Q It Up: Holiday Production

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95For this month’s Q It Up, we promised “Part 2” of the responses to last month’s question about how many people it takes to handle the production at your station or group of stations. We will publish Part 2 of those responses in NEXT month’s Q It Up. For this month, we thought we’d get a glimpse of “Holiday Production” and how some stations deal with it.

dubs-tags-xmascopyQ It Up: The Christmas holidays are here. How much does your workload change during this time of year, and how do you manage the changes? What would make your department run smoother during this time? What are your favorite sources for holiday music and sound effects? What do you like and/or dislike about this time of year, as far as work goes?

Richard Stroobant <bigdick[at]cjay92.com>, CJAY-FM, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Ahh Christmas!!! The time of Santa, Rudolph and last minute spots from unprepared clients. This is by far and away the busiest time of year in our production studio. Between all the regular clients and then new clients with their Christmas ads (and the constant revisions), jocks wanting to do their voice-tracking for the holidays, and jocks asking, “You got a Christmas bed I can use for this bit?” Then, throw a produced year-end countdown of the top 1 million songs on top of that, and well...let’s just say that we love January and February.

As for making things run smoother, not much can really be done except, pray. A favorite source of Christmas effects and music is old (and I mean, OLD) albums from days gone by. They make good cheesy beds for some spots that poke fun at themselves and the like. I enjoy some of the off-the-wall ideas you get to play with at this time of year. But you got to hate the Christmas music under every commercial from mid November to Christmas day.

Craig Jackman <ch474[at]freenet.carleton.ca>, CHEZ-FM, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: November and December are by far the heaviest time of year for us. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but still noticeably busier than average. In past years we’d be doing up to 80 spots a day usually on a Friday. Now we seem to get more stuff done earlier in the week, so the peak would be down to around 40-50. There really is nothing that we can do to make things run any smoother than they are right now.

How do we manage the extra workload? Experience. We know it’s coming at this time of year, so we may do things like more single voice spots, explore fewer options in terms of effects or music, and ask for brainstorm assistance sooner. We have FINALLY reached a state between Creative and Sales where we all work together. They give us the information we need; we give them finished product as soon as we can and nobody takes anything personally anymore.

As far as holiday music, I haven’t found anything that really knocks my socks off. So I use anything I can get, including crappy library stuff, soundtracks, even classical music. About the only tip I can pass on is one that Jon Crowe taught me. He had the station buy a selection of sleigh bells, and the trick is to dub in (in meter) the bells over the standard music bed. Turns any jingle or any production bed into instant Christmas music. I actually don’t mind the extra workload, the only things I don’t like are the emotionally false sponsorship messages we sometimes do, and the stuff that is just TOO overwritten. I don’t want to do another “T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house...” spot if I can help it!

Oh, and my wife complains that I’m too cynical around the house at Christmas from all the extra advertising... which is probably true.

Jim Kipping <jimbo[at]Voice OverAustin.com>, Director of Production/LBJS Broadcasting, Austin, Texas: We really start churning out a ton of spots and imaging because of the holidays. Austin is very different from some markets. We get hit from both sides pretty hard, a ton of fully produced local clients and “agency” produced spots and dubs. (I use the term agency here in Austin very loosely!) The average “agency” in this town is a failed radio sales executive who hangs a shingle out that says, “Hey, I know all! I’m an Agency!” Which then means that all the radio gals and guys get hammered into doing the spots in house!! In some cases they are even current sales folks at other stations that are moonlighting as Agencies and placing buys for other stations, which I find interesting!?! They tend to use the good nature of stations production departments. Don’t get me wrong, there are many good agencies in town, but the bad agencies tend to tilt the media perception just a tad. (Woops, sorry didn’t mean to deviate from the question.)

We will be quite busy through about the week before Christmas. After point, I guess the “agencies” go home for the holidays. Sales folks are wrapping up the year, and we can begin to get caught up. After Christmas sales kick in after the long weekend, then we will start to think about 1999 concerns. January tends to be the slowest month of the year, but even then there is still more production than at most stations in this size market.

Production music that I like to use comes from Network Music’s full library. One thing I like is that it is full and rich when it comes to Christmas music. They tend to use real instruments, brass, woodwinds, strings. We have used them extensively over the years. I also have the Short Trax from Network at the home studio, Voice Over Austin, which I utilize quite often this time of the year. APM has a large selection of music for the holidays, however it doesn’t seem as organized as Network. You have to weed out a lot of tunes to find the perfect one for your spot.

SFX include Sound Ideas 2000, 3000, 6000 series. Plus Hollywood Edge, Network and some off the shelf selections from your local record store. The Network SFX include some of their earlier recordings which don’t sound as crisp as say the Sound Ideas, so we don’t use those very much.

All in all, the holidays are crunch time for all stations in this market—not a whole lot of time to be incredibly creative. It’s a time to crank it out because of the volume. Think about it, ever hear of a spot winning a Mercury from the holiday season??!!??

John Pellegrini <John.Pellegrini[at]abc.com>, WLS-AM, Chicago, Illinois: Better versions of production Xmas music would top my list of needed improvements! Everyone always has the same 5 to 10 Xmas carols. I know that it’s primarily due to copyright that we only get Hark the Herald Angels, Deck the Halls, Silent Night, We Wish You a Merry Xmas, Joy To The World, Jingle Bells, Carol of the Bells, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger, etc.. Those are all pretty much in the public domain. But why can’t someone work out the deals so that not all the holiday songs have to be religious carols? Like, Winter Wonderland, Silver Bells, White Christmas, The Christmas Song, Sleigh Ride, and such? And, for that matter, why aren’t there more arrangements of the songs? Either it’s a lame jazz take, or it’s a symphonic thing. Oh well.

As far as workload, yes it’s busy here, but honestly, the busiest time for us is during an election year. Our format lends itself to not only all the political candidates, but even issue campaigns and political action committee spots. Thankfully, those all have to be produced by the organization or candidate, and we do not do any in-house voice work on those. But, it’s still a lot to dub.

The only thing I truly dislike about work this time of year is all the sleet and slush in the streets that always manages to wind up inside my shoes. Yicky!

Derry London <derry[at]khits.com>, Production Director, 106.9 K Hits/KHTT, Tulsa, Oklahoma: For our station, the heavy commercial load actually kicks in around late September and maintains thru the Christmas season. We average a turn around of between ten and fifteen pieces of production daily thru the summer, and once fall really hits, we’re running nearly double that to the end of the year.

I have only my regular day-parted talents for production, (overnights being run by assorted part-timers), and so we do an even distribution between the five primary talents: (AM jock and sidekick, midday 10-1, myself 1-4, and the

night jock). The PM driver is our Ops Manager, so he’s almost always over-run with his own workload. All the best!!

Jeff Wros <JeffWros[at]aol.com>, Production Director,  WXLP/KBOB/KORB/KJOC/WGEN, Davenport, Iowa: The great thing about Christmas, as far as holiday production goes, is that almost everybody involved is on the same page. Almost every business wants to have their holiday ads up and running well before Christmas. So as a result, I’ve found that the workload is much more spread out...busy, indeed, but manageable.  (4th of July weekend tends to be my own personal nightmare in the production department, but I’ll save that for June’s Q It Up!)

Donnie Marion <dmarion[at]104krbe.com>, 104 KRBE, Houston, Texas: Christmas is a busy time around here, but, since it comes on the heels of TV sweeps month, it’s almost a breather. I’ve been here almost 8 years, and I haven’t noticed what I would call a “crush” of work for the holidays. However this year may be different. It’s possible that we won’t have a Creative Services Director during the holidays. The promos and imaging may also be my responsibility during the holidays. But we have a whole group of fine professionals who can take up the slack for dubs and basic production stuff.

I’ve never had a problem with finding music for production during the holidays. But the closer we get to Christmas, the more tired I get of what we have. I probably could use 2 or 3 more discs, but usually there are new CDs of Christmas music that I can lift a groove from.

As far as making things run more smoothly, it’s the same as for any other day of the year. ADVANCE PLANNING BY THE REPS.

Kurt Schenk <PookProduk[at]waol.com>, Production Director, Jacor Rochester: This will be my first time around with Jacor Rochester, so I can’t comment on how the work load will be and how or will I deal with or like it. Otherwise, for my formats of Modern Rock, MIX, and Urban/CHR, I stay away from canned Christmas music in our libraries. It is just used for spice or a set up. Otherwise, it slows my formats down. For the talk stations, I can glean from all the classic Trendsetter and TM Century stuff I have. Plus I’ve saved a bunch of Xmas compilations that my PDs have passed down over the years. Sound effects are the same deal.

Steven Blakeny <stjames[at]rock104fm.com>, WBBN/WXRR/WKZW, Hattiesburg, MS: Oh, what a great question. This time of year the production workload triples with greeting spots, Christmas sales and many holiday promotions. I think the #1 thing that would help would be to get a jump…I mean the sales staff to get a jump on at least the greeting end of it! But with the lack of radio knowledge (knowing how radio actually works) everything is last minute. Yeah the sales department COULD help if they only had a clue. Everyone could be happier, and the production staff could spend more time on the spots, therefore getting a better sound. And the salespeople could probably double or maybe even triple their paycheck, but that is dreamland!

I manage, or try to at least, by getting all of the production music and elements organized a week or two before the expected rush. It really helps to make a list of all music beds and have the production person cross it off or at least date it and put which client it’s for so that it’s not overused or used on a competitor’s spot.

As far as libraries, there’s a vast plethora of different libraries, but they’re usually just other versions of the same 12 Christmas classics. But I like to take maybe 2 or 3 songs for one spot and change the music with changes within the spot. At least that way all of the spots cut with “Jingle Bells” have a little different sound! Happy Holidays and GOOD LUCK!!!

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