Production 212: Out of Context

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I guess the most fun I’ve ever had as a radio producer is taking well known speeches and doing some creative editing, then presenting them as real. One instance comes to mind immediately. When I was teaching radio labs at Brigham Young University, this would be around 310AD, I had a student who had a rather serious project about the Peace Corps and wanted to use John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It’s the speech that’s largely credited with getting the Peace Corps going back in the ‘60s. (Okay, it was later than 310AD.) The student, a young girl who is definitely NOT in radio now, asked for my help in editing the speech. I did a big switch and she got that clip saying “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you,” without realizing what I had done. Some people just hear what they expect to hear, I guess, because she played her finished piece for the professor teaching that section and he rewarded her with an A. She came to me, all excited, but curious about the note she got back, complimenting her comedy and commending her editing skills. I didn’t have the heart.

Jump to a couple of weeks ago, when we decided to do a special MTV VMA promotion with Simple Plan. Having spent some time in the studios with these guys doing a show called ‘Reality Radio,’ I knew they had a great sense of humor and certainly wouldn’t mind my taking a few liberties with some of the things they said. (Actually, just listen to their music and you’ll know they have a good sense of fun.) The result is a promo that I’m quite proud of, which you can hear on this month’s RAP CD.

For those who don’t have the RAP CD (see?) the basic premise is that one lucky listener will get to go to the VMAs with Simple Plan as their date. In the original audio, one of them had been talking about meeting 50 Cent down in Jamaica while they were there with Z100 for a promotional concert. One of them said, “You can go to Simple Plan – dot – com and check out the video if you want.” Well, that was my invitation. I said, “And when it’s all over…” then dropped in his line and followed it with a “Well…maybe not.” The resulting piece sounds exactly like the boys in the band recorded this especially for the promo, giving the station creds and making it fun at the same time.

I guess the point of all this might seem a bit obscure, so let me spell it out. One of the biggest flaws I hear in production everywhere is a producer twisting things around just to get a funny drop in the promo. The problem is, it turns the whole production around the wrong thing. Every promo has a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), which is the point of the piece that sets your station apart from the others. Every element in the piece should point to that ONE thing that gives your station value. For this promo it was “You can win a trip to the VMAs with Simple Plan as your date.” If what your adding doesn’t point directly to the USP, then why add it? It makes the whole thing lose focus, and a clearly focused message is your primary function. It’s not to entertain or show your brilliance. It’s to sell the radio station. Now, if you can be funny too, it’s bonus time!

So, every time you’re adding a drop to the mix, think to yourself, “Is this supporting the basic premise of the promo or spot? Or, is the basic premise of the piece supporting this drop?” If it’s the latter, forget that drop and keep things pointing to your USP. Remember that clarity is essential to making good promos and spots.

Oh, and I should tell you that the girl whose project’s meaning got a bit twisted finally did come back to me the next semester. She’d played it for her parents and they had howled with laughter. They explained it to the hurt young lady and she was a little corked at me. Oh well. She’s selling cars in Idaho now and I don’t plan to buy one there any time soon.

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