JV: What’s your approach to a good promo?
Drake: I always believe good writing is the foundation, and a lot of people see it that way. If you don’t have good writing, no matter what kind of production library you’re using, how many drops you try to stick in the thing, it just ain’t going to work. It starts with writing. My promos and sweepers, they all have a theme, like the bikes on American Chopper. I love all these shows that are on the Discovery channel and TLC like American Chopper, American Hotrod, shows about overhauling. I’m a big car guy, and I just love the way they do these things. There’s always a deadline. There’s always a series of things to do, and that’s the way I feel about any project. If I’m re-imaging the station or doing a feature, you’ve got to do the ID, the back to music drops, the bumpers, the sweepers, the jingles. There are all these different pieces and they all have deadlines. And on American Chopper, Paul Teutels Jr. always has a theme for his bikes. For example, he’s going to build one for Snap On Tools. So he wants to have a tool theme to it. How does he do it? Well he finds a bunch of different tools and finds a way to take a wrench and make it into a rearview mirror.

That’s kind of how I approach my imaging. My sweepers always have a theme. One example is shopping; there’s that music you hear in the grocery store. “There is music you shop to… and then there’s Pittsburgh best variety….” So it’s a way to kind of paint a picture in somebody’s head. I work in sound the way Pauly Jr. works in metal. You find a theme, and that’s a way of expressing your station’s positioning statement it in a new and interesting way every time.

JV: Where do you get the ideas for these themes?
Drake: All over the place. They always tell you to write what you know, so there are so many times that things come up that are things that my grandparents said, my parents, my brother, aunts and uncles, things you find in your life. For example, I did a morning show legal ID, and one of my objectives was to brand the morning show. What better way to do it than actually have the morning show in their imaging with the station voice people? So I used our female co-host on the morning show. You hear the alarm clock going off and somebody snoring, and she comes on and says, “What are you going to do, sleep all day?” That’s something my grandmother used to tell my dad and my uncles when they were kids on summer vacation.

JV: Who are the station voices?
Drake: We kind of went with an unorthodox approach when we signed Star on. We wanted to be very friendly, very accessible, down to earth. So the two voice people that we chose when we signed on were Ann DeWig and John Beach. John Beach at the time was a commercial actor right around the actor strike of 2000, so he couldn’t make his living doing commercials. He was one of the first voices for Viagra. So he kind of got into promo work and we were one of the first stations to hire him. He is a fantastic voice; he is so versatile. There are times when I start writing and I write specifically for his voice. He does all kinds of characters and is very versatile, plus he sounds friendly, down to earth, and has a very natural, nice likeable read. And he and Ann DeWig paired together sound like a married couple. I would often do promos where they would be talking back and forth to each other.

Then about two or three years into our run on Star the boss decided he wanted to change the voices, so we swapped voices with our sister station B94. We gave them Annie and we got Jennifer Vaughn, who is also a great voice and a great compliment to John Beach because she has a little more edge to her voice. She compliments John’s level, easy going read. That’s who we have currently.

JV: How much voice work are you doing there?
Drake: I’m a supplemental voice. I will do the things that turn over quickly. For example, we do Family Fun Weekends. We do Flashback Weekends for our ‘80s retro. I’ll have a shell put together with the station voices, but then I’ll read the prize information. Things that turn over quickly I’ll throw my voice in. I also do a lot of character work for the station. One of my favorite movies of all times is Back to the Future and I do a pretty good Christopher Lloyd/Doc Brown impersonation. I did a bit with Doc Brown talking to Marty McFly and it kind of snowballed; I ended up doing three different versions of it for our Flashback ‘80s Weekend. I’ve been doing a lot more wild stuff. But the two voice people that we have are so great, and because my voice is very similar to John Beach’s, it kind of conflicts, unless one of us is doing a character. So I don’t like to use us back to back.

I’m trying to get my voiceover career going, and I’ve learned a lot from my voice people, John and Ann and Jennifer, and on our Country Station Y108 we use John Willyard and Kelly Irish — all fantastic people to learn from. All five of them have been very helpful in critiquing demos and offering tips. And the quality of work they do for me sets the example. They really bring my copy and our stations to life.

JV: What challenges do you find imaging the Hot AC format?
Drake: The biggest challenge for me when I started was being a 26/27-year-old single male with no kids, and I’m imaging a station aimed at a 35-year-old mother of two with some college education. She likes certain television shows, she has certain ideas about the world, she wants to be informed but she doesn’t have to know everything. So it was very hard for me at first to get inside her head. Then after a while I started to think about it and thought, okay, what was I doing as a child when my mother was that age? What were the things that I was observing? What were the things I was doing to tick my parents off? So when it came time to do our Family Fun Weekends, a lot of the imaging — we do a lot of sweepers and IDs to supplement the on-air giveaways – is based on either things I did or my brother did as a child to annoy our parents — you know, crayons in the washing machine and so on. I can remember my brother getting out of the bath, and before my mother could towel him off and put a diaper on, he’s running naked through the house. And there’s my mother stepping over all the toys trying to catch him. So I made that come to life in a promo.

JV: Tell us about the station’s studio.
Drake: The studio in the station is basically in a state of flux. We are in the process of installing Audio Vault, and right now I’m in the process of changing my tools as well. Currently I’m using an Orban Audicy, which I find extremely lacking when it comes to a lot of the stuff I need to do these days. However, I have on the way a hotrod of a Dell computer with Sonic Foundry Acid, Sound Forge, and Vegas. That’s also what I use in my home studio. I got turned on to Vegas by Spank who is currently at DC101. He was up here imaging B94 for a while and turned me on to Vegas. It’s a great low budget, non-linear editing system that you can run on any PC. Just get enough RAM and a good processor and you’re good to go. It’s very similar to ProTools and Cool Edit, but there’s a lot of compatibility, especially if you’re using Sound Forge and Acid, to build your own beds and stuff. The same manufacturer makes them all, so the compatibility is there and the user interfaces are very similar and easy to learn.