Brian Wilson, Production Director, Pirate Radio / KQLZ-FM, Los Angeles
by Jerry Vigil
Needless to say, Pirate Radio in LA is getting a lot of attention. Brian Wilson, the new Production Director for Pirate, got our attention, and we're glad to feature Brian in this month's RAP Interview.
R.A.P. Give us a little bit of your industry background.
Brian: I've been in radio since July 28th, 1977. I was still in college, going for the music major, and I got a job at KWPR in Claremore, Oklahoma. I started there doing Saturday afternoons. I went from Saturdays, to Saturdays and Sundays. Then I did middays and the news director's job. Then they put me in mornings and started letting me pick the music that was to be played, which was a loose way of saying I was the Program Director. In the afternoon, I would go out and sell spots then come back to the station and produce them. I was there 12 to 14 hours a day and lovin' every minute of it.
From there I went to KMOD-FM in Tulsa. I did weekends there, and that eventually became a full time situation. Then I was invited to go to Dallas to work at Y-95. I've never filled out an application, I never majored in radio, and I never thought I'd be in radio. I'd be working at one place and someone would call me up and ask me if I wanted to work for them, and I'd say, "Yeah, sure."
R.A.P. Tulsa to Dallas was a pretty good move! How long were you in Tulsa?
Brian: I was in Tulsa from 1978 to 1985 with a couple of small interruptions. They loved me at KMOD because I liked doing production. Everyone else wanted to do their 4 hours and split. When I say they loved me, I mean the sales department did. They'd say, "Let's give it to Brian; he never hits us!" The next thing I new, the salespeople were taking me out to dinner and everything...
R.A.P. So, Y-95 in Dallas was your first major market station. How did that move influence you?
Brian: It raised my standards an awful lot. Some of the people I worked with were such maniacal perfectionists that it pulled me out of the small market mentality. Not only did I have to start worrying about getting the words right, but I had to start worrying about interpretation, concept, and read. Does this music really match what's going on? What about the EQ...is that a little distorted in the 10K band? The person that was instrumental in this was John Rivers. He was one of the toughest people I've ever worked for. He wasn't tough in a mean way; he was tough because he was very much a perfectionist.
R.A.P. You do a lot of work with keyboards. Are you a musician?
Brian: Yes. I have an Associate of Arts in music, and I've played the synthesizer for 16 years. It was about 3 years ago that my interest in radio and my interest in music were wedded in the production room. That was the day I dragged my sampler to work.
R.A.P. How old are you?
Brian: I'm 32.
R.A.P. What's new at Pirate Radio?
Brian: Well, NED was nice enough to roll a Synclavier in here a few weeks ago on a demo basis. It's the 8-track Post Pro system.
R.A.P. How did you take to it?
Brian: Mastering the computer wasn't a problem, and since I do digital sampling at home on my MacIntosh, it all came to me pretty quickly. The only big difference was that the Synclavier had a lot more sampling time. Once we got it set up, I put together 5 extremely complex 8-track promos in about 45 minutes.
R.A.P. Give us an example of how the system has sped up production for you.
Brian: We keep all the beds, stingers, and zappers on file (in the system). So when I need a bed, I just take the pointer, pick out a bed, pull it down there (on the screen) and all of a sudden, that music is in the commercial. You don't have to track it to the whole commercial, and there's no rewind time.
Another example would be when I fly in a real time effect. I roll the promo, decide that I want a 10 second sweeper at a certain point, then just hit a key at that point. Immediately I can stop the machine, hit playback, and the entire 10 second effect is there. I don't have to record the entire 10 second sweeper. You just tell it you want it triggered at a certain point and it's there. Just after a couple of hours of working with it, it sped up production 50 percent. If you want some variety to choose from, you can take a voice track and put 3 different beds to it in probably about 5 minutes.
R.A.P. What was the studio setup at Pirate Radio when you got there?
Brian: It was a nightmare! When I was at Y-95, we were working with an ABX-26 console with the Otari MX-70 8-track. I was very spoiled. When I got to Pirate, there was this atrocious little Gregg Laboratories board. I'm afraid I'm going to offend somebody's brother, but it looked like it was built by somebody's brother. They had an Otari 4-track, but there weren't enough inputs on the board to bring them up, so it was wired left and right stereo on 2 faders. When Westwood bought Pirate, the station was K-LITE. It was very laid back and the equipment that was there was actually adequate for what they were doing. When the Pirates came on board, it was time for 16-track production, heavy effects, and so on. Westwood acquired NBC Radio a while back, and somebody was stumbling through the warehouse and found this huge Studer board. They asked me if I wanted it, and I said, "Sure!" I'm still somewhat spoiled by the ABX because it's so radio oriented, and the Studer is more of a recording studio board; but we've rigged it so the mikes will mute and we've got remote starts off the board. The next step was getting the Lexicon 480-L. I had produced a lot of promos for Scott (Shannon) while I was at Y-95, and he asked how I made his voice sound like I did. I said it was the 480-L and he said, "Alright, we're gettin' one. Case closed!" Also, somebody ordered the H3000B Ultra Harmonizer for me. I love it. It makes life very easy and it was very welcome.
R.A.P. How are you using the sampler at Pirate Radio?
Brian: Sampling is almost a no no. When we do it, it's very refined and very subtle. The stuttering of the call letters went from being a cool effect to something that is used so much in disco and dance records that it almost becomes an identity. If you stutter your call letters, then you're identifying yourself with the rap songs and dance records. So stuttering call letters, as far as LA goes, almost identifies you as being a disco station. We're not going crazy with the sampler. I hear people with samplers, and it sounds like they just got the thing yesterday. Being in radio, I'm kind of prejudiced, but I wonder if the average listener goes, "that guy sounds like he just got a new toy." Out of 20 promos we do, 2 of them might have sampling and stuttering on the voice. It's the way it's sampled, too. If it was kept in the same key, that would be one thing; but if it went up the scale, more than a minor third, then our promos would sound too much like Power 106. What it meant was that we were going to have to come up with another "gimmick", and the "gimmick" with our promos became the attitude.
Everybody in the country, I think, knows about the infamous "Don't Be A Dickhead" promos. "No matter where you are... no matter what you do... don't be a dickhead." And then BAM!--a stinger, then "Pirate Radio 100.3 FM," and you're out of it. Actually, the production is kind of stripped down. It's like a dragster. It doesn't have all the chrome in it.
R.A.P. When we spoke last, you mentioned that you had a 24-track recorder at your disposal. How did that come about?
Brian: Again, one of the advantages of working with Westwood is the equipment. One day the chief engineer rolled in an Ampex MM-1200 24-track, and said, "Well, it was in our mobile unit, and nobody was using it; so if you want it, it's yours." As I speak, it's not wired in yet, but it's due to be hooked up tomorrow or the next day. I don't have enough inputs for 24 tracks, but I can get 16.
R.A.P. What are you working with in the way of production libraries?
Brian: I came into a station that has no production music. We're in a market where we're dealing with KIIS and Power 106. These guys are established, and the Brown Bags, the Techsonics, the Joe Kelly stuff, and anything that was any good was gone. A lot of the stuff that isn't market exclusive isn't worth owning, for obvious reasons. I was very, very spoiled. For the hot CHR style of production that we're doing, I was very used to having Techsonics in Dallas. It just had the attitude of what I was looking for. However, we're very lucky. Thanks to RAP Magazine, we discovered that there was a Techsonics 2 coming out. I mentioned to Scott Shannon that the Techsonics 2 was available and Scott said, "That's the best in the business. Get itl" So we've nailed that down for LA.
R.A.P. What assistance do you have in production?
Brian: I have a guy named Mike Martin that handles our operations as far as commercials go. He's keeping me away from commercials. An interesting thing about being in this market is that there aren't many spots to produce. In the 2 weeks that Mike has been doing the commercials, I don't think he has had to produce a commercial yet. He's maybe done a few tags -- but everything comes in as a dub. Our spot load is such that we are committed to running half as many commercials at twice the rate of the competition.
R.A.P. Any preliminary numbers in yet?
Brian: The Birch came in today and showed us number one in adults 18-34. It's only been 83 days.
R.A.P. You have a home studio as well. What have you got in it?
Brian: I've got a Mac Plus with a 64-track digital sequencer on board. I've got some sound editing software, a Korg D-SS-1 sampling keyboard, and 2 analog keyboards. My MiniMoog is at the office. I've got a Fender Rhodes electric piano, the TX81Z Yamaha FM synthesizer, the DDD5 drum machine, and stacks of floppies everywhere.
R.A.P. What's the latest on Pirate Radio satellite syndication?
Brian: It's happening, but I don't know when they plan to go up. As far as what they're going to be doing and in what markets, either nobody knows, or they're just not telling me. You can't leak what you don't know. I just know that they've told me that we're doing satellite. That means all the stuff we do has to be original. We do a lot of parody songs, and anything that goes up on the bird can't be from a comedy service that's syndicated. That puts more of a creative burden on us.
R.A.P. Let's talk programming for a bit. You're inside Pirate Radio. It has been billed as the "Format of the 90's". Is it new? Is it different?
Brian: It's hard to say. It all goes back to Shannon's instincts. There are other programmers, who will go unnamed, that won't go to the bathroom without researching it first. Someone will come up to Scott and say, "Scott, why don't you play that?" and Scott will think about it and say, "You know, that's a cool song. I think we'll play it." The format has a real European sound to it. We're playing songs that some people would describe as having a "Euro-Disco" sound, but it's synthesized, so it's not really dance-pop. Then we'll play something real heavy, and then we'll throw in "Shake Your Tail Feathers" by Ray Charles.
One nice thing about the format, from a programming standpoint, is that it is doing something I thought I would like to do at a radio station. I think within the next 5 years there's going to be an increase of, for the lack of a better term, "Classic MTV" formats--formats that play music from that "CHR Hell" that records seem to go to and are never heard from again. Those would be songs like "She Blinded Me With Science" by Thomas Dolby or "Wrapped Around Your Finger" by the Police--songs that were real big on MTV or the hot rotation CHR's back in 1983. Where are those songs today? It seems like if they weren't trillion sellers or in the top 5 that year, you just don't hear them, but they were good tunes. Pirate Radio is playing those tunes. The qualifications to get on the air are: It's got to be a good song, and it's got to be a song that has an attitude. That attitude has got to be like Pirate Radio. There are some good songs we could play, but we don't because they're not us. It's very subjective.
R.A.P. As a parting question, if you could nail down Pirate Production in words, how would you describe it?
Brian: Right now, our main focus is on attitude. Copy is more important than production gimmicks right now. What we're saying is ten times more important. To give you an example, we have a promo on right now that says, "The new Pirate Bumper Sticker -- it's not big and fancy like the KIIS-FM sticker -- You can't win a lot of money with it like the Power 106 sticker -- all it does is stick --. and it sticks real good!" The positioning of everything is important, also. If you want a bumper sticker, you have to send a self addressed stamped envelope to General Delivery, Catalina Island, Avalon, California. This is because we're a pirate radio station broadcasting off the coast, and we stop by Catalina Island every now and then to check our mail. It's very strong imagery.
Brian has only been at Pirate Radio for a couple of months. There are many eyes and ears on Pirate Radio as Shannon and crew give the Richter scale something else to measure in southern California. We hope to check back with Brian after he and the Pirates have settled into the LA market a bit. In the meantime, our congrats to Brian for landing the gig, and best of luck to him and Pirate Radio.