by Glenn Miller
There's a saying, "You can't go home again." Wrong! You can. But unless you're passionately pursuing chronic frustration, DON'T!
Over 20 years ago, I made my on-air debut at KBFW, a 1,000 watt daytimer in Bellingham, Washington. I had spent many hours in preparation; learning the music, the control room board, and how to operate the transmitter (take the readings, sign it off, sign it on, and increase and reduce power). I arrived at the station at 11:30 a.m.. I checked the wire, pulled some music, and at 11:50 went into the control room to pop open the mic and say "------." A slightly overweight veteran announcer got up out of an old, squeaky swivel chair, flipped the page on the program log to "12 Noon," handed it to me, smiled (rather stupidly now that I think of it), and left me with this cheerful witticism: "Here, it's all urine."
Time marches on to February 4th, 1991 and I decided I needed to get the feel of the board again, get familiar with the format and the music. So, after learning how to program the computer (the station is now 24 hours and feeding off Unistar), I strolled into the control room. A slightly overweight veteran announcer handed me the headphones, smiled (rather -- well, just smiled now that I think of it), and out trickled that cheerful witticism: "Here, it's all urine."
You know that white, non-stretchable splicing tape 3M and Scotch made 20 years ago? The stuff you could tear off the tape dispenser with one hand? The stuff they quit making a couple of years ago? They're still using it here.
Oh! But wait! We have stopped using Sudafed. Can complete conversion to digital be more than a couple of months away?
The list of things that have not changed, the similarities in perspective, procedure, and practice, would scare the bejesus out of Rod Serling.
Sooooo... why would anyone, in their right mind, leave a fairly sophisticated, moderately equipped, immensely successful 100,000 watt rock & roll mutha like 103-KDF for the likes of this little Country Twerp? Simple. I'm not in my right mind. (You saw that one comin', didn't cha?)
The February, 1990 issue of R.A.P. had an unusual and courageous article. Dennis Daniel's PRODUCTION STRESS ANXIETY & How To Beat "The Phantom." I thought it was unusual because it dealt with feelings, deadly ones. Doubt. Depression. Fear. I found it courageous because it wasn't "a friend of mine has this problem..." It was delivered unadorned, visceral, first person.
Dennis' article affected me profoundly because I had just begun to emerge bleary-eyed from a similar "journey into the soul." Mine had to do with meaning. Everyone was happy with my work except me. I enjoyed the challenge. Most of the time I was pleased with the result. But I found myself using more and more creative energy fabricating reasons why I should continue doing what I was doing.
A little explanation is in order here. My reason for being in Nashville was to be a songwriter. As long as that reason existed, my life had meaning. But after six years of trying everything short of taking hostages and threatening to blow up the Ryman Auditorium if I didn't get a song cut, I had to admit that I wasn't getting the results I wanted. And, there was nothing to indicate I'd ever get any results.
Recognizing and admitting that I didn't want to pursue a career as a songwriter any longer left me with the question, "What did I want to do?" Did I want a full-time production gig? No. Did I want a full-time airshift? No? Did I want to start my own little agency? No. All those options were known quantities and previously explored territory.
A fluke phone call while filling in for KDF's Production Director brought Farah into my life. Young, impressionable, attractive. (Owww, is this one of those tawdry, titillating stories that involves love, sex, and tragedy? Yes.)
Farah had signed up to take a correspondence school course to be a disc jockey. I agreed to tutor her for x-number of hours for x-number of dollars. As lessons progressed, it occurred to me that the one thing she (and others hoping to get a job in radio) needed the most, she couldn't get from this or any other radio school I knew of. That was on-air experience.
That gave me the bright idea to buy a little financially distressed AM station and use it as a radio station radio school. This would give me the best of all possible worlds. I'd be more in control of my future. I could do an air-shift. I could do production. And, I could do something that has become increasingly more important to me over the years, help others. Oh, yeah. I also figured I could make more money, too.
Good news/bad news time. Bad news: turns out it's not financially feasible to buy a radio station. Good news: turns out I don't need to own a radio station, just have the use of the on-air facilities.
It also turns out that the fellow who vied with me to get the one part-time opening available at KBFW some twenty years ago is now the Chief Engineer, General Manager, and owns half the station. He's also long since forgiven me for taking the job away from him and is warm to the idea of realizing some income from facilities that are sitting idle fifty percent of the time.
So here I am, more than just proverbially speaking, home again. I have a state license to operate a private vocational school, a disc jockey school, plus the ability to give newcomers the thing they need most to get their first job: on-air experience.
And what does this have to do with production? When you produce a spot, you take some information, some equipment, some talent; but the end result is not merely a combination of the different elements. It's distinctly different, unique. It is in a very real sense, a "creation," something that did not exist before. I applied the same creative process to bring a job, rather than a spot, into existence.
Has it ever seemed ironic to you that a great number of "geniuses" lead (or have lead) horribly screwed up lives? If they're so smart, how come they're so miserable? One explanation is that "genius borders on insanity." Maybe. I suggest it's more plausible genius, in that event, borders on stupidity, or neglect, or extreme self-indulgence, or a neurotic obsession, but not insanity.
When it comes to the downside of your job, when it comes to burn-out, when it comes to personal demons, consider applying the same creative process you use to breathe magic into your spots to breathe the same magic into your life. It's very possible that everything you need to create what you want exists and is within reach. And if something you need doesn't exist, there's no cosmic law I know of that says you can't invent it. In fact, there's a truckload of anecdotal evidence that says, "where there's a will, there's a way."
For some step by step instructions on this creative process and it's application in everyday life, get a copy of THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE, Principles For Creating What You Want To Create, by Robert Fritz. It's not just another "feel-good, self-improvement" book. It's the difference between feeding a hungry person a fish and teaching them how to fish.
So far, so sushi and ciao, baby.
Oh, and the chronic frustration I mentioned in the first paragraph, mine stems from the "we don't have it in the budget" and "we can't do that because" mentality; production orders with copy facts like "nice friendly staff, knowledgeable people, recently expanded... please write dyn-o-mite spec spot"; and copy riddled with clichés and addressing absolutely nobody in particular.
One thing has changed. Me. I did a little bit of radio sales work. I know the rejection sales people have to endure. I know the disappointment of showing up for a meeting, fully prepared, only to find out the client has forgotten all about it and isn't even in the office. Beyond that, I know these sales people. I know they care about the people that own the businesses they write the copy for. I know they give me copy and production orders that frustrate me, not with the intention of frustrating me, but because they don't know how to write better copy. They don't know what kind of information I need to create a dyn-o-mite spec spot. What's encouraging is that they have asked me, discretely and politely, if I'll work with them and help them to get better. (That's what this article was supposed to be about, but I got self-indulgent.)
They want me to work with them and help them improve!!! Come to think of it, that's a change, too. (And hey, I don't know about you but I don't want to change your oil, I want to change the world.) So, my next project is to put together some easy, step-by-step instructions so that they can bring in usable, pertinent copy facts and perhaps write copy that speaks to a specific customer. If I get any positive results, I'll let ya know.
Oops! I almost forgot the tawdry, titillating part of this story. Farah was involved in an automobile accident which, in her mind at least, ended any chance of a successful modeling career (she was going to modeling school as well as radio school). That depressed her so much that she ran off to Florida to see an old boyfriend. Nine months later she's pregnant. Last time I spoke with her she was happy, her child was healthy, and she was studying to be a pediatric nurse. (I said there was love, sex, and tragedy but I never said it involved me!)