R.A.P. Interview: Ray Sherman

R.A.P.: Do you produce all the commercials and promos for the station?
Ray: No. We have people on the air staff who do production, too, and some of them can do things I can't do. I'm not threatened by other people who have abilities to do things I am not able to do. I feel like I know what my strengths are and can capitalize on them, and I like to get that out of everybody. Everybody on the air staff that does production here has their own strengths, and we like to use them all. One of my guys, Mike Doran, got out of college a year or so ago, and he started working with us as a part-timer. Now he's our night guy and copywriter, and he has an excellent array of voices. He can do impersonations like you wouldn't believe.

R.A.P.: Does he write all the copy?
Ray: He writes most of the commercial copy, and I write occasionally. As far as promos go, we're more of a team on that. Our Program Director, Guy Perry, is very helpful in writing promos, and we'll come up with a lot of ideas together. We also get ideas from other staff people that may not be on-air people. Everybody has a perspective, and you can use it. We have a morning team here, Dwyer and Michaels, who are very talented. They are very good at being character voices in commercials, and they help out a lot with the promos. And they're very cooperative, too. You don't get any of this, "Oh, I've been here since 5:30 this morning" stuff. We're not a "four and out the door" kind of station. People hang around here and wear other hats.

R.A.P.: Who takes care of the continuity and traffic?
Ray: We have two girls, Monica and Theresa, who work with the Marketron system and do a great job. Traffic is one of those thankless jobs. It's not a high paying job at some companies, and yet, those people have so much stress to deal with. Somehow, they manage to get all the spots on, and we go through weekends without any discreps at all. We don't miss spots here.

R.A.P.: How are spec spots treated at your station?
Ray: Spec spots play a very important role here. I don't know if this is the same in other small markets, but you're going to Ma and Pa kinds of businesses, and you can't just whip out a ratings book and say, "This is why you should buy 97X." You have to show them more. You have to say, "Listen to this spot 97X put together for you and compare it to the commercial the other station did." We offer service. Service is an important part of the sales business, in my opinion, and I think we service our clients. We have no problem cutting a spec spot three and four times. If that's what it takes, we'll do it. That's how we get business. We believe that once people get on the air with us and if the campaign is successful, they'll be back.

R.A.P.: Does a salesperson have to do anything special to get a spec spot done?
Ray: Not really. They'll have somebody they want to call on, maybe a client that has been on recently, and the salesperson will come to Mike or myself and say, "I want to go see this guy at this body shop. He likes Star Trek. What can we do?" Then Mike gets into his Kirk thing, we put a spot together, and the salesman takes it there.

R.A.P.: You'll produce spec spots for cold calls without copy approval?
Ray: Yea, sure. Of course, there are some clients where it's a given that they'll buy, and it's also a given that we'll have to re-produce whatever it is we take to them. So, in that case, we might just take a script to them. If you know your clientele, you'll have a couple of clients where it's better just to take a script to them first. In that case, we'll get the script approval then produce it. But, that's not usually how we do it.

R.A.P.: How many spec spots would you say the station is producing every week?
Ray: Well, let me look at the master log for the period of February 3 to February 10...sixteen spec spots.

R.A.P.: How many regular spots do you cut per week?
Ray: Oh, I couldn't begin to count those. It's a rather large number. Being in a small market, you don't get all those agency dubs. You have to do a lot more actual production.

R.A.P.: Are you producing a lot of promos as well?
Ray: Yes. The station is very promo intensive. In fact, that's one of the things that I think sets us out from a lot of the other stations. We're constantly trying to come up with angles on things that the other stations don't do. Take the Thomas hearings, for example. We thought, "Well, I don't know what kind of weekend we could do, but what about a political cartoon? The papers do it, so why don't we?" So, we did a political cartoon and used the characters of Marge and Homer to create a political satire out of the whole thing. There's also a lot of talk going around about censorship, so we did a "Censored Weekend" with "the best bleepin' rock and roll all bleepin' weekend, and if you don't bleepin' like it, you can kiss our bleep!" And you don't really have to do anything different programming-wise; it's all in how you package the weekend.

Another example like this is our upcoming Valentine's promotion. We're giving away a Valentine's package this weekend, and you've got to call our Valentine's Hotline and tell us about your worst Valentine's experience. The morning guys then play some of the messages back, and they pick a winner. Well, with the Mike Tyson verdict in the news, we thought, "Gee, what if we had Mike Tyson call the Valentine's Hotline and tell us about his worst Valentine's experience?" So, we produce a lot of little things like this.

R.A.P.: It sounds like you're producing not only a large number of spots and promos, but a large number of creative spots and promos. What kinds of guidelines and policies do you have regarding turnaround time on these orders?
Ray: We put out a little schedule that says, "Okay, salesman submits order for spec on Tuesday morning. When can they reasonably expect it back? We need a day to write it and so on, so Friday afternoon is the earliest they should expect it." But, does it work like that? No. If they need something, and I've got time to do it, I'll do it right away. I'll ask them when they need it. I work better with deadlines, anyway. If they say, "Well, I've got a meeting with him on Friday at noon," I'll say, "Okay, no problem. I think I can have that for you." Then we get it done. We're not turning spots around in a half a day on a regular basis, but that will be done if it's necessary.

R.A.P.: I get the impression you do a lot of collaborating with other staff members on the spots and promos. When do you find time to do that?
Ray: Just sitting around the station, goofing around, we come up with a lot of good stuff. That's where a lot of our stuff comes from. We also do a lot of things together outside the station which gives us time to collaborate. That's another thing about working in a small market versus the large market; in a large market, people go off into different directions after five-thirty, and you don't see them until the next day. In a large market, you may live seven million people away from the guy you work with every day. But here -- not that we live and play with each other all the time -- there are a lot of times when we're out together. There's a local class A baseball team here, and our AM station handles that coverage. So, maybe we'll get together at a game on a "fifty-cent beer night with 97X," and we'll have a couple of beers and come up with something there. As far as regular brainstorming sessions go, we like to think we have them on a regular basis, about once a month.

R.A.P.: What makes a good spot?
Ray: A good spot is something that people hear. We're bombarded with so much information every day, and we only absorb about one-fifth of it. I don't want my stuff to be part of the four-fifths that goes in one ear and out the other. I'd rather be that one-fifth that gets somebody's attention, and I like to tell a story to get somebody's attention. People like to hear a story. Think about it. If you see somebody at a party who is standing around, telling a good story, all of a sudden, you find people just walking over and listening to what that person has to say. Look at a legendary broadcaster like Ernie Harwell. I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell do play-by-play on Tiger games, and he's an incredible story teller. He's riveting. So, if you can tell a story in thirty seconds or sixty seconds, you're going to get somebody's attention, and the message is going to be heard. And you can do that in a lot of ways.

When people come in for tours and come into my studio, I'll say, "One of the things I like about this job is that we get to make pictures in people's minds, unlike television." And I point over to the video monitor in the room and say, "Those people have already drawn the picture for you. You don't have to make your mind work. But if I put this little compact disk in here and make this sound on the radio -- and you turn on the water sound effects or whatever -- all of a sudden, you've got a picture in your mind. We've painted a picture in your mind. We've created a scene. That's what the magic of radio is, and that's why I like radio." And if you do that with commercials, you've done your job.

I don't look at a commercial as something that is work or undesirable. I like commercials, but there are a lot of commercials out there that aren't good. You get people coming in with their scripts that are basic reads, and if that's what they want, that's what you give them. But if I get to choose, I try to get people to listen to what I have to say in my commercials.