Craig Jackman, Production Director, CHEZ-FM, Ottawa, Ontario
by Jerry Vigil
This month is a first for the RAP Interview. We venture outside the United States for the first time and check in with Craig Jackman, Production Director at CHEZ-FM in Ottawa, Ontario. The radio market of Ottawa serves about 800,000 people and, in terms of size, can be compared to the Jacksonville, FL market which ranks 49th in the U.S..
Craig offers up some interesting insights into Canadian radio and Canadian life; and, as is evident on Craig's composite for this month's Cassette, there's nothing lacking in the way of creative production at CHEZ.
R.A.P.: How did you get your start in radio, and how did you wind up at CHEZ-FM?
Craig: I got into it the way I think a lot of people do. I was a frustrated musician, and nothing was working in that end; so I went to a community college and took a two year radio and television course. One of my instructors had a second job at a video production house, and one of the guys he hired to do voice-over stuff was the drive-time jock at CHEZ. An opening at CHEZ in promotions came up, and my instructor sent me over to CHEZ. I started at CHEZ in promotions. Then they had an opening in production, and I moved into that slot as a production assistant. Last October, the Production Director left, and I got promoted.
Before CHEZ, I had worked at CFRA in Ottawa and its FM station, CFMO, doing weekend board op-ing and some promotion stuff. This was during my first year of school. The job at CHEZ came up in my second year of school. That would be six years ago. During that second year, I had two or three radio jobs. At one point, I was working at three stations at the same time.
R.A.P.: What are your musical skills?
Craig: I'm a bassist, and I play some guitar. I play a little bit with my friends and former band mates every once in a while.
R.A.P.: Any keyboard skills?
Craig: Not yet, but it looks like I'm going to have to start on it pretty soon. That appears to be the way the industry is heading -- keyboards and samplers everywhere.
R.A.P.: Do you have any formal musical education?
Craig: When I was a little kid, I took violin lessons and some drum lessons, but nothing serious. I can't read music anymore, but I still apply my musical skills to production. Having been part of a rhythm section and having had the drum lessons in the past, I'm really sensitive to the rhythm of a track when I'm editing. It has helped me a lot in that way.
R.A.P.: What is CHEZ's format, and how's the station doing?
Craig: It's sort of an AOR/AC hybrid. We play a bit of everything. There are about sixteen stations in the market, and we're number three overall, but we're very successful in our target demographics. When we break it down into male/female and smaller age groups, we're usually number one or two, and mostly number one in the demos that management wants.
R.A.P.: In a recent letter, you wrote about your surprise that U.S. Production Directors seem to "do it all" -- voice, write, and produce. How is production at CHEZ structured?
Craig: The sales rep goes out and signs the client to a contract. He gets a fact sheet and brings that in. The fact sheet goes to our Creative Department which consists of our two writers. We have a Creative Director, Stewart Phillips, who is the head writer, and Renaud Timson, our other writer. They come up with the complete concept from the fact sheet. After client approval of the concept and copy, I get the script. I then decide who is going to voice it and add the music and sound effects. I'll generally get the jocks to voice all our commercials and promos, but every now and then I'll bring in somebody from the outside.
It floors me every time I read in RAP about Production Directors that do all of this themselves. When I get Radio And Production, the first thing I do is listen to The Cassette. I'm hearing stuff that I know I could produce, but it would take me all day to do one spot. Production Directors in the States are also writing the spots plus voicing them. I assume they have to deal with a lot of clients, too. How do people manage to get ANY work done, let alone the quality of stuff that appears on The Cassette every month? I don't have to deal with clients any more than maybe once a month. The reps and the writers deal with them. It gives me a lot of time, so I can be finicky about details.
R.A.P.: Do Stewart and Renaud work together on every spot?
Craig: No. Who gets what depends on the client. When the rep brings the fact sheet in, he'll have an idea of what the client wants. Sometimes, if it's just a straight forward spot, he'll give it to Stewart. If he wants something a little bent, a little left wing, he'll give it to Renaud. It also depends upon the work load, too. If Renaud has a big pile of clients to deal with, things will get shuffled around. It works out so they have the same work load, but they don't work together on the same spot.
R.A.P.: Do you find yourself doing any writing at all?
Craig: I do more editing. They give me the scripts, and I might edit it for clarity or for time. I don't end up doing a lot of writing here.
R.A.P.: Are you the only producer?
Craig: I work during the day, and I have an assistant that comes in during the night to do dubs and some production. We only have one production studio. My assistant is also a part-time announcer, so he does voice work as well.
R.A.P.: Did you find the same basic structure for the Production/Creative Departments at the other stations you were at?
Craig: Yes. They'd have two, three, maybe four writers, and two producers. These other stations I worked at also had more studios though. They had more people in during the day, and nobody in at night. But the structure was essentially the same.
R.A.P.: Based upon just talking with other people in other Canadian markets and your knowledge of radio in Canada, would you say this structure is the same at most stations in Canada?
Craig: Yes. I think most stations follow this same structure.
R.A.P.: Why is that?
Craig: Well, it might have to do with the way Canadian stations are regulated. I'm not exactly sure about the regulations in the States, but we have files full of regulations that we have to follow regarding radio advertising. Depending upon what the product is, we have to get CRTC, which is our broadcast authority -- the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission -- to approve copy for various ads like those that mention beer and wine. We have to get a written approval. Also, if the spot is for a restaurant or a food product, or if the spot makes a claim of some type, it has to go through the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. Then, we at CHEZ add our own regulations on top of that. We're really quite picky about stuff like stereotyping and minorities. Where we are, right on the border of Ontario and Quebec, we have to really watch fake French accents. It gets kind of political some-times. Before this interview, I went and looked for the regulations, and they took up one drawer of a file cabinet.
When a script is written, and the client has approved it, it then has to be sent to CRTC or Consumer and Corporate for them to approve it. Then it comes back to us, and we can produce it. Also, there's absolutely no tobacco advertising at all, and there's a third department, Health and Welfare Canada. They give approval on medicine -- stuff like tanning salons and any product claims from a health food store.
R.A.P.: Give us an example of the kind of things you can't say on some commercials.
Craig: If we're doing a spot for a club or a bar, we can't mention price, unless it's like, "Two-fifty Tuesday." We could say that, but then everything, all the food and all the drinks, would have to be two-fifty. We can't say, "come in on Tuesday for happy hour" because you can't mention happy hour where all drinks are half-price. You can't mention actually drinking the product. You can't say, "Come on over and swill down a beer!" All we can basic-ally do with clubs is a laundry list of who's appearing, or make it sort of a lifestyle kind of spot. If Molson were to sponsor a concert, we'd have to get approval on that spot.
You have to watch any claims you make about food. A couple of months ago we had a spot for a cookie place. The ad said the cookies were made with "farm fresh eggs and fresh dairy butter." It just sounds like an embellishment, but it's actually making a claim. So we had to change the copy to say the cookies were made with "eggs and butter." We had to take everything out.
It's great to listen to The Cassette because I hear these great things, but it's frustrating at the same time because I hear stuff I know could never air in Canada, or more specifically on this station because of the way we've set it up.
R.A.P.: How long does it take to get the approval from these government agencies?
Craig: It depends upon the time of the year. During the summer, when a lot of beer companies are advertising, it can take up to two weeks. In the spring and fall, you can get stuff back the next day.
R.A.P.: Would you care to venture a guess as to the percentage of copy that you have to get approved?
Craig: It's a lot less than it sounds. I would say twenty-five percent or less would need approval. You just need to make sure you're far enough ahead of deadline. You can fax a script off and wait a couple of days for it to be faxed back, or you can call the department for approval. It just extends your deadline a couple of days. Once you get used to it, it's not a real hassle.
We can produce it, but we can't air it until we get the approval. What we end up doing is producing it then sitting on it. Once you've been doing it for a couple of months, you know what they're going to accept and what they're not.
R.A.P.: How does this approval situation and turnaround time affect management and the sales department?
Craig: Management is very good about it. With the sales department, we've just told them, "Listen, realize that some things have to get approval. If it doesn't get approval, it can't get on the air. There's nothing we can do about it. There's nothing any competitor can do. Everybody works under the same guidelines." So, the rep can't come in and say, "This has to get on the air tomorrow or the client will go to another station." He's still going to have to get the script approved no matter where he goes.
What we've done to keep everybody operating on an even keel is say, "For all your spots, give us as much lead time as you can. If you can give us two days, forty-eight hours, we can do it." If we get someone who comes in and wants a spot on tomorrow, we take that kind of situation on a case by case basis. If we can do it, we'll do it and keep everybody happy. If we're backed up and can't do it, then I'm sorry, we can't do it. If the client goes to another station, that's the risk we take.
R.A.P.: Is management supportive of you on that?
Craig: Yes. Management backs us up completely on that. They look at it like this: Okay, we might lose one or two clients, but we'll keep a lot more clients happy if production, sales, and creative are all working together. If the department runs smoothly, if we're not spending fifteen minutes yelling and screaming at each other, we can get a lot more stuff out. They give us the information and let creative and production run with it. We give them the finished product, they take it to the client, and everybody's happy.
R.A.P.: It sounds like the relationship between production/creative and sales is pretty good as compared to many stations in the U.S..
Craig: Yes. It's not adversarial. We spend an hour in a meeting once every two or three weeks discussing any problems with clients or interpersonal problems. That has helped a lot, too. We feel we can get a lot more done and make a lot more money for the station if we all work together and subjugate the egos. We might not like each other very much, but if we all work together, everybody will make a lot more money with a lot less aggravation.
R.A.P.: Almost all the spots you've sent for The Cassette are thirties? Don't you produce many sixties?
Craig: We don't get a lot of sixties up here. They're generally all thirties, and we sell fifteens, too. I don't know why that is.
R.A.P.: Do you have a different rate for sixty second spots?
Craig: Yes. It's cheaper than two thirties but more than one thirty.
R.A.P.: Would you say that most clients buy the thirties because they're cheaper than sixties?
Craig: No. I just think a lot of clients don't need sixty seconds to get their point across. A well written spot can be ten seconds long. If they want to get across their name, their sale and their address, we can do that in fifteen seconds if they want it. Generally, everything we do is a thirty. It's rare when we get a sixty. We get sixties coming in nationally, but even then, they're kind of rare.
R.A.P.: How many stopsets an hour are there on CHEZ and how many commercials are there in each stopset?
Craig: There are three sets an hour, and I think the maximum we're allowed is eight minutes an hour; but we can play with that. So, by selling thirties, we get a larger number of clients. We can get sixteen clients on in an hour instead of just eight.
We're only allowed so much commercial time by CRTC. FM stations can only sell so much time per hour. On the other hand, AM stations, if they can sell sixty minutes of commercial time an hour, can go ahead and sell sixty minutes an hour. It has become a very strange situation in Canada. AM is almost completely unregulated. All they have to do is abide by the advertising regulations, and then they can sell all the commercial time they want. FM is tighter regulated. You can only sell so much per day and per hour.
R.A.P.: Why has the AM become so unregulated?
Craig: I think AM stations have gone up to the CRTC and said, "Look, we're losing all our listeners to FM. Let us do what we want so we can stay in business. Let us play more ads. Let us play the music the listeners want." Regarding the music, in Canada you have to play a certain amount of Canadian music. I believe it is thirty percent that has to be Canadian music.
R.A.P.: How many commercials would you say your department produces every day?
Craig: When it gets really heavy, like around Christmas, we do about twenty a day. Usually, we'll average around ten a day. At this station, we're either really hot or really cold. We were really busy last Christmas doing twenty to twenty-five spots a day, from mid-October to mid-January. Through January and February, we were lucky if we were getting five a day. Then from March through June we were up to twenty a day, every day. Lately, it's been slowing down again.
R.A.P.: That kind of load certainly explains the need for several people in your department. What about promos? Are you producing those as well?
Craig: Yes. We do a lot more promos in the summer because we're involved in a lot more things. We probably do about two promos a day during the summer.
R.A.P.: Do Stewart and Renaud write the promos, too?
Craig: Yes, in conjunction with the Program Director and the promotions department. Generally, what happens with promos, if there are promos for specific shows on the station like an album premier, Renaud or Stewart will write something and have it edited and approved by the Program Director. If it's something we're involved in with the community, then it comes through the Promotions Department.
R.A.P.: What makes a good commercial in your opinion?
Craig: There are a couple of ways to look at it. A good commercial from the client's point of view is something that brings in money. If a client is happy with his commercial and it works for him, I'm happy. For me, a good commercial is something that grabs my ear. I was reading something about advertising recently that said the average person is exposed to eighteen-hundred commercial messages a day, from billboards, TV, radio, bus signs, store fronts, etc.. He'll recognize six and remember two. I want the two things he remembers to be stuff I did. I want something that catches his ear, makes him remember the client, and remember what the client was advertising.
R.A.P.: In order to catch that ear, do you feel it is great copy that is needed or some special production at the front of the spot, or both?
Craig: The way we work here, everything starts with the copy. If it's going to be a great spot, it's going to start with a great script. Little zips and zaps and electronic noises might catch somebody's ear for a half second, which is good, but if you've got a well written script, you can just do it cold, and it'll bring in business for your client.
R.A.P.: It sounds like you have a well run department there. Is there anything about it you would like to change for the better?
Craig: Not really. Even though I'm just concentrating on production, we're always walking into each other's offices, sitting down, and bouncing ideas back and forth. A lot of the stuff we end up sending in for The Cassette is stuff that started out as a little idea, then we bounced it back and forth and made it a more collaborative effort. That generally results in a better spot. I suppose I'd like it if we could spend a little more time brainstorming and collaborating. I think it works better for us if we get everybody involved in the beginning, so everybody is on the exact same page. That way, when it's time for production, everybody knows what it is going to sound like, even before I start.
R.A.P.: What are you using for production libraries?
Craig: We've got a bunch. Our main library is The New Production Library from Airforce in Toronto. We also have Power Play from them which is really good, but it's only two CD's. After seeing the ads in R.A.P., I got No Wimps from Philadelphia Music Works. We got some Joe Kelly stuff, and I just got some stuff from The Production Garden in San Antonio.
What's nice about this place is that if I really want a production library, I'll go to the General Manager and say, "I really want this. We need this for production," and he'll sign the purchase order. We used to just go through records we weren't using and steal music beds, but, and rightfully so, our GM started to worry a little more about copyrights. So, where possible, with everything we use, we have access to the copyright. He doesn't want to pay any legal costs, and I agree with him. Plus, I don't particularly like stealing other people's music.
R.A.P.: Describe your production studio.
Craig: Our studio is not quite state of the art, but, because there's only one, we tend to fill it with slightly better equipment and keep it better maintained. It runs for two complete production shifts, and then, during the overnights when nobody is using it, we sometimes have somebody come in and produce radio plays in the studio. We have a Wheatstone board which is about a year old. Our 8-track is an Ampex MM-1200. We have a couple of Ampex ATR 2-tracks. We have some new Beyer MC-740 condenser mikes that replaced our old Shure SM-81's. We have Denon CD players -- one is the 970 which we got last month, and the other is the 950. For effects units we have a Yamaha SPX-90 and a Rane DC24 compressor. We master to 2-track and store everything at 15 ips.
I'm not sure how things work in the States, but we try and archive stuff for about a year. I think we have seventy-five 2-track reels that we master everything onto and save in case a client wants to run an old spot.
R.A.P.: Have you thought about going to DAT for mastering and storage?
Craig: We keep telling our engineer that we'd like to get some digital stuff in here, but he's not really big on DAT. If he wants to go digital, he doesn't want to have to deal with tape as well. He'd rather go entirely to hard disk. We're waiting for costs to come down on some things. The first things he wants to get rid of are the carts. Then, after that, we want to get a multi-track hard disk recorder. But we have to wait for budget approval and wait for the system that's right for us.
R.A.P.: How do you like living in Canada?
Craig: I've lived here all my life. I have a lot of friends and family in the States, and most Americans I talk to can't understand how Canada works and why we want to stay here. It's a completely different country in more ways than one. There are a lot of benefits to being a Canadian. However, you end up paying for those benefits because your taxes are higher. Canada is a lot cleaner and a lot safer. When you cross the border, you can tell the difference.
There's less crime -- not even a third of what there is in the States. We read about crime waves in New York and Detroit, and up here you can walk down the streets of downtown Ottawa, downtown Toronto, downtown Montreal anytime you want, and feel safe. It's a lot harder to get a gun here.
We have a completely different mentality. It's more of a do things for the country as opposed to a me, me, me mentality. I like it here.
There are also a lot of things Canadians admire about Americans. When I was overseas on vacation, I saw a real pride that Americans take in their country. The people are proud to be Americans and they don't care who knows it. Canadians are proud to be Canadians, but we want people to know we're Canadians as opposed to Americans.
R.A.P.: What are some of the things that Canadians envy about America or Americans?
Craig: Well, America is the land of opportunity. If you're willing to go down into the States, you can make a lot more money a lot faster than you could in Canada. Here, if you're willing to work, you can make a lot of money, but there's a lot more red tape and a lot more taxes. But then again, you have a little more security. Everybody has medical insurance. You don't have to worry about going to the hospital. You know the government will pay for it. But then again, when you go out and buy something at the store, you have to pay fifteen percent tax on it -- eight percent to the province and seven percent to the government. Income taxes are higher as well.
R.A.P.: Would you say a Production Director in Ottawa makes less than the Production Director in a similarly sized market in the U.S.?
Craig: Yes, I'd say so. Now that's just my experience. I know a Production Director in Ottawa who probably makes less than somebody in Edmonton which is an equivalent sized market.
R.A.P.: How's the cost of living?
Craig: Higher. Ottawa is a fairly high tourist center. When we get people up from the States, they're amazed at the price of a lot of things. My wife works at one of the major hotels here, and people coming up from the States have a hard time believing the price of gas, groceries, and stuff like that. In fact, Canadians living along the border of Canada and the U.S. do ninety percent of their shopping in the States just because the prices are cheaper.
R.A.P.: Any parting tips for our readers?
Craig: Well, Renaud and I were talking about this just last week. This is one thing we try and do if we ever get in a rut. We draw a straight line between where we are and where we want to go. Then we try and figure out how many ways we can get there without going down that straight line. We try to look at creativity using curves instead of straight lines, if you know what I mean. And we try to get our sales reps to think creatively. That way, when we hand them something that's completely off the wall, completely left wing, he can look at it and see what we're doing and see if it will work for his client. If the sales rep can hear it and get the joke, they know they can explain it to the client. When we get everybody involved in the creative process, the client gets better spots, and the whole department runs smoother.