From Road Hum To Riches

by Mary Collins

My '82 Dodge never had a radio in it. It was a purposeful decision on my part, but one that met with plenty of confusion from coworkers and friends. Why would a radio writer and producer intentionally choose not to install a good stereo system in her car? Surely, listening to what's already on the air is the best way to monitor your station, check out the competition, and get ideas, right? Perhaps.

But there was a method to my madness. And although I've since learned to appreciate the value of a car stereo (masks the noise of my rusty muffler), I still drive in silence ninety percent of the time. What does this have to do with radio production?

Except for when we're sleeping, living out in Thoreau's woods, or chemically inducing some other state of consciousness, which, since I first heard Arlo Guthrie's "Coming into Los Angeles" I thought was a bad idea; we are bombarded with information and various stimuli. So much so, that it's difficult to clear away the clutter and exercise our boundless imaginations. Yet, it's when you allow yourself time to be reflective and when you discipline yourself to be a voracious reader, a keen observer, a sharp listener, and an enthusiastic participant in life's many adventures (and I mean beyond the production booth) that many great ideas and some incredible radio ad concepts are born.

So, with the hypnotic hum of the winter tires that I've yet to remove from my '91 Pontiac; as I drive, I'm able to shut out much of the distractions that are the bane of creative people everywhere. Still confused? Here's my point. When was the last time you were able to begin, refine, and complete a project without being interrupted by the phone, a sales rep, your boss, or that great promo your morning guy just completed blasting over the radio in your office? December 26, 1989? No kidding!? Welcome to the club.

If you want to do your best work, consistently, you have to clear away all the distractions that keep your brain swirling in deadlines and detail debris. Make time for your mind to wander, to ask all the "what if" questions. Allow yourself to really think openly and creatively, that is, to process all the information you've received about your client, edit all the bad ideas experience has taught you don't work or have been tried before. It's the "Ah ha" experience--the new, improved idea from which great radio ads are born. Clients love you for it. And they often wonder, "How do you come up with those great ideas?!" If you told them, "I-meditate-to-the-sound-of-winter-radials-humming-against-the-blacktop-on-a-long-stretch-of-highway-until-my-brain-kicks-into-meditative-overdrive," they would think you were a bit loony--which you probably are, but isn't that what makes this business interesting?

The point of this essay isn't to lock yourself and your laptop in a parking garage until you come up with the next best radio campaign. It's to remind all of us to develop our own system for getting away from our routines as often as we can in order to allow time for those funky, fun ideas to bubble up from our subconscious where they're just hangin' around like teens at the mall waiting for something or someone to harness all that unused energy and put it to good use. So, "Keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel." Hmmmmnh...I like that. Wonder if it's been used before? Here's to your next great radio ad.

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