Don't Flunk the Fest Test - How to Survive Your Station's Big Summer Show

By Steve Stone

Hi! Pretty fun this time of the month. You know! The latest edition of the only publication dedicated to us boys and girls of radio production. Ahhhhh, love the smell of fresh ink! Eh, okay I’m not gonna get too weird, but RAP mag is a definite highlight for me. Let me start by saying that when I was working as a radio Creative Director, the most exciting and the most dreaded time of the year for me was our “summer festival.” Oh sure, it’s the musical highlight of a station’s year, and the opportunity to get really creative is a definite plus… but let’s be honest; it’s a crap load of work!

If you’re experiencing this right now, my hats off to you… really! I spent three years at K-Rock in New York City. Our summer festival was the “Dysfunctional Family Picnic.” Right off the bat the name says so much. It was always bigger than life, and not just because of the group of artists performing. This was a real opportunity to get some really great out of left field production on the air.

That’s where I start things off. This is a lot of work, but it’s also your chance to pull out all the stops creatively. Hopefully you have a Program Director that encourages you to go nuts with it.

First of all the scope of the event needs to be mapped out for you just as if you were the Program Director. You need to know what events are going on. Who’s performing when, or where. Who’s doing what. The more you know the beast, the better you can take advantage of the situation.

Step 1: Teases

This was and still is my favorite part of a big show. This is where you can really get different sounding. Work a series of teases that mark the arrival of something big. Don’t spill the beans yet… just whet the listeners appetite.

Example:

(tuning short wave radio – voice has a frequency shift effect on it to make it sound like digital interference)

New York… this is space station K-Rock… Vital information transmission happens in just 3 days… Requesting calibration clearance of all audio receiving equipment… Stand by for further instructions

Okay, so a series of those mixed in with the jocks teasing the hell out of it, coupled with a nice web component (yes, share your audio with your IT guys — makes visiting your station’s website even better!) will really get people’s curiosity up.

Step 2. The Announcement

This is the climax of days/weeks of working your listeners up in a lather. I experienced the show announcement two ways: either by the morning show or the afternoon jock at a well designated time, or we’d crank the longest promo you’ve ever heard at straight up 5 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Either way is fine. If you’re waiting for a jock to do it, have the full promo ready to hit as soon as the show is announced. Nothing sounds better than when you hit the air with guns blazing. Have at least two core promos to start off with. One is your meat and potatoes announce promo. The other is your more image conscience one. You’re going to have to pound the ticket info so it’s important to have a relatively clean sounding promo to bang in conjunction with your “look at my mad skillz” version.

Step 3. Maintenance

Okay, so you made the big announcement. Now it’s 3-4 weeks till the actual show. What the hell do you do with all that time? How long do you keep a promo in rotation? I used to experience burnout with a heavy festival promo after 3 days. So I used to always have at least 2 main promos in rotation and replace either one every 3 days with another concept piece -- keeping in mind that every promo had the core info (tickets, etc.) in the basic same shape, as to keep some consistency.

Step 4: The Extras

This is special legal IDs, sweepers, and artist IDs and show pimping. A must! This is where the amount of work really adds up. I would have at least 13-15 show sweepers that would rotate during the regular imaging. The standard legal ID would be replaced with a show/image specific one from announce up until show time.

Example:

Rock radio, K-Rock… broadcasting from the top of the Howard Stern building. (sfx-bing bong) This is W-X-R-K New York… In 4 days… only 3 letters of the modern English language will survive… D… F… P. (sfx-tone) K-Rock’s Dysfunctional Family Picnic

Artist IDs were always a pain in the ass! You had calls coming in all day long, or someone would stop by last minute to cut some lines; and I always got stressed out with that stuff. Whatever artists your festival consists of, you really need the core 3-4 to be a big part of the imaging. This is where your PD works his magic with the labels and management. Again, it’s a must.

Step 5: Day Of Broadcast Kit

It’s the day of the show. It’s time to sit back, crack open a frosty one and enjoy the fruits of your hard labor. Yeah, right! You need a broadcast kit! Ah yes! Your station goes live all day and night from this behemoth of a show, and you have to dress up the live breaks/cut-ins and highlights from the show. I suggest having at least six breaker-beds for each jock to use for talk-overs and at least another half dozen “instant-playback” breakers. Also, don’t forget the sponsor mentions (this is probably going to get tricky because your sales department will want specific plays/rotations etc.). Grab a pen and pay attention!

Step 6: Recap

No, your day isn’t done yet. Who cares if it’s 11:30 at night. Your station will be broadcasting highlights of the show all night and into the next day. You need a recap/replay kit of at least 10-12 breakers and a post show legal ID. Plus, don’t forget that throughout the day you should have been skimming show tape for highlights to use in post-promos. Yes, this is time sensitive. Waiting till the next day is a lost cause; you need your listeners to re-experience what they just experienced on their ride home from the show. I’d say at least 2-3 post-promos, using song highlights, interview clips, crowd testimonials, and thank yous.

Step 7: Escape to an all night bar, or beg your PD to never have another festival again.

All in all, radio station festivals are very gratifying. I know I sound a little long winded with all the details, but it’s crucial that you maximize this event for your station and its listeners. That’s why it happens only once a year. I’ll quote spider-man here: “With great station festivals, comes great responsibility.”

Finally! With technology being so amazing nowadays, I’d suggest trying to set up a mobile studio at the event to produce on the fly. Of course, you’re gonna have yourself set up with a hard drive chock full of pre-produced workparts and promo shells and beds, but I think being there and in the moment can lead to amazing, once in a lifetime image production.

Anyway, I’m starting to get stomach pains just thinking about this stuff. I gotta go hide.

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