Tales of the Tape - December 1996

dennis-daniel--logo-aug95-tfnby Dennis Daniel

For years I've been pontificating in this column about the absolute necessity for respect and symmetry between programming and production. The Production Director and the Program Director must work in tandem to help create the sound of the station whenever the music isn't playing. Why this essential, logical relationship is the exception rather than the rule still mystifies me. Throughout my career I've been very lucky to have great working relationships with my Program Directors. One of the greatest took place from 1991 to 1994 at WDRE, a modern rocker in Garden City, Long Island. My PD was Tom Calderone, who now works at Jacobs Media consulting "The Edge" stations nationwide, as well as hosting the very popular nationally syndicated "Modern Rock Live." I learned a great deal from Tom about production and imaging. What I loved the most about him was his never ending pursuit of excellence. (In other words, the man nudged the hell out of me!) He took the time to listen to my needs as well as giving me all kinds of guidelines for inspiration. I decided to interview Tom mainly to let you all know that there are PDs out there who understand the importance of a great working relationship with production. The interview will be split between this month and next month's column. If you like what you're reading, rip it out and chuck it in your PD's face and say, "See! See! Now let's get with the program bunky!"

Dennis: What kind of relationship do you feel a programming director should have with the Production Director?
Tom: I think it's real important for a Program Director to understand that certainly the music is important, but so is the "ear candy" and commercials that come in between the records! You have to make sure your production head is a part of your programming meetings as much as possible! It's extremely important to have an understanding of what's going on in production at all times. In fact, it's more important now than ever before! This whole New World Order (station takeovers and downsizing) has made the Program Director and the Production Director's time even more stretched than it was previously. Now PDs are dealing with maybe one or two properties and production people have, in many instances, taken the load on of other formats. So, the available time for the two department heads to meet is at an all time low. Even a couple of years ago a Program Director would be able to talk to a Production Director at least once a day and say, "What's happening? What's going on? Try this or that." Now it's every couple of days...if at all!

Dennis: Looking back on our WDRE days, we had one format, "The WDRE Modern Rock Network," broadcast from New York to stations around the country. We were dealing with finding creative ways to break away from the Network as well as keep the overall sound "generic." I don't think that's the norm. Production Directors nowadays are finding themselves suddenly working for companies that own a lot of stations with a lot of different formats, right?
Tom: More often than not. I'll tell you...looking back...our Network situation was almost a luxury. We were lucky to be putting out the same product on five or six different stations. Think about this: you're the Production Director of one radio station. Let's say the national business is about 40%, the local in house about 60%. In theory, let's figure you're in charge of two million dollars of local business, depending on how big or small your market is. Now, all of a sudden, your company comes and says to you, "Hi, we just bought a bunch of radio stations. We're going to keep the production people in place, but we would like you to start integrating yourself into those stations because we like what you do creatively." Now, with four or five radio stations, you're responsible for thirty to forty million dollars of business! That's a lot of money!

Dennis: (Gulp!) Absolutely!
Tom: Exactly, so the time management issue is such a big one. You know I said something the other day to one of our Program Directors and they looked at me kinda weird. I said, "You know, if you're spending more time talking with record labels and not enough time working with all aspects of production from morning show bits to commercials and imaging, there are some serious problems with your radio station."

Dennis: Amen to that. As a consultant for Jacobs Media, do you deal with these production/programming issues often?
Tom: I like to meet with the Production Director and have them play me examples of their various productions. Whenever I visit a station or ask for a station montage tape, I always want to hear examples of production. I critique their production with the same concern as their morning show and music flow.

Dennis: So, as a programmer you believe that the production aspect of the station should be considered just as important as any other, that the quality of the overall production may be the very thing that leads to someone switching stations when the music stops.
Tom: No doubt about it!

Dennis: Why do you think that's not happening universally, Tom? Why are there still programmers who treat production as the bastard child between sales and programming?
Tom: Because many programmers fail to understand what the production department is all about. There are some great programmers who work production just as hard as their jocks...and you know what? They're getting winning production! I can go into a market, listen to a radio station and tell you whether or not that PD has any clue about what he wants out of his production department.

There are Program Directors who tell me they go to their production people, and this may sound familiar, Dennis, and say, "You know what? I want you to do the most f**ked up piece of production you've ever done. I'm not going to air it, but let me hear it."

Dennis: God bless you for asking me to do that! What a challenge!
Tom: Right! So the Production Director does something crazy and wonderful, brings it to the PD, and the PD smiles and says, "You know what? I'm going to air this!" The production person says, "What? But I thought you just wanted me to...." "This is what I want out of you! I want you to be challenged all the time!"

Dennis: I think I'm gonna cry.
Tom: Why not inspire someone? One thing's for sure, the time is ripe for it! Production Directors, especially those working for radio groups with good, decent budgets and all the latest technology, should be encouraged! I mean, God...with all this digital editing and everything, you can pound out some extraordinary production that wasn't possible a couple of years ago with analog tape.

Dennis: For me, there was never a greater thrill than when you'd hand over the reins and say, "Go to town!" It was even better to see that smile on your face when I hit it! Production people need to be told what kind of job they're doing. How else can one grow creatively without constructive criticism?
Tom: I don't get it. Now, more than ever, Program Directors are becoming brand managers. If you're not a good brand manager and you don't use that title effectively, what you're essentially doing is ignoring your brand. Could you imagine being a brand manager for, say, Proctor and Gamble, and not looking at the colors of the box that a certain soap would be going out in? The same thing goes for production. Certainly you don't have to listen to every single spot that comes through, but if a PD does not challenge the production department, you end up with pretty lame and light production that goes in one ear and out the other.

Dennis: Bye bye listener!
Tom: Exactly.

We'll be hearing more from Tom in next month's column! Until then, go wake up your PDs and give them the straight poop!