Production 212: Grill On

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

There are two kinds of Creative Service Directors in this world. There are those who are constantly scrambling to meet deadlines and those who are home at the grill long before those pesky deadlines pop up. The scramblers tend to want to go back and fix things after they hear them on the air because they can make the “so much better,” while the griller is onto dessert. The scrambler just can’t seem to find the time to get those long-term projects done, while the griller churns out those long-term projects over the course of a week or so. So, which are you, a scrambler… or a griller? It’s not a trick question. (OK, maybe you don’t grill, but do you scramble?)

I’ve given a lot of production seminars over the years and one of the most asked questions is how I crank out the volume of production I do while I keep up the quality. The answer always comes down to one word: planning. Now I have to start off saying that we don’t always get to make plans, especially when one is working on a team like most radio stations. As a group, I think Program Directors tend to be the most disorganized people in the world. If you’re a PD, please don’t be offended. It’s certainly NOT universal, but getting most programmers to think beyond the upcoming weekend is like contemplating surgery to remove a hammer from your skull. It’s just not something one does… usually.

Let me tell you my story. When I arrived at Z100/New York in 1987, I was slated to primarily work as a mid-day jock. Because of a miscommunication in the Programming Department, the station had hired me prematurely. (It’s a much longer story that we can skip for this discussion.) I ended up working with Production Director J. R. Nelson, doing commercial work. Jump ahead a couple years, after J. R. left and I’m sitting next to “the BEAST,” a 2-inch tape/8-track recorder every day, cranking out the imaging for Z100 for 12-15 hours a day. Come Thursday evening, the OM would be sitting in his office with his assistant, writing copy for the weekend promo as I finally headed out the door for home. The next morning, I’d have a FedEx package containing a DAT of Keith Eubanks reading the copy that was written the night before. Of course, I had no clue what the copy said until I heard Keith read it back Friday morning. I would then spend the next 4 hours (more or less) scrambling to make what I hoped would be an award winning promo to start airing at 3pm.

Four hours? MAN, that seems like a long time now, but then remember that this was before Digital Audio Work Stations. OK. That was then, this is now. A different company owns my radio station and there’s a whole new cast of characters running things. I’m sitting comfortably in my center of the universe, carving up sound, turning it around in minutes, rather than hours. The BEAST is long gone. Quietly humming under my desk is a Quad-Core Macintosh G5. I look up and see that it’s a little past 2pm and I’m still here. Whew! Long day! Time to hop on the train and head for home and my trusty grill.

Every Monday morning at precisely 10am, the various folks from Marketing, Promotions, Online, Programming and Creative Services (me), sit down in our Operations Manager’s office and have a 30-40 minute meeting, talking about what we’re all gonna do that week. We usually look ahead and check out what’s going on the following few weeks too, just so there aren’t any nasty surprises waiting for us just around the corner. Afterwards, we all head for own little nests and begin. Out of that one meeting comes a “To Do” list that lists everything we all need to do that week in support of the station. Specific to me are all the imaging tasks.

To be fair, I DO get into work at 5am, so leaving at 2pm is the norm for me, not because I get everything done early, although that’s certainly part of it, but because that completes my 8 hour day (with time out for lunch, etc.) On the other hand, I don’t DO 12-14 hour days anymore because I don’t need to. I get everything done because I know exactly where we’re going.

Once I polish off the weekend promo, I’ll start looking for that “certain” drop I want for the next weekend’s promo, so I don’t have to scrounge for it next week. I can do that because of planning. When I’ve done all the updates for the weekday contest promos, I can sit down and check out all the latest downloads from Trynity HD/FX or Production Vault or Chasecuts, so I have a great idea of where all the stuff I want to use is, without having to scramble as I’m doing a new promo. I can do that because of planning.

So, here’s the deal. You may have a PD who has a hard time thinking that far ahead on a regular basis, but don’t let that be an excuse. Start working with him or her, urging that person to help you be more creative by giving you more lead-time. As you start getting more and more brilliant, your PD will notice that the quality of your work is improving. Your PD will also start to notice that you’re smiling a lot more because your head’s NOT about to explode over a production deadline. Your PD will probably figure out very quickly that some of those “long-term” projects he or she really wants are possible now because you’re not scrambling anymore. You’re grilling.

Grill on!

My audio this month is a little weird and not really on topic, except that I did them all in one sitting of about 40 minutes. It is a series of “Above The Influence” promos, trying to pass as Public Service Announcements. That’s what I mean by weird. Check ‘em out. You might find some of the content useful.

Finally, we’ve been toying around with an idea for several months now that has the potential of teaching anyone who cares to participate, a lot about creative production. It will give anyone interested a chance to “walk a mile in my shoes,” as they say.

Here’s the premise: I give you a voice track, and you give me a promo. Jerry has all the details for you in this issue. (Look!  )

Just remember… in radio there are no bad ideas. Some are just better than others. So, step up and give it your best shot. Who knows… the one learning here might just be me.

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