Production 212: Don't Step In That Cow Pie

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

When I first started in radio (back in the dark ages before digital audio and computers in the studio), I had a PD named Johnny Ryder who took me out to the pasture behind the radio station there in Central Utah and told me, “There’s a thousand people out there who’d kill to have your gig.” You have to bear in mind that I was working in market 152 at the time. The local population belied his math, but I got the idea. As I moved up in market standing, that number kept growing. My constant goal was to get the gig, to work in the number one market at the big gun CHR. During 2004, it really hit hard that I had done it, because people kept asking me how to do it themselves. I spent a bunch of time on the road last year, talking to folks, many still standing out behind their radio stations, about what I do and how I do it, trying to spread the gospel of good imaging and good radio.

I had the good fortune of being invited to speak at Dan O’Day’s not-so-little soirée in Los Angeles where I met several really talented people. Standard Radio asked me up to Toronto to address a group of their producers who all really impressed me. The South African Broadcasters invited me to Johannesburg and Durbin to explain what I do to their fledgling broadcasting industry. Most recently, I spoke at the NAB Show in Lisbon via video. Everywhere I went I kept looking at the people I’d meet and wonder if he or she was going to be the one.

The really fun part for me was getting a sense of where our industry is right now. I am pleased to report to you that the state of imaging in broadcast radio is better than I’ve ever heard it. I’m hearing more creative production in more places all the time. I’m hearing production that flows, is musically on the money and is really fun.

The best thing I’m hearing is focus. As I was coming up the business, I very often would hear people describe production as “ear candy.” That’s a fun, succinct way of describing it, but it’s hopefully not really true. To my mind, candy is something sweet but non-nutritious. It tastes really good, but isn’t good for you. The production I’m hearing is actually communicating something that’s important. This new “healthy” attitude has taken over the production side of radio. Maybe it’s the added pressure of alternative forms of entertainment like satellite or Internet radio. Maybe it’s a re-birth of the idea that every second is too valuable to waste on fluff. Whatever it is, there always seems to be a tightly focused message in every piece I hear, even if it’s just a reinforcement of a branding message. “Ear candy” it ain’t.

Over the past several months, I’ve heard production that frankly, made me envious. Inside, I’d say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” To the producer, I’d say something like, “Yeah. That’s pretty good.” Naturally, I’d immediately steal the idea and make it my own. Why do you think I always invite people to send their production for me to hear? Copping to Grand Theft: Creative isn’t really the purpose of this column, but I DO feel better for having done so. (No last names, but Chris, Terry, Robbie, Brian, Fitz, Steve, Robert, Ian and Jeff…I owe you all at least a lunch sometime.)

The audio for this month’s column is your entire RAP CD. If you have one from a couple of years ago, go back and compare it to this month’s CD. Without having heard anything from this month’s edition, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll hear a big improvement. The music will work, the comedy will be on point and the message will pop out far more often. I don’t want to appear so smug as to suggest it’s because everybody’s gunning for my gig, but in an odd way it’s true. Maybe it isn’t my gig in particular. Maybe it’s an effort to move up a market size or two, or even to move up to a bigger station across the street. It might even be to just to achieve personal satisfaction. Everyone is striving to do better and better work. That thrills me to no end.

Well, today Johnny Ryder is semi-retired, doing VO work in Southern Arizona. Most of the people I looked up to when I was a baby DJ and aspiring producer are retired or have settled down into a small or medium market gig where they have the quality of life they really wanted all along. In a sense, I out-lasted them, but my inner pride keeps screaming that I was better all along. Maybe. Based on what I’m hearing now, the overall state of radio has gotten better. Heaven knows I’m a much better producer than I was way back then. I can’t imagine how good someone is going to have to be in 10 years or so. For those of you who DO want my gig…take a number and stand in line. I’m not ready just yet.

When I first took the job here in New York, I had several friends ask me, what in the world will you aspire to now? You’ve made your goal, you’ve reached market one – there’s nothing left for you to conquer. Yeah, they were right, but reaching a goal doesn’t mean the journey ends. It means you have to change your goals. My big goal now is to hold onto the job I fought so hard to get. Since that day in the pasture out in back of KOVO radio in Provo, I’ve been aware that a thousand people out there want my gig, by now – maybe a few more. Meeting that challenge is becoming more difficult by the day. That’s pretty cool.

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