. Back then, we had no Production Directors. Well, I do remember having one Production Director in Cleveland. It was the first time I’d ever had a legitimate Production Director, but he was basically just the engineer type guy. He was very union. Jocks were allowed to run their own boards, but they were not allowed to do their own production. They could do voice work only. It was a strange union setup, but that was the first time I had an actual Production Director. And I worked with him all the time. We were always staying late and doing promos and things. At ‘YFI in Philadelphia, there was no Production Director, and I would do everything myself. It’s not like today. You did nearly all your own stuff back then. You wrote it, produced it, recorded it, and voiced it.
Production was always something I really loved, from day one I guess, when I started in radio in the summer of ’65 at a little station in Clarksville, Texas called KCAR. We had one record/playback cart machine. And when you signed off the station at night, you did your production. You just threw a record on the turntable, slip cued it at the same time you hit the record button, started talking, and hoped it would all come out. If it didn’t, you’d just start all over again. No editing. You learned to how to do it quick and fast and not make a mistake.
JV: How did you come to join Bill Young?
Steve: When I first came to Houston with Electra, I was still enjoying doing production. I really had my hand in production all the time. I was doing some voice-over work for various stations. I was doing liners and stuff for Bob Mitchell at WTIX in New Orleans, and I wasn’t charging anything. Bob and I were pretty good friends, and I was a record rep and thought, “Hey, this is a good way to kind of help out the PD.” So when I left New Orleans and went over to Little Rock, I continued to do his stuff for a while. Again, I wasn’t charging, just doing it as a favor. Then, when I came to Houston with Electra, I moved into a house after about a year and put in a little studio upstairs. I walled it all up, sheet rocked it, put carpet on the walls, and did the whole number. It was a nice little studio, and I had a nice sound in there. I was doing a few clubs and things like that. But before I built the studio, I got a call from a girl in Detroit who had been with me at the station in Little Rock, and she was then with an agency in Detroit. She called and said, “Can you do this club spot for me?” I said, “Yeah, but I don’t have access to a studio. I’ll have to see if I can get into Bill Young’s studio.” Bill’s studio at that time was on West Park, which was just a few blocks from where the WEA office was. So I called him and said, “Look, can I get in over there?” And he said, “Sure, come on over.” So I went over and was doing the spot, and Bill came in and said, “That’s pretty good. Why don’t you come talk to me when you get through.” So I did. At that time he was operating his main studio, and he had one other studio he had a guy in.
JV: Did you know Bill very well at this point?
Steve: Only from telephone conversations and reputation. When I was in Buffalo at WYSL, and Bill was at KILT in Houston, I’d called him a couple of times to discuss some things about programming. I also had him critique a tape I had one time. I only knew him by reputation and a couple of conversations. We’d met a couple of times, but he probably didn’t remember.
JV: So how did the conversation with Bill go?
Steve: At that time he was looking to start a video department, and he asked if I’d be interested in coming over and working in video. I just looked at him and said, “I know absolutely zero about video production. I don’t think it’s right for me, and I don’t think it would be right for you. That’s not where my passion lies. But if you ever decide you need an audio guy, then I’m your man.” So about a year later I was buying some equipment here from one of the suppliers, and this sales guy I knew pretty well said “You know, Bill’s starting to expand over there. He’s going to build another studio.” I called him right away and said, “Look, I’ll come talk to you and play you some stuff I’ve done,” and he said “Sure, come on.” He listened to the tape and told me it was excellent and that he was looking for a guy who could manage a studio and help out with concert work. I said, “Sure, I’d love to give it a try.” So fifteen years later, I’m still here.
As it turned out, that “help with the concert work” became a major deal. At that time Bill was real concerned about the client base because he was the only guy who had ever done the concert spots. And in order to bring somebody else in, he had to have his clients sign off on me—the Beavers, the Paces, the Cellar Doors, Bill Graham, and all these companies he’d been working with. So he kind of let me build into things, and I started with some of the smaller market stuff.
Barry Leff at Beaver Productions in New Orleans was a good friend of mine. We’d known each other from the time I was over there in the record business, and I remember he really put in a good word for me when Bill was talking to me. Bill did a pretty extensive interview with me, and checked around for some character references. Barry was a big help, and to this day, I still give him a lot of credit for me being here.
So we got in with Beaver and Beaver liked it okay. Then we got in with Louie Messina at Pace, and I’d known Louie for a while through the same kind of thing—worked with him out of New Orleans when I was with Atlantic. So I was doing Beaver and Pace. Then we started growing. Bill got a call from the Bill Graham people, and he said, “Let me play you this guy’s tape and see what you think.” Again, they signed off on me. So one thing led to another, and I wound up doing an extensive amount of concert work with Bill, and the key at the time was to sound as much like Bill as I could. We really concentrated on doing that at first just so the sound would match up.
JV: Yes, I can remember back when Bill started to expand. You would listen to a spot and think, “Is that Bill’s voice?” You’d know something was different, but you weren’t really able to pinpoint it. I’ll bet this was around the same time you started doing concert spots.
Steve: I’m sure it was. You know, perception is ninety percent of the ball game. It is so hard to overcome perception in people’s minds. Even to this day people have this perception about Bill Young Productions. We’re supposed to sound this way. When we do something different, it’s like, “Hey, why did you do that?” “Well, we were trying to expand and grow and do something different for you guys.” Then the next phone call you get is, “We want something different.” And the minute you give them something different, they say, “That doesn’t sound like Bill Young.” It’s the old “I want you to do it exactly that way but different” routine.
So that’s always been a hard thing for us to overcome. Our best work is on what we’d call the cutting room floor if we were in the movie business. It’s stored back on some masters in the back room, stuff that was never approved because managers and agents have a certain sound they want in their mind, and it’s that Bill Young perception. It has to be this particular way. And so that’s what we wind up doing, going back and giving them the same old sound again.
It was always, “Bill has to do my spot. Bill’s always done my spots.” Well, there were a lot of times when Bill wasn’t here. So we had this demo tape that Bill and I had both done voices on, and we would just play it for the client and say, “Check this out. If you can tell the difference, then by all means you deserve to have whomever you want. But if you can’t tell the difference…. And I promise you, Steve Kelly can sound exactly like Bill and give you the same kind of work.” And so we’d play it for them, and they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That was the way we overcame the “only Bill can do my spot” thing. And to this day, we still do that somewhat, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.
You’ve heard people say, “Everybody on that station sounds the same.” There’s a certain sound that always kind of goes with a station. With our production company, just from people being around the day-to-day activities, listening to other people’s words, you start to imitate their dialect, their inflection, the way they sound, unintentionally. It just happens. And that’s a good thing. I always thought that was a very good thing. We’ve had a lot of comments in the past like, “Hey, you guys do everything. Every time we turn on the radio we hear one of your spots.” That’s not bad either because our voices have been associated with the concert business now for twenty years. And when they hear that spot, one of the things that goes along with it is that perception that it’s an entertainment spot. “That’s a concert spot. Turn it up!”
JV: Are there people other than you and Bill on the entertainment spots?
Steve: There are actually five of us.
JV: Are you all trying to achieve that same Bill Young/Steve Kelly sound?
Steve: No, not necessarily, because we do such a wide variety of entertainment spots now. It’s not just concerts. We do a tremendous amount of Broadway and all kinds of ice skating shows and theatrical shows; it runs the entire gamut of the entertainment business.
We’ve got five guys including myself. We’ve got Larry Whitt who came over from KRBE about five years ago. When Larry started out, he was just going to be an engineer type guy. But he has a lighter voice, which a lot of people like, especially with the alternative type of reads. I told him the other day that we were going to have to hire somebody to do his job because he’s getting so bogged down in doing exactly what I do and what all the other guys do, and that’s take a tour from the very beginning to the end where you’re talking on the phone with the manager or the agent or the artist, working it all the way through the whole procedure, and winding up voicing sixty or eighty or a hundred markets. Larry’s doing that on a bunch of tours. He did both the Woodstocks in the last five years. He’s widely accepted by a lot of people and does a lot of album spots.
There’s also Frank Scales who came from Austin where he was the Production Director at KLBJ. Frank has not only a very unique voice, but a voice that’s very similar to the guy out of New York that you hear doing a lot of the Broadway spots. We use Frank on a lot of the theatrical stuff, a lot of the softer things. He has a warm, very mature sounding richness to his voice. He’s not a good power reader, but he can read a smooth spot a lot better than I can. And Frank has an extensive background in music. He has a degree in music. We do a lot of custom music for theatrical, and Frank does the tracks on those as well as tracks for several of our big clients. We’ve set him up with all the equipment he needs, all the MIDI gear and everything. He’s got an incredible setup in his room.
And Frank has the gift of being the kind of guy who does music but also understands production from the voiceover part of it, and so he gets it. He really understands it. A client will come to him, and after five or ten minutes of Frank sitting down and talking to him, Frank says, “Let me play you this.” He’ll pick out a little melody on the keyboard, and they’re going “Yeah, yeah, that’s what I want.” He’s very good at that. He’s probably the best I’ve ever seen. So he does a lot of music for us, plus he’s our main session guy with a lot of the agency sessions here, a lot of sweetening projects, and things for Randalls, Tom Thumb Groceries, Memorial Hermann Hospital, Southwest Bank of Texas, and those generic agency type things.
JV: Bill Young Productions has undergone some drastic growth in the past few years, well beyond the arena of concert spots for radio. What else is Bill Young Productions into these days?
Steve: Well, the hottest department we’ve got going right now is our New Media department, which is web design. We’re currently doing Clay Walker’s website, George Strait’s, and the Dixie Chicks’ which we just received a great deal of national attention from. We maintain those web pages from everyday service and what have you to data compilation. We run a lot of tracking of the hits they get. We keep a lot of laundry lists of who visits the site, and we kind of maintain their store for them. Almost all of these guys have on-line stores. We won’t actually fill the order, but we do maintain the data part of it.
We’ve also landed a big deal with Compaq, and it seems like almost every week we get a different call from a different vice president of Compaq saying, “Hey, this person over here told us you guys do really good work, and I need this done. Can we get it done by the end of the week?” And that’s one of the things Bill Young Productions has always prided itself on, service comes first. We’ve always looked at ourselves as being a service company first, a creative production company second.
And so the New Media department has really exploded. As a matter of fact, Sid Farbstein, our New Media Director, was just in here a moment ago, and I asked him if we were looking for more people. He told me he had one guy hired and was looking for others. It’s just him and one other guy right now. Sid is very good at doing in person interviews and getting the new business. He’s an excellent salesman, but he’s also an incredibly gifted guy with his creative ability on the computer. He’s our systems analyst, and he’s our web page designer, and he’s got more on his plate than he can possibly handle right now. So we’re trying to get him some more help in there.
And then we also have another company we have formed. It’s our corporate communications company called Extreme Communications, and that consists of two girls and a guy who came over from another big company that does the same thing. I think they’ve already got like two million dollars in billing on the books and more coming, and that’s only in like a three-month period of time. Corporate communications is a neat thing to get into if you’ve got the right people, and these people have great backgrounds. I mean, they’re not just people who can talk to the marketing director at a major corporation. They can go right in and talk to the CEO, the CFO, or the president. And their power and their niche is getting to those people and being able to convince them that we have something that they need. They do everything from writing speeches to setting up podiums and chairs and big screen presentations for conventions to web page design and implementation. Even corporate mergers—I mean, these people do everything. They’re kind of a one-stop shop for any corporation looking to do anything. We’ve done several things for them like training films and safety films and industrial audio-visual productions. Our tie with them works real well because they had always outsourced everything before, and the fact that we have web design and audio-video production in house, well that helps our bottom line a lot. So that’s a real fast-growing part of the company, too.
Those are the two main things we’ve kind of gotten into. One of the other things we are into is live event production, and that is sending a camera crew out to do the Dixie Chicks in concert, then blast it back on the web or shoot it on 35 mm film for home video distribution or a special on HBO or whatever they want to do with it. We did a twelve-camera shoot for Styx about three years ago in Chicago that they turned into a home video thing, and it was quite well received.
We have a guy on staff that we got out of LA via South Africa. His name is Jack Hattingh, and Jack had a company similar to ours in South Africa. It was a production company, and almost any concert that came into South Africa, Jack produced live video for. He had an incredible resume and video reel together. He had taken his family and gone to LA and was out there for about a year and realized that the competition was really a lot more than he wanted to deal with. So Bill found his resume and stuff on the Internet one day and said, “Come look at this guy’s resume.” I said, “Wow, we need to talk to him.” So we brought him in and made him an offer. Jack’s been here a couple of years now and has done some really neat stuff. Jack is a very gifted guy. He does his own cinematography. He’s a great live event director. He can handle sixteen cameras at once sitting up in a remote truck being the director. I’ve watched him, and he’s just brilliant. He’s also an editor and in some ways kind of a sound designer. He was in one studio playing with ProTools the other day when we needed some help, and he said, “I’ll do it.” So those are some of the areas we’ve gotten into.
JV: You also recently acquired Vanilla Gorilla Productions who does imaging for radio. How is that working out?
Steve: I’ve known Randy Horvath for three or four years through one of my producers here. I thought, “You know, everybody is leaving radio with all these mergers and acquisitions, and they’re causing a lot of people to be on the street. They’re also cutting back budgets for production which means that most stations are going to be overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do. I think it would be a good idea if we talked to Randy and bring him into the fold.” The partners all agreed, and we brought Randy in with us. I guess this is his second year now. He doubled his expectations, I think, last year and has exceeded his goal for this year. They’re growing very fast. We just built them another studio, and they do excellent work.
It’s Randy Horvath and Rich Whitt, no relation to Larry Whitt. Rich came out of Pittsburgh, and I think both of them together do some ingenious work. And they’ve learned how to do it fast, too. We’ve shown them a few tricks on how to cut some corners and make the product better and not spend so much time doing it, and that’s something that Bill taught me years ago, the fact that you can’t make a living if you’re going to make a couple of four hundred dollar spots a day. You’ve got to learn to do ten, twelve, fifteen. Randy’s picked up on this rather well. He keeps great records and files. For every station he does, he’s got a database set up on what they’re doing, what spots went out, when they went out, how they sound, and everything you want to know about that station. So if they come back a year from now and say they want to go back and do the spot they did earlier or whatever, he can just call it back up, plug it in, and off we go again.
Randy’s a hustler and he’s on the phone a lot. I asked him one day, “How do you get any work done? You’re on the phone all the time. You look like Bill.” And Rich Whitt was a great find. He is incredibly passionate about his work. Both of them are. We accuse Rich of never coming out of his room. I see him maybe twice a day. I think he goes to the bathroom once and goes to lunch. That’s about it.
JV: Are the concert spots still the mainstay for Bill Young Productions?
Steve: Oh, absolutely. That’s a huge profit margin item. All of our demo work we do for free, and sometimes we’ll spend a month, two months, working on a spot, which is a lot of work. But it pays off because we’ll wind up doing fifty, a hundred, two hundred markets plus TV, and we also do print. And so that one tour will turn into a big profit item for us, and concerts are still the best profit margin we have because they’re syndicated. Once you do the mainstay, it’s basically plug and play after that; and yet, we can still readily change it if they want a new song put in or you’ve got a different support in this market than you do in another market. All that’s easily done now with ProTools. It’s not like it was in the old days where we did everything on tape and had to cut and splice.
JV: What are the basic rules Bill Young Productions applies to producing a concert spot?
Steve: Well, number one, we look at every artist and we ask, “Okay, what is this artist’s image? What are they trying to portray?” And the fact that we also work with the record companies and do a tremendous amount of record spots every year gives us another resource. If it’s a new group, we will oftentimes pick up the phone and call the record company and say, “Hey, what are you guys trying to do here?” And they’ll explain to us the direction they’re going with that artist.
So, we find the integrity of the artist first, and then match that with whatever the record company’s trying to do. Sometimes managers will really have it together, and they’ll hand it to us. They’ll say, “Okay, here’s the name of the tour. Here’s the cuts we want on it…” etc.. And then sometimes, when you’re putting all that together, it just doesn’t come out right. The cuts they want in there just don’t sound right, or maybe there’s that other little cut that they forgot about that really wasn’t a big hit but had something to do with the artist’s image. We’ll bring a lot of that to the table because Bill and I both have a lot of programming experience. We get into the background of the artist and find the hits. Sometimes there are so many hits that you can look and see that this artist has had two or three careers. So then we figure out what they are trying to do today. Is this going to be an oldies group? Are they trying to portray that? Or is this going to be a fresh, new sound ala Journey?
Journey came out with a new lead singer who sounded so close to Steve Perry that it was frightening, and we initially did those spots with the original Journey music. Then they went back in the studio and re-recorded the music and sent that to us. So we put it together again using the stuff that they had re-recorded. There was a lot of, I guess, questions being raised throughout the industry from different promoters going, “Without Steve Perry, Journey’s not going to be anything.” So the agent out of New York would call us up and say, “Look, can you play this spot for so and so? I’ve got him on the phone and I want him to hear it.” One day I spent about two hours on the phone with a lot of Cellar Door people playing the spot for them so the agent could sell the tour, because the spot was so good that once they heard it they said, “Wow, this guy does sound like Steve Perry. I think we can do something.”
So we find the integrity of the artist. We try to match up what the marketing plan is, and then we just make the songs musically fit, and they must fit musically. Our tracks could stand alone with no voiceover on them. And the edits are so smooth and so well done. Some of the edits we make are more than basic cut and splice edits. Some of the edits are actually molded. We might take two or three parts of a song and blend it into one to make one edit. When Journey first heard our spot, the keyboard player called me up and said, “How did you do those edits?” I said, “Well, it’s sort of a trade secret, and if I showed you, I’d have to kill you.” He just laughed and said they were great. I had one other comment like that from another person. A&M Records a couple of years ago was working on a project for one of their Broadway pieces. It was an Andrew Lloyd Weber piece, and we were going to do the album spot. They came to us and said, “Man, we’ve had three different studios in LA try to edit this track the way we want it, and I want to give you a shot.” So I spent about two hours on it one morning and sent it to them. They called back and said, “That was incredible. How did you do that?” I said, “Well, I just have a passion and love for what I’m doing, and I just make it work.” They said that Andrew Lloyd Weber himself even asked, “How did he do those edits,” because there were key changes and things in these songs that just didn’t go together. But we made it work, and it worked beautifully.
JV: You must have a musical background as well.
Steve: Yes, I do. I’ve played drums since I was about six years old. I understand music. I don’t read music. I read beats. I read drum beats. I know the difference between a quarter note and a sixteenth note, eighth note, etc. and how they all tie together. Everything we do, we try to do musically. With most of the new guys we bring in, the first thing we try to do is show them how the musical beats work together.
JV: Tell us about those seven audio suites. Is ProTools the DAW of choice?
Steve: Yep. We’re using ProTools 24, and it’s the new version, 4.2. We went to a 100 base-T network system just a couple of months ago, and it’s made a tremendous difference. We were working on a 10 base system before. A 100 meg session would take fifteen or twenty minutes to copy over. Now we’re doing it in seconds. It’s made a huge difference moving files back and forth, and there’s a lot of that going on. For instance, today we’re revising the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill New Year’s show for Nashville Arena, and I worked on that probably two months. It’s just now coming back for revisions. I think Larry Whitt built the original track, and Larry’s tied up today. So I’ll pull it into my ProTools and work on it. We keep everything in a database all backed up. We have a guy who manages the network and does a very good job of it. There’s probably fifty sessions a day that come through here.
JV: How many employees do you have now?
Steve: Seventy-five between all of our departments.
JV: What do you make of the way the record business has changed since you’ve gotten out of it?
Steve: Well, I’m really not that connected anymore, but from what I hear, the record business is nothing like it used to be. And you have to look at the concert business. If anything is wrong with the concert business today, it’s the fact that you don’t have a whole lot of new artists coming up. You’ve got a whole bunch of one-shot artists, these people who had these great one-time albums, one-time hits. And a lot of that goes back to the way the record business is being run today with your CPAs and your lawyers and your bean counters. What happens is, they’re making bids on all these new groups. Every time a new group pops up, all the record companies kind of go into this bidding war of who’s going to pay the most for this group. And it turns out that most of these guys seem to be getting their money up front. You start laying big heavy millions of dollars on these kids who never had anything, and they go in and do one great album and it’s incredible. Then you ask them to go tour and they look at you and say, “Tour? What do we want to tour for? We’ve got our money.” And so it’s causing a huge problem because the concert business and the record business in the years past have been made off of keeping that artist in front of people. If I was ever going to be a rock star, I’d want Q Prime to be my manager. I just love the way they seem to take their artist and keep them on the road. They like to make an artist visual to the fans. Look at Metallica. I mean it’s just incredible how they’ve kept them up at the top for years and years and years. And they’ve lost some artists because the artists didn’t want to tour. They’re basically a management company that likes their artists to work. If you don’t have the artist out in front of the audience, that audience very quickly forgets about you.
So one of the big problems of the concert business today is where are the new artists coming from. And you have to look at the record companies and say, “everything starts here.” The record business is going to have to change in some ways. I’m not sure what the answer is, but they need these new kids who are coming up to want to work, to want to get on the road and get in front of people and work for it.
JV: What do you see five or ten years down the road for radio?
Steve: Who knows? What appears to be happening is that radio has become so fragmented now. I have ten presets on my radio in the car. I’ve got them all full and could probably use a few more because there are so many different formats and so many different things that you want to listen to depending on what mood you’re in. I think radio is definitely web bound. I mean, KRBE has a “web” Music Director. And I can’t tell you what the number is but I know there are hundreds of radio stations just made for the web, not including those from your average broadcasting people. I think you’re going to see more and more of that. Satellite for cars is probably not far away.
What is it going to do to your local AM-FM radio stations? Fragment more, I guess. As far as I can see right now, the AMs are pretty much news and talk and sports oriented, and your FMs are your music stations. I just think back twenty or twenty-five years ago when that was just the opposite. In Philadelphia, when I had WYFI, one of the first Top 40 FMs, we didn’t have anything for the audio chain that was made for FM. Everything at that time was made for nothing but beautiful music. So we wound up using a lot of AM-type gear to try to get that AM sound on FM, which was a lot of heavy compression and in-your-face sound. Now there are all kinds of digital equipment and things for FM. I remember I bought a new Dodge Charger in ’72, and it didn’t have an FM radio in it. I had to buy one of those under-the-dash converters, and it was only in mono. When I think back, that wasn’t that long ago, yet it was quite a while ago. I’m not sure where it’s going. I wish I had the answer.
JV: What do you think lies in the future of the radio production person?
Steve: I’ve said this so many times before. The guy who is his own voice talent and engineer type guy, that’s a dying class. That’s a craft. It’s like the old wood carvers; it’s a craft that is not being taken up by too many people anymore. Nowadays, you’ve got voice guys and you’ve got engineer guys. Guys like Rich Whitt are great at putting things together. He has a great ear, but he’s not a voice guy. And then you have good voice guys who are not engineers. You know, John Williard was a guy that we had with us for four or five years. John was a great talent, great engineer, great production guy. And now he’s just doing voice work. I think he’s got eighty stations out of Atlanta.
I think all of your voice guys are going to wind up just being independent, and that’s leaving radio with basically engineers. And I think anybody who has a voice just wants to sit at home with a codec unit and do voice tracks, and rightly they should. That would bore me to death, though. I’ve got to be a hands on guy who’s in there pushing buttons, doing some editing, watching some music come together, and getting a feel for the whole thing. It’s very hard for me to just sit down behind a microphone, read some lines, and make it come it out right. I like to do everything backwards. I like to build the track first, then put the voice to it. That’s basically the way we do everything here.
I don’t know. It sure seems like it’s just a talent that is going away, the combo production/voice guy. Every time we try to hire somebody, it gets a little harder because there are just not that many people who are doing it anymore.
JV: But the work is still there.
Steve: Oh, the work is definitely there. I think there’s all the work you can handle, and there’s going to be more. People are trying to do it cheaper and faster. And that’s where we come in. We’re good at that.