Ed Brown, Creative Director, KSHE-FM, St. Louis, Missouri -- "Production at St. Louis' #1 FM"
by Jerry Vigil
Once again, the RAP Interview takes us to another successful Emmis station. The value Emmis places on their production departments and the people in them is evident at KSHE, and it's no secret this company contributes a good deal of their success to people like Ed Brown, Creative Director at St. Louis' number one FM station.
R.A.P. What's your radio background.
Ed: I started in college in '68 working at the college station in Warrensburg, Missouri. The first thing I did, as a freshman, was take a radio and production class. That got me a foot in the door at the station doing a 2 hour air shift. I got drafted for two years then came back and went to work full time at the college station and a local station in town. I learned a lot about production by doing all these interview shows. I would do literally hundreds of 1/2 hour interviews and cut them down to 5 minute shows. I really learned how to do production and didn't even know it.
My first really good job in radio was in St. Joe, Missouri at a country station. I did the night shift. I remember the first piece of production they left for me. It was some hokey voice thing that I didn't like, so I re-wrote it for five voices and did all the voices myself, put some sound effects in it, and left the spot thinking, "What's the worst thing that can happen? If they don't like it, somebody else will re-cut it." The client loved it! So after I was there for 3 months and still sounded like shit on the air, they made me Production Director and gave me the midday shift. In other words, I really got my first break doing daytime radio just because of my production abilities. When I listen to air checks of back then, I was awful. I should never have been promoted at that time.
Then one day a guy heard me on the air from Kansas City and he hired me. They found out I could write and produce, so the next thing I knew, I was Production Director there and started doing mornings. Eventually, I went across the street to a start-up AC and wound up being Program Director. From that point on, I was at the same facility through three owners until I wound up here at KSHE.
R.A.P. How did you get the gig at KSHE?
Ed: While I was PD in Kansas City, the station sold. They had their own PD, so they said, "If you want to remain a Program Director, good luck; otherwise, we'd like to keep you on as our morning man." I stuck around doing mornings and production, too. The station sold again, and I wound up with a choice. The PD said, "One of these days you're going to have to decide whether you want to do mornings or production." I was doing both and it was taking up all my time. I was burning out fast. So in '84 I got a call from KSHE. They had decided to hire somebody full time just to do production and asked if I'd be interested.
R.A.P.: So you've been in production from the very beginning, right?
Ed: I really have been. Production got me where I am today because everywhere I went they would clean house. I stayed in mornings for six years in Kansas City, but I went through three ownership changes. Everybody got blown out except me, but each time that was because of my production. I don't think they kept me because I was a dynamite morning jock. It has always been production that has given me my security wherever I was, even here.
I got a bug maybe a year ago to move up from production. I got a bug to be a PD. So I talked to Emmis corporate. They put me on a conference call and pretty much set my head straight. They said, "Listen, we can hire a Program Director tomorrow for any of our stations. All we have to do is put an ad out and we'll have 5000 people trying to get the job. 4000 of them will probably be good, but we really have a hard time filling a Production Director's job. There just aren't that many creative talented people out there that we feel are ready to take the job. It's much harder for us to replace you in the position you're in than to ever use you as a PD."
R.A.P.: What kind of situation did you first walk into at KSHE?
Ed: When I walked through the door I went through some kind of shock. The facility here was so antiquated. All the reel-to-reels were home decks. The console had been rigged with some kind of weird box so it could handle this home 4-track. The RF interference was incredible. You couldn't do a bare voice spot; It was impossible. There was no soundproofing, and you couldn't do production on a rainy day because the sound of the rain and thunder would come right through. It was awful.
After a while we did some things to upgrade. We got some new reel to reels and a new production console, the Harrison Pro-7. We got a Harmonizer and other stuff, then we moved the station to a brand new facility. At that point I got to design all the production studios. I sat down with the Chief and put together the whole thing. It was wonderful.
R.A.P.: How many production studios did you design for the new facility?
Ed: Three. Two main studios that are on the main floor with the radio station, and then we have a sub-floor in the building where the jock lounge is. I put in a third studio next to the jock lounge. This studio was mainly for the jocks to do show prep and stuff. It took me up until a couple of weeks ago to finally get it equipped. We've been in this building for almost three years, but it was worth the wait. It has really been a big help.
R.A.P.: What did you equip the main studio with?
Ed: I got the Ensoniq EPS sampling keyboard. I'm still trying to get the H3000B Harmonizer; I think it would do me a lot of good. I have the Compellor, a REV-7 reverb, and a Yamaha graphic equalizer. Our 8-track is the Otari 5050. I put in for the MX-70, but as soon as they put the 5050 on sale for six grand, we got that one instead.
I was going to get the one-inch Otari 8-track that's expandable to 16 tracks, then a couple of years down the road ask for the 16 track expansion and a new console that could handle it. They saw that one coming. I love the statement, "There's no reason to have more than 8 tracks. You could never use 16 tracks and I don't know why you could even want it." I always come back with, "You know what 16-track is? It's 8 stereo tracks."
I went through a similar thing when we were first designing this place and I put that third studio in. The first thing I got hit with was, "There's absolutely no reason to have three production studios. That's ridiculous. You could NEVER use three studios." Well, I'm in one all the time. I've got an assistant who's in one all the time. Now, where's everybody else going to do their work?
R.A.P.: What's in the second studio?
Ed: For the console, we're using an old Auditronics on-air board. It used to be the on-air board at the old place. We just got two new 2-tracks, the new small Studer 2-tracks that are relatively inexpensive, and the Otari MX-5050 4-track that was in production one. When we got the 8-track, we moved the 4-track into production 2. So really, we have two multi-track studios. Basically, outboard gear-wise, we've got everything in there except for the Harmonizer and the sampler. This room also serves as a backup on-air studio if we ever need it.
R.A.P.: What equipment wound up in the third "jock" studio?
Ed: We've got two old MCI boat anchors. These are the first ones God ever made. Then we have an Autogram board, a record cart machine, and a couple of playback units. There are two turntables and an old cassette deck we took from a stereo system around here.
R.A.P.: What are your responsibilities and what help do you have?
Ed: I do all the promos plus about 40 percent of the in-house commercial production. My assistant does the other 60 percent of the in-house commercial production. I do all the creative writing when it comes to a client that needs creative copy, marketing, and more than just facts converted to sentences. I also take care of clients with a problem, clients that don't really know what to do with their advertising. I'll go on a sales call and sit down with a client for a while and talk about his business. Then I'll come back and take care of that.
R.A.P.: Is your assistant full-time production only?
Ed: No. He also does fill-in work on the air plus a regular weekend air shift, but he's full-time production assistant Monday through Friday. He's mine unless an emergency comes up on the air, then he fills in. He's on the air right now. We've got two other guys that do that too, but right now we've got one guy on vacation and the other guy needed the day off, so Gary's on the air. Gary's also the assistant Chief in a way. If there's a technical emergency, I'll lose him for that. It's nice that he can wear three hats like that. We can then afford to have him on the payroll in a full-time production capacity for the most part.
R.A.P.: You were asked to do a seminar at a recent Pollack convention in which you spoke of your production philosophy. Can you give us a little of that philosophy?
Ed: The fact that I can write, produce, do voice work, and have my own company, which is called Innovative Productions, coupled with the fact that I'm here at KSHE, gives us the ability to offer a creative department much like an advertising agency does. I want to offer that to clients. I want them to realize that we can go to them and say, "You have an AE. You have a creative department. If you've got a problem you can come to us. Let's sit down and look at what's going on with your business. We'll analyze your business, and we'll market you to the public to get the best results we can." I always say to clients when I go on calls, "You know your business much better than I'll ever know it, but I think I know how to market your business much better than you. So let's work together and use what we both know to accomplish something good for you." It seems to work out really well.
The topic at the convention was "How To Get More Creativity Out Of Your Production Department." I turned it around and said, "Let's call this Team Production." I know there's somebody at every radio station that has really creative thoughts. They're not great writers maybe, but they have really great ideas. There's somebody else, I bet, who can put that on paper. There's somebody else who technically is going to be able to do a bang up job of putting that spot together. Maybe there's a fourth person, if you have to go that deep, who has the pipes or the delivery. I don't want to say pipes because it's really the delivery. I try to do 20 or 30 different deliveries or voice techniques, depending on what it's for, because I don't want you to know it's me doing those spots. I want it to sound like somebody else. I want them all to have a national feel to them. If you have four really good people, if it takes four people, you can work them together to offer this kind of thing to a client.
R.A.P.: Tell us a little about your business, Innovative Productions.
Ed: The business acts mainly as an in-house agency. I don't buy any time for anybody, but you have a lot of businesses that want to take that 15% discount and claim agency status. So they hire me, Innovative Productions, and I come up with the ideas, then write and produce their spots. The client fields all the reps from all the stations beating them up for their money. The client pays me a creative fee plus any studio charges that I incur from using the station's facility. I pay the station for studio time and that benefits the station. I'm an AFTRA talent, so the client pays a talent fee, too.
R.A.P.: How many client calls would you say you go on every month?
Ed: I only go on maybe three a month, and I only go when there's really a need to go. I also do all the creative copy for our co-op department. In this case I'm usually dealing with national people like Kraft where they're tying in local vendors and product. I'll go on two or three calls a month. Usually, it winds up being car dealers or somebody like that.
I never go on a call to a bar, though. I quit doing bar spots a long time ago. As soon as we hired Gary full-time I said, "Gary, guess what? You're doing all the bar spots!" I remember the interview you did with Dennis Daniel in Babylon. He had a unique bar spot on The Cassette. When we heard that, we were laughing and saying, "Hey, look! It's actually different!" One of the questions I love to ask people who own a business is, "What makes your business stand out from your competitor's? Why did you even go into business? I know you want to make money, but you must think you have something to offer that somebody else didn't." Invariably, these bar guys will say, "No.... I mean hey, I like to drink and these guys like to drink and I figure, hey you know, I'll open up a bar and people will come in here and drink!"
R.A.P.: And they want a spot that really stands out, right?
Ed: "Right. I need to get more people in here drinking. I don't have enough people." And they all have the same things: They have ladies night two nights a week, a wet T-Shirt contest, and nobody does anything different. That falls into that category of putting facts into sentences.
R.A.P.: You're involved in a big way with KSHE's TV campaigns. Elaborate on this.
Ed: We have sort of a creative team, if you will: The GM, the PD, the Promotions Director and I, and our GSM sometimes. We sit down and determine what we want to do in terms of where we want to go with our imaging on TV. Then I sit down and start working on creative for it, or I sit down and go through 9 million syndicated spots to see which ones we can adapt. I'll either take a syndicated spot and customize it, or I'll start from scratch. If it's a syndicated spot, I'll go to the syndicator, wherever he produces, and we'll do it together. I went to San Francisco to do one campaign, and I've gone to Indianapolis several times. We were the first station to do the "You're Never Too Old To Rock And Roll" campaign, and we always shoot that in Indianapolis. We've done some stuff here in town, but we just don't have the facilities here in St. Louis to do the best TV.
R.A.P.: How did you get involved with the TV spots for KSHE? Is it common for Emmis to involve their production people in this area?
Ed: No. I think I'm the only one that does it. I was in Kansas City when I first started Innovative Productions. Some of the accounts I was doing radio for asked me if I could help them with their TV. So I wound up doing TV stuff. I was doing a lot of writing and producing of TV commercials.
R.A.P.: So you were well experienced at producing TV spots by the time you got to KSHE. How did you acquire the skills to produce television spots?
Ed: I took TV in college and had a good friend from college who was a producer at an independent TV station in Kansas City. When I started doing TV, I went to him and said, "I want you to produce everything. I want you to be the director on all my TV stuff and help me out because I don't know what I'm doing. I know what I want it to look like, but I don't know necessarily how to get it there." This guy worked with me and taught me a lot. Every time I do TV, I learn. The first thing everybody will tell you is, "No, that can't be done." If you don't know any better, you'll go, "Oh, OK," and you'll walk away and take whatever they do. If you know what you're doing you can say, "Oh yea. Yea you can. Here's how you do it." Then all of a sudden they stop saying that, and they start getting things done for you.
R.A.P.: How is Innovative Productions doing these days?
Ed: It was a big question for me to leave Kansas City and my clients to come to KSHE. Even though I was going to make more money salary-wise, I was giving up a lucrative side business that couldn't be taken care of here. The first thing the PD here said was, "I encourage you to do freelance work. I hope we can get your business back up to where it was there." They gave me the opportunity to work that business and now it's doing OK. It's not as good as it was there, but I don't have the time that I had there. When I first came here, this station was like a sleeping giant. We revamped it. We gave it a little bit of a new look. I re-imaged it production-wise. We gave it a lot of sizzle and did a lot of things that gave the station a real feel of unpredictability. All of a sudden the thing popped into the double digits and became the number one FM and number two overall. From that point on, I haven't had time to do much with the business other than handle about five accounts.
R.A.P.: Give us some examples of the kind of creative production you're doing there.
Ed: When I first came here, we decided to do something called "Ha-breakers." We didn't know what else to call them. One thing I came up with was a little bit where I say, "Ready. Aim. Fire." Then you hear the firing squad and then the guy says, "Now is there anyone else who doesn't listen to KSHE?" You just drop it in between records and the listener will say, "What the hell was that?" We've tried to keep with this kind of stuff and get a little more sophisticated with it. There again, these (RAP) Cassettes are great for sharing that kind of stuff. You hear work from someone in L.A. or New York and you get an idea from it.
I've been videotaping Batman every night. I'm going to lift some lines out of it and make some breakers with them. There are so many funny things those guys say, stupid things. I did a thing with Wheel Of Fortune where I played the part of the contestant going for the bucks. I used Pat Sajak's voice saying, "Alright, it's a phrase. What do you think?" Then I say the phrase is, "KSHE-95, the pride of St. Louis," and Pat Sajak says, "That's right!!! Yea!!!" or whatever. We did one with Hollywood Squares, too. Our PD does such a good Paul Lind -- it's incredible. So I did one where he did Paul Lind so we could get the call letters in it, but I used the real Peter Marshall. After it ran for a while, somebody came up to me and said, "Hey, who did Peter Marshall? That was really good!"
We run a thing that is definitely a rip-off from somebody. I took Dragnet and a bunch of Joe Friday stuff with him on the phone, and I just did the other guy on the other end of the phone. It was funny because he says stupid things, you know? He has this line where he says, "Yea, I just got home," and I say, "Listen, these guys on the Morning Zoo have been saying that you like to walk on hot coals with your bare feet," and Friday says, "Yea, I was just getting the charcoal started." He really says all this stuff! So you can say whatever you want on the other end.
R.A.P.: Tell us a little about your marketing philosophy at KSHE.
Ed: Since I do the promos, the station is really my most important client. I do everything I can to market this radio station the way it needs to be marketed according to the people that own it and are responsible for running it. That's why I'm involved in the team. When we decide what our goals are going to be each year and put together the things that involve marketing this radio station to the public, that's when I come in. I didn't learn marketing in college. One day I just figured out that what I was doing was called marketing. That was a buzzword a few years ago. I think the station is your most important client, and beyond that, you offer the same kind of treatment to the clients. Every time I write something for a client, I put myself in their shoes. I say, "OK, it's my business. What do I want to accomplish, and what's the best way to do it?" Sometimes I find myself writing some cute piece of copy that's funny or entertaining, and when I'm through with it I say, "It doesn't accomplish what it needs to accomplish." Then I tear it up and start all over again.
R.A.P.: This kind of treatment of the client takes time. How do you get that time at KSHE aside from the assistance you have?
Ed: I have a series of deadlines that I think are really fair for the salespeople. For anything that requires any kind of creative marketing or writing, I ask for three days. If it has to be written, but it's just facts that need to be written, I want 48 hours. If it's a dub and tag, I need it by 3 o'clock today to start tomorrow. If it's just a dub, I'll give you until 4:30 today for a start tomorrow.
I have exceptions where a salesperson will turn in something at noon to start at three, but those exceptions are totally up to my discretion. They come to me and say, "I have an opportunity to pick up three grand if we can have it on at 3 o'clock today." Then I ask them what all is involved in it, I look at my day, and if I think I can take care of this without any problem, I'll give them the nod. If I don't think I can, I just tell them, "No, I'm sorry. We'll have to pass on the business." For the most part, it's a good deal because I have backing all the way to the top with the GM on the deadlines. When push comes to shove, I just get hard on the deadlines and say, "I'm sorry, but 4:30 is the cutoff. It's 4:35. I'm not going to get it on."
When I sit down and start interviewing for a job, one of the things I say up front is, "I've gotta have this much support. If I'm not going to have it, then tell me now because I don't want this job if I'm not going to have that support." I got that support in my initial bargaining here.
I always tell the salespeople that it takes a quarter to make a phone call. That's what it takes to get around a problem. If you know that something is going to be late for whatever reason, you call me at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and tell me, "Jeez Ed, the agency screwed up and they can't have this ready until 6." That's fine. I'll take care of it. But if you don't call me and then you come to me at 4:30 or 5 o'clock and say, "Oh, by the way..." Forget it. I tell them, "If you're doing everything you can to follow the system, I'm going to do everything I can to get it on the air for you no matter when it's in here. But if you're being lazy and you're just taking care of yourself and not thinking about me, then I'm not going to think about you." That seems to work really well.
Every time a new salesperson comes on board, I have a 5 or 6 page packet that I hand them. It has the deadlines for production. It has the scheduling of studio time. It has the rate card for the studio use. It has all of my parameters in it, and we sit down and go over the whole thing.
Plus, there's a fact sheet guide that I give every salesperson in that kit. It has all the questions I want them to ask clients whenever they're gathering facts for copy. We go through the whole thing their first day on the job. That way they get indoctrinated right up front. I tell them, "Carry that with you. When you're out with a client and the client asks if we can get this on or do that, you've got the packet. You can go right to it." It really makes a difference. I've got an elaborate system that works well for me.
R.A.P.: What are some thoughts on where radio production departments are headed?
Ed: I'm looking forward to that day when production follows promotions. Radio stations around the country are starting to wake up to the fact that promotions needs to be a separate department. Hopefully, someday that will happen with production. If you think about it, who do I really work for? I'm in programming and I'm under the PD; but, in reality, I work for the sales department. I do all the promos, which is obviously with programming, but what I'm doing really is just interfacing. I'm interfacing with programming and promotions. Day to day, the bulk of my work is with salespeople and clients. So, in a way, I'm an extension of the Sales Department. I say you put production up there as its own department. You give it its own budget and the manpower to get the job done. Then, when you're going nose to nose with the General Sales Manager, or the Program Director, you don't feel like you have to run around and get support from 12 other department heads who are above you.
Even though I fall under the Program Director, our General Manager pretty much has my job set up as a department head. He doesn't really put everyone on levels. Everybody's equally important. Everybody has an equal say. If you've got a problem with the General Sales Manager, you go in there and yell at him. You don't feel like you have to go through some kind of chain of command to get someplace. It makes everybody feel like a team. We all work together that way.
R.A.P.: Anything else you'd like to see in production departments of the 90's?
Ed: This friend of mine is a PD in Miami. He was telling me about how his bonus is set up on a percentage of the bottom line of the station. I thought that was a great idea. I wish stations would pick up on that idea. If you look at a station, all your key people are sharing in some kind of bonus system anyway. It sure changes your thinking when you're sitting there trying to decide whether or not you want to bust your butt beyond deadline for this three thousand dollar order if you're sharing in the bottom line. If you know it's going to make you an extra fifty or sixty bucks that month, you're going to go ahead and do it. It also gives the station an opportunity to pay you a little more, and it makes you feel more a part of what's going on.
R.A.P.: Tell us about Emmis in St. Louis.
Ed: The Program Director, from the very first day, said, "You will run the department, and you have my 100 percent support." I have never ever had a time where the PD didn't take my side in a situation. He and I support each other. So it's not like I'm going against him in the first place. The reason he supports me is because I'm doing what he wants done -- I'm supporting him.
Emmis is the same way. They hire good people and they give you the opportunity and the freedom to make your own mistakes. They don't come in and try to tell you what to do, and they seem to back everybody well. The GM and the PD have really made this job extremely enjoyable and a lot easier than it could be. The GM makes me feel important because he wants to hear my input on things. He said, "You're the Creative Director. Why would I want to put up this billboard if I'm not going to ask my Creative Director what he thinks of what we're going to say on it?" It's great the way they make you feel so involved and like you're an integral part of the decision making processes of the radio station. It makes me think harder, and it makes me pay a little more attention to the competition. I read books like "Positioning" and "Marketing Warfare" on my own. I feel like I have to if I'm going to keep on top of stuff to help out these people. I want to be there if the GM has a question or needs some support in an area. I want to be there and sound intelligent, too.
R.A.P.: Any parting words for those hundreds of people who would love to have your job?
Ed: Realize that you're a highly sought minority in the business. If you work hard and get good at your craft, you're always going to have a job. You can be a marginal jock and a good production person and keep your job; but if you're a marginal jock and that's all... goodbye.
Our thanks to Ed for this month's interview and best wishes to Ed and KSHE for continued success in St. Louis! A composite of Ed's work is featured on this month's Cassette.