R.A.P. Interview: Bumper Morgan

Bumper Morgan, Bumper Productions, Nashville, Tennessee

Bumper-Morgan-Nov98By Jerry Vigil

It’s been almost ten years since we first interviewed Bumper Morgan. He was the Production Director at Y107 in Nashville, and already had a great start on his production business, Bumper Productions. Ten years later, Bumper is long gone from the Production Director’s chair, and both Bumper and the business have come a long way. This month’s interview with Bumper takes a look at life in the world of one of radio’s premier imaging producers. We get some technology tips, and we get a look at radio from the outside looking in. And be sure to check out Bumper’s demo on this month’s RAP Cassette for some great sounding and inspirational production. 

JV: How was the transition from Y107 to Bumper Productions full-time? Did you already have several accounts established before you left the station?
Bumper: I was very fortunate because I had people like Mark Chase, Tony Galluzo, Jack Evans, and Louis Kaplan at Y107 who allowed me to produce material for Bumper Productions after hours in the production room. By the time Jack Evans became PD, I pretty much had my business established. After Jack left, Chris Earl Phillips came in, and he still allowed me to do that stuff. So, I had a lot of clients established during my Y107 tenure.

JV: Was it while you were at Y107 that you decided to start Bumper Productions?
Bumper: Actually, Bumper Productions started at KTFM in San Antonio thanks to Bill Thorman. This was before I came to Nashville. Bill hired me from Cleveland at WGCL to come in as station voice and afternoon drive. That was in ’86. Bill Thorman is still a friend to this day. He comes through town every once in awhile and hangs out and eats dinner with us. It’s great. I still have these relationships with some cool people through all these years. Galuzzo comes through town every once in awhile, and I see Mark Chase about once a year. It’s neat.

So it all started at KTFM, and then I came to Nashville where Mark Chase allowed me to continue what Bill Thorman had already let me establish. Nowadays, stations want percentages, from what I’ve been told by a few people. You try to do your own thing at a station, to get your business started, and the stations want a cut of everything that is produced. So the best thing to do is just get out and buy your PC, buy your software, and start your own business. It’s very cost effective nowadays. One can afford it.

JV: How do you think the consolidation of radio stations has affected people in businesses like yours?
Bumper: Well, I think it’s becoming a very close-knit playing field; everybody knows each other now. But you need a warm body in the production room of a radio station. I’m not trying to take any jobs away from Production Directors. I’m a free-lancer who works on special projects or promos or whatever. I have the luxury of being able to work on a promo for seven or eight hours if I have to, without a sales person walking in. I’m able to stay concentrated on a whole package of stuff for a radio station without distractions. That’s the thing I’m doing that a lot of people in radio are unable to do. I can put a lot of time and a lot of energy into one piece. Unless you’re a Creative Services Director, which is a luxury in most radio stations, the Production Director has to not only do the commercials and/or delegate the commercials, but also has to produce the station voice. It’s a heck of a lot of work. It all depends on where you are. Take New York and Z100. Dave Fox is specializing, and he obviously has the luxury of time. He also has the equipment to do this type of thing. When you’re talking Dubuque, Iowa, it’s a completely different animal. That’s where I step in.

JV: I take it business has been good for you. How many stations are you working with these days?
Bumper: I probably have about sixty clients at this point. I’ve been working with Harry Lyles a lot lately doing a lot of urban stations, and it’s a lot of fun working with him. He’s very thorough, and we’re able to do some good quality radio at his consultant stations.

JV: You talk to a lot of Program Directors in your business. How has dealing with the PDs changed during these past few years of consolidation?
Bumper: It used to be that a station voice was a great thing. It was like he was a uniformed officer. You know what I mean? You had the Gary Gears out there. You still have Charlie Van Dyke. You have these people who just command such respect. Nowadays, PDs are dealing with budgets and looking to get a cheap monthly payment, and they want tons of work from you. If they have the facilities to produce the stuff, and they’re able to turn it around and make it sound wonderful and not cookie cutter and not generic, and they’ve put some thought and ingenuity behind it, then more power to them if they strike a good deal with somebody. But I come in on two fronts where I’m diverse as a producer and as a voice talent, and I like to create masterpieces, art, versus something just to get it on the air. That’s where a lot of us differ.

JV: So you kind of see the respect for the “station voice” slipping a little bit these days.
Bumper: Well, it’s just because there are so many people out there. Everybody and their mother and cousin are doing this type of thing. But there’s most definitely a craft. Again, I came from working on 2-track analogs back in the seventies as a lot of people have. Then I evolved into an 8-track with the Akai DR4Ds, which were digital 4-tracks. I had two of them, so I had eight tracks. Then I evolved into the PC, and through all this evolution there is most definitely some history that enables me to be more productive on the computer because of the knowledge and background of analog. Then you have somebody who just comes into it with a PC, without that background, just because they want to make some extra money. They undercut the competition and keep the ceiling on the prices very low. They just cheapen the value of the product. But, again, the PDs have a budget to deal with, so it’s a vicious cycle.

JV: Do you see a lot more people in the business you’re in than, say, five years ago?
Bumper: Oh, most definitely. Back then, you had the Mitch Craigs, the Mark Driscolls, and Charlie doing stuff for a long time—he’s a mainstay all the way back to KHJ. Now you’ll have a guy who’ll get two hundred dollars a month and provide unlimited work. I mean, it’s crazy.

JV: I know what you mean. I got an email the other day from someone offering me $25 a spot to do voice work. The AFTRA scale is somewhere around $185 here in Dallas.
Bumper: I got that email too! I feel like an Indian sometimes when I see these guys come in and exploit the exploitable for twenty-five dollars for a voice-over session. I feel like an Indian when the cavalry came. It’s sad; it really is.

JV: Most voices for hire have contracts with the stations they do work for, as I’m sure you do. What have you learned over the years about contracts for your type of business?
Bumper: It’s very, very important for you to have control over your product. That’s why it’s important to have a contract, a letter of agreement. Everybody’s goal should be to have control over their product. When a contract ends, they should have the right to ask the station to take it off the air, or for it to be understood that if the station decides not to renew the contract that the product will be taken off within a thirty-day grace period. That’s a right that every voice-over artist should have. Now, if they decide not to do that, not to go to a lawyer, come up with a standard agreement and present it to a client before they get paid, that’s their mistake. That’s their business, but it’s not my business. I don’t want to do business with anybody unless I have a signed letter of agreement.

You have to look out for yourself. I think a letter of agreement should always be applied to radio stations. Of course, some stations say, “Hey, we don’t issue contracts.” Well, maybe the artist needs to say, “Then I can’t do business with you” and take a stand and walk away from that money. But until everybody does that, the ceiling will continue to get lower and lower, and we’re only hurting ourselves.

JV: You’ve re-tooled your studio since Y107. How has the studio changed?
Bumper: When I first got hired at Y107, I was doing nine to noon, then Production Director chores after that. I’d be at the station until two or three in the morning doing my own stuff. So, I saved enough money and got my own equipment. Back then, getting into a studio cost me twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars. That’s what it cost to get brand new equipment, totally decked out. It was fabulous, but it was all analog. Now you can get a real nice digital studio for about seven grand. It’s amazing how things have changed so drastically.

Now, it’s wonderful to be able to store all my different files, different pieces of audio on the hard drive. I have a 13 gig hard drive, 128 megs of RAM, and a 300MHz Pentium 2 with MMX. The software I use is Cool Edit Pro from Syntrillium Software. I love those guys, and they have wonderful customer support. I’ve been able to contact them during business hours in Phoenix and have always been able to get answers to any immediate questions I had. And Cool Edit Pro comes with 64 tracks stereo, 128 mono. It’s a fabulous piece of software that’s able to produce all kinds of stuff. But, with the computer and all the expediency of digital technology, I still end up spending a lot of time on a project. So it doesn’t necessarily speed things up, it just makes it more efficient. As an artist, you still spend the time you need on the project.

I also have a TV card hooked into my computer. That way, whenever you have these breaking events such as the Clinton stuff, you’re able to take that audio right off of the TV card and record it right into your editor. Then you can use these bits right then and there, and it’s all in the digital domain.

JV: Where else has the new technology taken you?
Bumper: Well, since the computer came around the same time as the Internet and all that, I started experimenting a couple of years ago with sending WAV files over the Internet. But of course, WAV files being so big, it would take forever for them to transfer. So that was not a very effective way to transfer material from point A to point B. I eventually learned of MP3. Now I’m able to convert my files from WAV to MP3, which compresses it down to one-tenth the original size at 44.1kHz, 16-bit. I’m able to send a lot of my material via e-mail as e-mail attachments. Anyone can play the files with a WinAmp player, which you can get at www.winamp.com. They also came up with MacAmp for anyone who has a Macintosh. The new Windows 98 media player also plays MP3 files now.

JV: Does www.winamp.com also have the encoder to create MP3 files?
Bumper: No. Fraunhofer is a company out of Germany that developed an encoder that allows you to convert your files from WAV to MP3. You must get that converter to create MP3 files. You have to buy it, but it’s reasonably priced. The address is www.iis.fhg.de/audio.

The ideal situation in any production room, and a lot of stations are already doing this, is to have a PC in the production room linked to the Internet. Get the encoder from Fraunhofer, and you’re able to send and receive material over the Internet via e-mail. Of course, you have DGS and DCI, and I understand that DGS now allows you to post your material via FTP on their site, and they will then in turn distribute it through their hardware that’s in the radio stations. So they have even come on board the MP3 concept, but we were on top of the whole MP3 thing about two years ago.

JV: Sounds like people who don’t have a PC in their production studio had better start thinking about it!
Bumper: Yes, and one key thing is having a real good broadcast-quality sound card on your computer. The sound card of choice amongst people is the CardD Plus made by Digital Audio Labs. It’s very reliable.

The ideal situation is to have the computer hooked to the Internet. On that PC install a CD recorder and your editing software. Then you’re able to get stuff via e-mail or download sound bytes from the Internet. Then you can put that on your PC and use that in the editing mode. Then, the finished product could be put to compact disc or put into the hard drive of your automation system, and it all remains digital. In a lot of ways, you don’t even need a decent sound card, unless you’re mastering to DAT. Then you want a good card. I master everything to compact disc now. I convert from WAV to MP3, and I can get a lot more stored on a data CD than I could on a regular audio CD. Everything has changed dramatically.

And couple all this with the new cable modems, the Telos Zephyr using the ISDN line for real time audio, and it’s just amazing. Everything over the Internet is delayed; it’s not in real time. It’s just basically files. But with the Telos Zephyr, as everybody knows, you can send stuff from point A to point B anywhere around the world, as I have with Japan and Ireland, and it’s in real time.

JV: Do you find the network of ISDN users out there to be growing pretty fast?
Bumper: Oh yeah. Jay Rose has done a wonderful job of keeping an accurate record of the players in the ISDN Zephyr and Musicam categories, and he should be recognized for his efforts.

JV: What other uses have you found for the Internet?
Bumper: Well, one of the great joys I have is being able to listen to the radio over the Internet, and I don’t subject myself to listening only in my little studio. Since we have a couple of children, we had a baby monitor laying around. Well, a baby monitor is a transmitter and a receiver. So I took the transmitter apart, unplugged the wire that goes to the microphone of the transmitter of the baby monitor, hooked up a jack at the end of that, and plugged that into the audio out from the sound card. Now I’m able to walk around the house, wash my car, do gardening, sit around and read, and whatever else I do around here, while listening to radio stations from anywhere in the world.

JV: Of course, we don’t know what the baby’s doing….
Bumper: Right. I guess I’ll have to buy another one! But that has enabled me to be a little more mobile in my listening. I’ll clip it onto my belt and walk around listening to WABC out of New York, Z100, KISS-FM, and this lets me do a little research. I’ve told a lot of people about it. In fact, I went to one of those consignment baby shops where you can buy a baby monitor for like five bucks or less. I bought a whole bunch of them and converted them over. I got a soldering gun out, put a hole on the side of them, and wired them all for the Internet. Then sent them out as promotional items to my clients. They loved them.

JV: You talk to a lot of production people regularly. What’s the general sense of things as you hear them these days? I’d imagine stress is still a factor.
Bumper: Most definitely the stress is there. There’s a little bit of fear, too. It’s all the things we already know about, all the things that go with consolidation. People are nervous, but you’ve got to keep your faith. You’ve got to hang tough and stay focused. Try not to get a drug or an alcohol habit. Go out and take those walks, take a break and clear your head. Get on some vitamins, whatever you need to do. St. John’s Wort is probably very effective in today’s radio environment. Just do things you can do to make your life a little more stable in this very unstable business. There are lots of changes around us, not to mention the onslaught of satellite delivery down the road. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, and it’s not going to be easy. But the most important thing is to stay focused on the product. Stay almost tunnel-visioned and produce what sounds best out of those two speakers.

I get really bummed out when I hear all this stuff about people losing their jobs in production, people on the beach that I know are good people, hard workers who just are not getting a fair shake due to the politics of the station or whatever. I know for a fact that there are some very talented people who are not working right now, and it’s a sin. They could be doing a great service to some people who want to pay them some nice wages and have some quality work.

So, if you find yourself in the studio for hours and hours and hours, stop. Don’t get so closed in. It’s important to get out and take those walks and commune with nature. Walk down the street, hang out at the coffee shop, or pick up a newspaper and just clear your head. It’s so important. You can easily get socked into the studio and not see the light of day.

JV: What things do you like to do to clear your head?
Bumper: Doing weight lifting has been very good for me. I’ll do that three or four times throughout the day. I have a little miniature gym right next to my studio in the other room. I also take walks. I’m an avid nature freak, and I love hiking. I have a dog, and we go out and get lost, basically. We live right across the street from a 4000-acre park with hiking trails. I’m out there doing all this stuff to clear my head because that’s where the spirit comes from. My focus is on the spirit, making sure I keep a real good high personally, despite all the negatives of the industry that are occurring and all the hardships. I’m trying to keep an even keel. Also, I converted over to Catholicism and went through the RICA program, Rites of Initiation for Christian Adults. My wife is a cradle Catholic, and our two children are Catholic. Turning away from my sins and being forgiven for my sins was a very big thing, and I think that has helped me a lot in my life. I think sometimes I get kind of hard with the industry, and I always go back and try to keep a real soft heart.

JV: Any tips for someone getting ready to put together a home computer-based studio?
Bumper: You can build it yourself and learn how to do that, but you might be all stressed out or don’t have the time. In that case, you need to develop a great relationship with a local computer firm. I have one that I deal with out here in Nashville. I have a nice rapport with this company and can take any problems in and have them fixed while I watch them do their stuff and hang out with them for awhile. I find it really great to get out of the studio and do that. As far as building a computer goes, you need to know what you’re doing or have somebody else do it for you.

I have a friend, John Azrak, who wanted to get into this business. So I took him over to Micom, introduced him to the guys, and they built him a PC for about two grand—300MHz Pentium 2 with the CD burner, 128 megs of RAM, and an 8 gig drive. He went out and bought a real nice mic and a Mackie board. Now he has Cool Edit Pro, and he’s breaking his chops on this stuff, just getting into the psychology, getting into the whole mind set of producing commercials and voicing and all that stuff.

JV: What’s a typical day like for you?
Bumper: I’m pretty much regimented. As soon as I wake up, I’m in that shower. After I get out of the shower and get dressed, I go downstairs, and by seven in the morning I’m drinking my coffee and reading the paper. Then I’ll go open the studio because my voice is really fresh in the morning. I’ll lay down a bunch of voice tracks, then I’ll produce them throughout the day. And I man my phones. One thing I found to be a real negative is people getting voice mail. It’s terrible. I don’t want any of my clients to be getting voice mail. So I bought a cellular phone through Sprint, and I pay like thirty bucks a month and have 755 minutes a month. Then I just have my business line forwarded to that phone when I’m out and about running errands. So I’m always manning my phones. That’s very, very important. When I’m done producing for the day, I get the packages out to FedEx or send it over the Zephyr or through the Internet.

JV: Do you produce all your own material?
Bumper: Yes, I do. Well, I have some clients who request voice tracks only, but the majority of the stuff I produce. And I enjoy production. I love it, man. It’s in my blood.

JV: You were also part of a project called Retro Rewind. Tell us about that?
Bumper: It was a two-hour weekly radio show based on the “cool songs” from the ‘80s with exclusive interviews from the stars of that era sprinkled in.  We interviewed Blondie, Mr. Mister, Kenny Loggins, The Outfield, Tommy Tutone, Nick Richards, Robbie Nevil, and Anthony Michael Hall to name a few. We found it difficult to sell the show with our other responsibilities. The syndication company, MediaAmerica NYC, got us some national advertising. We’re currently on hiatus and are looking for a new distributor that has a marketing team and a big advertising budget. The show really smoked with our host Hollywood Hendrix and executive producer Dave Harris. Dave Harris is now the manager of the band The Outfield, who are currently on tour across the US. It took me about 20 hours each week to prepare and produce Retro Rewind. That’s where I learned to use Cool Edit Pro. It’s got to be one of the best 64-track editors on the market. My wife and I have plans for another syndication project that is very exciting, stay tuned.

JV: What’s down the road for you?
Bumper: Well, my wife and I are considering a move to New York next year. Her family is out there. We have two children now, we’re expecting a third in nine months, and there’s absolutely no family support in Nashville. As we get older and a little more mature, we realize that value. After we get reestablished out there, then we’ll try to get some type of business going in the Big City. There are all sorts of great opportunities out there. Nashville is a great country music town, but you can live anywhere, actually. That’s the whole point, I guess. You can live anywhere nowadays. I can live in the middle of Alaska, I suppose. As long as I have ISDN or Internet connection, I would be fine. You know, that’s the beauty of production these days.

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