Steve Taylor, Production Director, KGO-AM, San Francisco, CA
By Jerry Vigil
Attention "rock and roll" producers: Can't find that perfect CHR production gig? Well, take a second look. There's another format that's quickly discovering its need for your services: News/talk.
The trend of CHR producers into news/talk formats is relatively new and growing. A couple of months ago, we checked in with KSTP's Scot Combs, a "rocker" at heart who found a home at St. Paul's news/talk station. This month, we visit briefly with Steve Taylor, a veteran CHR producer with a new home at San Francisco's number one radio station, news/talk KGO.
Steve is about as "CHR" as a producer can get. With twenty-one years of radio under his belt, Steve's resume' is weighted with such super calls as KCBQ, KFRC, KYA, KSFO, and KQKS to mention a few. Last August, and for the first time, Steve left the control room for the production room and is helping to crank KGO's numbers even higher with his polished production style.
R.A.P.: When did you get interested in the production room, and what are your responsibilities at KGO?
Steve: I first got interested in doing promos in 1973 when I was working for Jack McCoy at KCBQ. At the time, he was syndicating "The Last Contest," and I used to help him produce the promos. That really got me interested in the field. Outside of that, I've basically been a rock and roll disc jockey for all these years.
At KGO, my main focus is producing promos. I write, voice and produce the promos here. I also produce about ninety percent of the commercials and write of few of those.
R.A.P.: How many years on the air do you have under your belt?
Steve: Oh, a good twenty.
R.A.P.: Do you miss being on the air?
Steve: Every once in a while I'd like to talk up an intro. But then again, I don't have to go to bed every night thinking, "What the hell am I going to do tomorrow?" I'm not sitting up at night writing stuff for the next day.
R.A.P.: Were you Production Director at most of the stations you've been at?
Steve: I've been Production Director at several stations, but at a lot of places I was just responsible for writing and doing the promos as my field of expertise. Someone else would be the Production Director and would take care of the commercials.
R.A.P.: What help do you have with production at KGO?
Steve: We have a producer, Dennis Gregg, who helps out, and we have three news people who will voice a few commercials. That's kind of infrequent because they have regular jobs, but they're paid an extra amount each week to contribute. News people have very recognizable voices. They don't do a lot of tricks with them, and they're not really overwhelmingly willing to do a lot of character things. You don't have any disc jockeys to cut commercials. All you have are talk personalities, and they're not allowed to do anything outside their shows unless they're paid exorbitant money. That prohibits them from doing very much.
R.A.P.: This is your first time at a news/talk station. What is it like after all those years of rock and roll?
Steve: It's very different, especially in that area of not having people around to do production. I tell these people around here that I come from radio stations where "five, six, seven people do production." They just go, "Wow!"
"And they'll go do it all by themselves, too!"
They don't understand because here you used to have to have a voice talent. Then you'd have to have a producer. Then you'd have to have an engineer. When I came in, I was able to do everything.
R.A.P.: The trend of "CHR producers" into news/talk stations is growing. What do you think management was thinking when they decided they needed to get a rock and roll producer in at KGO?
Steve: They're competing with music stations, and they're competing with that type of production, things that really leap out of the radio, grab people, and get their attention. Plus, they realize that as time goes by, they're going to be appealing to a younger and younger audience. A lot of topics now are not aimed at an older crowd anymore. They're talking about things that are of interest to baby boomers.
R.A.P.: What kinds of promos are you cutting? Are they mainly promos for the different programs on the air?
Steve: There are promos promoting the programming, and there are many different parts of that. As you can imagine, with a station like this that is block-programmed, there is quite a number of different shows. There are special events within the programming, and we'll promote outside events that we host or are a part of.
Last fall we did a free gas giveaway in three places around the bay area -- San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. We just announced that we were going to open up the pumps at a gas station and told listeners to get in line and fill up.
R.A.P.: Is that about as close to a "contest" as KGO gets?
Steve: No. We do giveaways and that kind of thing. We don't give away a whole lot of record albums, but we'll give away tickets to movies and certain events. We broadcast the Bay Breakers race each year which is a huge, huge race through San Francisco usually run by about a hundred thousand people.
R.A.P.: What makes a good promo?
Steve: I think a sense of humor really helps a lot. One thing that has really stood out, as far as the stuff I've been doing lately, is daring to be silly and daring to be goofy on what's traditionally considered an "adult" station. But it's a fine line. You've got to gauge what's too silly and what isn't. You don't want to go into the realm of being infantile. You've got to have the entertainment value so they will want to hear it again. I don't think you can club them over the head and blast them with a lot of lasers and necessarily expect them to be impressed.
R.A.P.: Are the other news and news/talk stations in the market doing production of a similar nature?
Steve: No, not that I've heard. The news station is considerably more staid and more serious because it's all news. It's not as personality oriented as KGO is.
R.A.P.: In a recent interview, KSTP's Scot Combs told us that he uses clips from familiar rock and roll tunes in the station's ID's and stagers. Are you doing that at KGO?
Steve: Yes. We'll use recognizable music to lead into talk shows or news hours, even montages of songs sometimes. For instance, we have a drought out here that's been going on for several years. Earlier this spring, the rain finally came, so we launched into these little montages of "rain" songs, just the common sense kind of thing that you do all the time in music radio.
R.A.P.: It makes sense that because someone listens to news, that doesn't mean they don't listen to music.
Steve: Right. You've got to show an awareness of each world. As a news station, we also cover music events.
R.A.P.: Do you have any special creative process you go through when you're asked to do something special?
Steve: It varies. Sometimes things pop right out of your head. Other times you have to take it home, sit down with a glass of wine, and swirl it around for a while.
R.A.P.: How's your sales staff? Are they great followers of deadlines or are they last minute maniacs?
Steve: We have nineteen salespeople, and they can run you ragged. There are times when I have plenty of notice, and there are other times when it has got to go on now. There's no rule. We just field things as they get to us. Things are pretty much run as they are supposed to be, but there are exceptions to everything.
R.A.P.: What production libraries are you using?
Steve: For the last six years, they have had the Network library here which I'm going to jettison pretty quickly. Then I've got the Weapons package from Brown Bag. That's it, aside from all the records and little chunks of tape that I've been carrying around with me for years, my private stash of little things I've found that work well. There's another library that I'm going to get, but I don't want to let it out of the bag yet.
R.A.P.: How many production studios are there at KGO, and how is the main one equipped?
Steve: We have three. The one I work out of has an MCI 4-track and a couple of MCI 2-tracks. We have an Eventide Harmonizer, an Orban equalizer, a compressor and that kind of stuff.
R.A.P.: Do you mess around with the keyboards at all?
Steve: I haven't here, but I have at other places. I have one of my own, but I haven't seen fit to bring it in. I'm dealing with a very heavy volume of stuff, so it's pretty much do it and move on.
R.A.P.: How many promos would you say you produce every week?
Steve: Probably in the neighborhood of twenty.
R.A.P.: How many commercials?
Steve: Oh, forty, fifty, sixty. I don't know.
R.A.P.: Are you serious? Ten spots a day on top of promos?
Steve: Oh sure. Easy.
R.A.P.: One would think the number one station in a major market would be getting mostly agency tapes.
Steve: We do get mostly agency tapes.
R.A.P.: Well how many "Mom and Pop" stores can afford KGO's rates?
Steve: They'll find their way onto the overnight shift. Quite a few of the spots I produce are for the overnight shift, but I also have to produce commercials for the shows that are on satellite, the shows we syndicate that originate here. There's a lot of live material on a station like this, but the spots end up being recorded for certain shows. That contributes to the heavy load.
R.A.P.: With that kind of load, you're probably not spending as much time being as creative as you'd like to be.
Steve: Nope. You don't sit around a lot.
R.A.P.: In a news/talk format, it seems there would be a lot more editing of voice tracks than in a music format. Do you find that to be true?
R.A.P.: The new digital workstations are ideal for that kind of work. Is the station looking at upgrading soon?
Steve: We're looking at it. Our Chief Engineer is going to the NAB convention in Las Vegas, and he's going to take a look at each of the different setups and try to decide which is the one we want to go for. When he gets back, we'll write up a proposal and see how far we get.
R.A.P.: What do you attribute KGO's huge success to?
Steve: It's a real unique mix, I think, of personalities and longevity. People stay here forever. The morning guys have been here for more than twenty years each. Everybody else around here has been here for ten to twenty years. You've also got the fact that most the people on the air are pretty likeable, and the audience likes them. They like what they have to say. KGO is also an excellent showcase for celebrity guests, and being an ABC station doesn't hurt as far as a news image goes. We've got the resources of ABC radio and television.
R.A.P.: Do you plan to stay at KGO for a while?
Steve: Oh yea. This is the kind of place where you stay. I came in here with a three year contract, and I said, "Jeez, is that all? Can we talk ten?"
R.A.P.: Do you have a free-lance business?
Steve: I dabble a little bit here and there, but I really don't have a lot of extra time to go hustling. I also do some TV booth work every now and then.
R.A.P.: Do you have any aspirations to get into programming?
Steve: I've done that already, in Spokane. That's the only place I've been a Program Director at, and I didn't really care for it once I got into it. The downside is all the paperwork and personnel problems. You don't really spend that much time on the fun part, on the creative. For that reason, I didn't really find it to be too satisfying. It's much better to be a performer.
R.A.P.: Do you feel you're getting enough performance time now that you're in production?
Steve: Oh yea! Tune into the station. My gosh, you hear me more than you hear anybody else.
R.A.P.: What are the most valuable assets you feel a production person can have aside from the ability to produce great spots and promos?
Steve: Versatility. Having a repertoire of styles and voices. And I don't mean just vocal styles, I mean writing styles and the ability to mix them around and pull out something different all the time. It comes in very handy in a place like this where you're doing high volume because you just can't have a lot of things sounding the same.
R.A.P.: That volume you deal with still seems awfully high.
Steve: Well, you've got to remember; at a station like this, we've got a higher spot load than a music station would. Music stations play maybe eight minutes of commercials an hour. We play eighteen.
R.A.P.: How much time would you say you spend on a spot from the time you get the fact sheet to the time it's on cart, assuming the spot starts tomorrow?
Steve: I'm pretty much going to be done with things within forty-five minutes. There are a few things you can take time with and tap dance around, then you just take up the slack somewhere else.
R.A.P.: Any final thoughts about production at a news/talk station?
Steve: News/talk is changing. It's going after younger listeners, and it's doing that with people who are used to appealing to a younger audience. Even the people who have been here for years and who once appealed to an older audience are now changing. Their guests have changed. They're focusing more on things that are of interest to younger people. They're not talking to heart surgeons so much any more. They're talking to people who are experts in divorce. There's been a subtle shift in topics and guests.
Our thanks to Steve for taking time out of his obviously busy day to chat with us. The fact more and more news/talk stations are turning to CHR production people for their production is a positive indicator of what we've been saying in this publication for over two years: production is becoming more important to the success of a radio station. The fact that formats other than CHR, AOR, etc. are realizing this means more positions for talented producers. Unfortunately, for radio stations, the demand seems to be higher than the supply right now. Fortunately, for talented producers, that means higher dollars.