R.A.P. Interview: Stewart Byars

JV: This was the first year we’ve seen any entries from you. Have you entered any awards competitions in the past?
Stewart: No. Nineteen years and I’ve never entered anything like that before.

JV: What made you decide to enter this time?
Stewart: Well, we’re getting Radio And Production magazine here, and it happened to be one of the issues with the entry form. I think it was Misty who actually said to me, “You should enter some of your bumper sticker promos.” I hemmed and hawed and, you know, didn’t have a lot of confidence in what I was doing actually, and she said “Oh no, they’re great. You should do it.” So I talked to the boss, and he said, “Why don’t you find some of the ones that you think are your best ones, and submit them?” He even said he’d be willing to pay for it, which I thought was great. So we spent a few days listening to promos. I’m doing two promos a week for our bumper sticker contest — one that announces what the winning license plate number is, and another one that says either that we had a winner or we didn’t, and to be prepared for the next week’s bumper sticker promo and contest. And so we listened to a lot of the bumper sticker promos, and it just kind of worked out like that. I probably have a hundred of them here at the radio station, and I just let people listen and decide which ones they thought were the best. They spent a couple of days nominating the ones they thought I should enter. Finally we came up with, I think it was about five or six of them, and sent those in, and four of them ended up being finalists.

JV: The other winning promo, the “BS Promo,” tell us about the creative journey on that one.
Stewart: That one actually is pretty self-explanatory. Originally the idea was that I was going to try to come up with some stupid name for myself. You know, instead of Stew Byars, it was going to be S. Biddy or something — just trying to make fun of myself, like J. Lo and P. Diddy. I actually cut a version of that, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. But I still wanted to go with the theme of using initials instead of people’s full names. So then I thought, well maybe instead of saying bumper sticker promo, I’ll just say BS promo. Once we got that idea, then we just kind of had a lot of fun playing with it.

JV: It sounds like a lot of your ideas just come to you rather than having to go to some resource to spark an idea.
Stewart: Yes, this stuff just kind of pops in my head. I think a lot of it comes from my standup comedy days. I did standup comedy for about six years. And when you do standup comedy, you kind of have a habit of seeing everyday things and trying to derive the humor from it. Sometimes it’s just something as simple as somebody calling in and complaining because they didn’t win a contest. That’s an idea for a bumper sticker contest promo right there. The idea for the “Out of Ideas” promo was from true inspiration. So it’s hard to tell where it comes from. Since my standup comedy days, it’s just something that kind of pops in my head, whether I’m doing promos or not.

JV: It sounds like you stretch your creativity more on promos than on the commercial work you do.
Stewart: Oh, definitely. There really is no script for the promos. It’s not like I write this stuff down and then cut the promo. You’d be surprised how few of these promos I’ve ever actually written out. I just kind of hear it in my head, and I’ll lay down my voice track. Then, if I need another voice, I just pull somebody in, whoever it is walking down the hallway at the time. I’ll bring them in and say, come in here and say this. Come in here and say that. You get total freedom doing the promos around here, which sometimes is rare in this business. I’ve got to give my boss credit for that.

As far as commercials go, there’s a certain amount of information that just has to be in there – the address or phone number or what they do. Sometimes you’re kind of limited on the time you’re allowed to be creative. Sometimes the customer doesn’t want a whole lot of creativity if it takes away from what the commercial is suppose to be about.

JV: Your entries were in the Small Market Category, which includes markets with populations close to a half-million. But you’re on the other end of that spectrum. Tell us about your “small market.”
Stewart: Our population here is about 12,000 in the city and 30,000 in the county. It’s a real rural area. But with the 25,000-watt signal, we cover a big portion of west Tennessee, into the southern part of western Kentucky, and we even get into southeast Missouri some. So we’ve got quite a few counties around the area that pick us up, pretty much from the Tennessee River to the Mississippi River, and from Kentucky down to probably Jackson, Tennessee. So it’s a pretty good coverage area.

JV: No Arbitron ratings I bet.
Stewart: No, not really. We’ve got Jackson, Tennessee about 40 miles south of us, and they have ratings there. And Paducah is about 50 north of us, and that’s a rated market. So we do get 100,000-watt stations blowing into this county from those two markets. They kind of overlap us right here.

But you know, I think right here in Weakley County, in our immediate area, I think we’d do pretty well in our ratings. One thing my boss, Paul Tinkle, told me when I came to work here, he said, “You know, we’re a small market. It’s not about ratings. It’s about quality.” And that’s kind of a theme that he’s had the whole time I’ve been here.

JV: That’s rare.
Stewart: I agree. It definitely is.

JV: Tell us about your studio. You mentioned Cool Edit Pro. Any other toys in there?
Stewart: Well, for a small market radio station, my boss has been very good about getting us some pretty good equipment, as far as what we can afford in small market. Of course, we were on old reel-to-reels for years, and then we went to an Akai digital editor, which was like going from the dark ages to modern times. Then we moved on to Cool Edit Pro and now Adobe Audition. Of course, we’ve got a big music and sound effects library back here. We have a couple from TM Century. We’re using Mega Music and The Winning Score. It’s actually a pretty simple setup. We have mini-discs and CD players and all that, but for the most part, as far as editing is concerned, it’s Adobe Audition. Our microphone is an EV RE-20. 

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