Q It Up: PD's, What Makes a Good Production Director? - Part 1

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95by Sterling Tarrant

I have one favorite joke: "Why'd the monkey fall out of the tree..?" "...It was dead...."

Now I'm sure it loses something reading it on the printed page, but I laughed my behonkus off and down the hall the first time I heard that joke when I was thirteen or so. I still love that joke. Most people expect something else for the punch line, like he slipped on a banana peel or a branch broke. Nope, that ape went inert. I think the joke is funny because when I first heard the punch line, I never thought that it could be that...obvious.

Production Directors know the obvious things about our jobs. However, when you get a group of Program Directors together and ask them, "What makes a good Production Director?" the obvious can been seen in a new light. My thanks to Andy Capp, who suggested this question. Andy's a great guy who lives up to and surpasses the criteria set forth by the following PDs.

So, Dave Broman, Program Director of WWKI-FM, Kokomo, IN, what makes a good Production Director?

"Creativity, creativity, and creativity. You can have all the best equipment in the world, but, if the person using it doesn't have any imagination, the equipment doesn't do you any good. You gotta have a good copywriter who has an awareness of the production capabilities. Also, a person who has some discretion as to how to be creative with each client. Creativity isn't just all bells and whistles and equipment. You can have some remarkably good spots with just one or two people talking minus the special effects, so part of their creativity is knowing if that approach, or in general what kind of approach, will work best.

The ability to work with all different kinds of people is a plus because the Production Director is between the sales staff and the air staff. You know you hear the age-old battles between sales and programming. It exists because people are different and the Production Director has to be able to work with those differences."

Dana Jang, KSJO-FM PD, San Jose, CA: "Dealing with digital workstations, the ability to put things together in a timely manner, and keeping the administration of the production department together are key. Having a good file system, a good relationship with traffic and sales, and copywriting skills are all things I like to see in a Production Director. They should be able to come out with copy that is customer focused, both on the side of the client and also on the side of the listeners, copy that is directed to people in a conversational one-on-one manner and yet is also able to sell the product. I think the creative side is another aspect--you know, a person who can brainstorm with others in and outside of the building and come up with ideas that can help the station stand out from others. Having a clear understanding of the station's direction, vision, and point of view is another good attribute. Those are some of the things I look for in a Production Director."

Two responses to my inquiry were faxed to me. The first is from Lon Larkin, PD of Oldies 107 KMOQ-FM in Joplin, MO: "I would have to say that my ideal Production Director is that one person who can be all things to all of the staff in varying degrees...without forgetting to get his/her spots on the air. In other words I need someone who knows how I want the station to sound and can CONSISTENTLY crank out great creative, then switch hats and have the ability to be sensitive to the never ending needs of the client, sales staff, GM...and engineers who need to...well, I'm not sure what they need...but get out of their way!! If they can accomplish all of the above, they deserve (but don't usually receive) big thank yous!! Hey, I know what it's like. For now, I'm wearing two "PD hats," Program Director and Production Director--small market, but hey, it builds character!!!"

Finally, Dave Anthony, Director of FM Programming for Prism Radio in Jacksonville, FL recently hired a new Production Director. He faxed me the list of qualifications for that opening, starting with these comments: "At first glance, it looked intimidating even to me; however, these are requirements needed by most aggressive radio companies in 1995. Production Directors who only do the minimal dubs and scheduling of production aren't cutting it anymore. It's interesting to note, too, that as of tomorrow, we've upped our Production Director, Jim Fox, to Creative Services Director with a Continuity Director (Van Page) and Production Director (John Daniel) reporting to him. And as you scan through this list of skills and expectations, you'll see that we treat this department to be the vitally important division that it is."

"Here's the list: 1. Outstanding organizational skills to build systems that are clearly understood by anyone who will fill in during vacations. 2. Strong attention to detail. 3. Passion for the big product. 4. Total dedication to customer service. 5. Prominent creative streak. 6. Affection for copywriting. 7. Desire to be cutting edge, to pioneer new methods and innovative new styles. 8. Strong technical ability with existing equipment and a STRONG desire to learn the next generation of digital tools. 9. Management skills that are heavily people oriented. 10. A positive motivator. 11. Effective problem solver. 12. Zeal to interface with customers directly and with other departments.

We were successful in hiring someone from within our company here in Jacksonville, but I did invite all applicants to go through this process. Only a few did. This list also had the unplanned result of filtering out anyone who had minimal initiative. (Those who were just looking for a job didn't go to all the work I asked of them.) The following presentation was required: 1. Cassette tape of your best production, both commercial spots and station promos. 2. At least three examples of spots you've written (on paper). 3. Short summary of your experience and your career goals. 4. Illustrate your stance on optimum customer service. 5. Demonstrate how you would build effective production systems. 6. Summarize your philosophies regarding proper motivation of people. 7. Show us your determination in getting projects done on time, every time.

The final candidates, needless to say, were excellent and inspiring. As our industry progresses and becomes more complex, so must our personnel. So much is written about how LMAs and duopolies are reducing the number of jobs available, but the best still rise to the top. Companies can be more selective now, which means, of course, that production work that's "good enough" simply isn't anymore."

More comments from more PDs next month. Until next month, learn from the obvious or be oblivious.

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