Gary Moore: Program Director, K9-FM, Redding, California, "Small Market Production at its Best"
by Jerry Vigil
The story is familiar in many ways. A young talent begins his radio career in his home town, in this case a small town in northern California. After a few years, he leaves to do his "tour of duty" in the majors. Then he leaves the majors to return to his home town as Program Director. What is uncommon about this story is what this "local boy does good" is doing to his home town. With the aid of an owner/GM who owns an advertising agency in Orange County and a staff of dedicated, hardworking individuals, 26 year old Gary Moore has turned the small radio market of Redding upside down. Businesses who used to buy spots for less than a carton of cigarettes, just six months later, are facing spot rates two and three times what they used to be. And the station? You won't find it in the trades written up amongst the pirates and the pigs, but KNNN-FM (a.k.a. K9-FM) is giving the easygoing people of Redding a taste of what professional, competitive radio is all about -- and the competition is being forced to listen.
R.A.P.: Give us a rundown of your résumé.
Gary: Seven or eight years ago, I started with an FM station that just went on the air here in Redding. That station was B-94. I left Redding about three years later to go to Sacramento where I spent two and a half years at FM102. From there I went to X100 in San Francisco. I started when it was KYUU, an NBC station. A year later they sold to Emmis and changed the call letters to KXXX. I was with X100 for a little over a year before returning to Redding.
R.A.P.: What made you decide to move back to Redding?
Gary: It was a combination of things. One was that my family is here. Secondly, I wanted to open up my own production company sometime within the next five to seven years. In this market, there's really no one doing that kind of work, and it's wide open and full of potential for my own production company. Plus, it's really nice here, and the quality of life is just unparalleled to any place I've ever been. You can see mountains all the way around you, and you can get anywhere in the city within fifteen minutes with no traffic. That's a pleasure. When I told my friends I was going back to Redding, they said, "What do you want to do that for?" I just came to a point in San Francisco where market size didn't really matter anymore, and going to a smaller place and teaching the things I knew sounded like a lot of fun. I did the commute thing for two and a half years and took and hour and fifteen minutes to get to work. It just took its toll on me.
R.A.P.: Had you always been involved in the production end of radio?
Gary: Production's my main thing. I could do production all day. When I left Redding back in 1983, I was doing overnights at FM102. That worked into a position where I became the producer of the Morning Zoo from 1983 to 1985. That turned into a lot of fill-in work in production and on the air. When I went to San Francisco, that was a one hundred percent, five day a week production job. I also did weekends for some added income.
R.A.P.: Is this your first Program Director's position?
Gary: Yes. Over the last seven years, I've worked for some really good Program Directors, including Rick Gillette at FM102, then Bill Richards in San Francisco. I saw a lot of things that I would do if I were Program Director and some things I'd do differently. One thing I learned is that a Program Director has to be an excellent people person and be able to talk to any one of his people on a daily basis whenever they need to talk. If you're not there and ready to talk to them, you're going to have a lot of people talking about other people in the hallways. Once you have just a little bit of that, that's when you start to sink. I've always believed that the ratings and the way a station sounds are reflected in the hallways.
R.A.P.: Being in a small market limits you to the quality of talent you can get. How are you dealing with that?
Gary: I'm kind of lucky here because my morning team, Dave Tappan and Susan Stogner, both worked here in Redding back in '83 also. Then they went on and learned a lot of things in different markets. Both of their families live here, and I had an opportunity to bring both of them back. So, they have a lot of experience. I have a couple of people with just a few years' experience, but it's really nice to be able to teach them a lot of the things I know, especially about production. We aircheck every show every day. That takes up a lot of my time.
We sort of have a policy. It's not set in stone, but we try to stick to it as closely as possible. We just do not like to hire from within this town. Everybody we have on the air right now, with the exception of our all-night guy and midday guy, are from out of town. In a small market like this, if you lose your job at one station, you usually go to work at another station in the same town. You can stay in the same town for years. Everybody's voice in town is known, and we want some unknowns who are really good. That way, we don't sound like every other station in town. It's hard to find those people.
I have an interview process that I use. I will usually sit down and talk to someone three to six times before I hire. There are a lot of things you need to know about people, and you just can't pick that up in one or two visits, we believe. For instance, right now I'm looking for a seven to midnight guy and a Production Director. My hiring procedure is to bring them in, set them in the production room, explain things to them, then have them do some work for two or three hours. Then we sit down and listen to what was produced, talk about it, and decide how it could have been better in every single area. That's how I evaluate production people. For on-air people, I'll bring them in about three times, put them on the overnight shift for two or three hours, then go over each of those tapes with them. Usually by the fifth or sixth meeting, you can tell whether or not they are suited for the job that you want done.
R.A.P.: I take it everybody has to have some decent production skills.
Gary: Yea, that's a big requirement for working here. You don't need to know 8-track stuff because I'm confident with my skills, and I like to teach. I believe I can show someone how to run an 8-track room very well and do very good work in a short amount of time.
R.A.P.: Are there any other stations in town with 8-track production studios?
Gary: No. Nobody has anything other than 2-track studios in this town, and most of the stations only have one 2-track.
R.A.P.: Tell us a little more about Redding.
Gary: The population is about 65,000, and it's growing very rapidly. The economy is just exploding. They're building every-where. A lot of people are moving up from the bay area and down south, probably for some of the same reasons I came back. The closest market to this one, of any value, is Sacramento, and that's two and one-half hours south of here. So, there's no competition from large market stations with their signals coming in here. I think there are about ten or eleven stations in Redding. There are three new stations that signed on since I was last here back in 1983.
R.A.P.: Describe the 8-track production studio there at K9-FM.
Gary: The main production room is called Production Control. We have two rooms. One is specifically a voice room with just a mike, and the other is the control room. It's a full blown setup with the control room and separate voice booth. The reason for that is mainly because my General Manager owns an advertising agency, Hunter-Barth in Orange County, and he also owns a recording studio/agency production house. What he wanted to do was simulate what they have down there with their recording studio, and that's why we have what we have.
I'm sitting in the studio now, so from left to right, here's what we have. On my left is an Aphex Compellor for limiting and compression. Just under that, we have the Eventide Ultra-Harmonizer, which is one of my favorites. In front of me is a 32-channel, Soundcraft 200B recording console. Above that, I have one of the earlier Ensoniq Mirage samplers. It doesn't compare to anything out on the market now, but it works well and makes the kinds of sounds we need it to. Over on the right, I have two CD players, Technics SL-P770's. There's one cassette player, two cart machines, and then an Otari half-inch 8-track. Beside it are two MX50 Otari 2-tracks. The microphone we had in here was a Shure RE-20, but I brought up my microphone from home. I have an AKG-414 that I've used for years. That pretty much describes the room.
R.A.P.: When you took the job in Redding, you knew you would be using this 8-track room and your production skills to help take the station to the top. What were your ideas at that time?
Gary: The production that was being done in this market before we came along really lacked. Nobody takes much pride in their work. For example, a friend of mine who works at another station in town will say, "It takes me about fifteen, twenty minutes to cut a sixty second spot." Here, that could take us up to two or two and a half hours to do because we pay attention to every word. For every piece of production we do, we use a "two person filter system." That means two people have to be involved in every piece of production done at this station. That way you have two creative minds going. You have one person in the voice room doing the voice, then another person in the control room engineering everything. The person engineering the spot is also the director. We have a director on everything we do. That way we get exact interpretation out of every single word. We sometimes do spots six, seven, and eight times before it's just perfectly right.
Because we're so new in town and because of the advertising and marketing background my General Manager has, we do one and sometimes two spec spots for every single sales call that we go out on. They have a really nice marketing system here. They don't go out and just ask people to buy; they go out with really good, high-intensity presentations that they spend a lot of time preparing. No one else in this town does that. I think that's one of the reasons why we're so effective, and our commercials sound so much better than anyone else's in town.
It's hard work. I think we are probably the only station in the United States where the client will approve the spot, and we won't. We'll go back and do it again, and again, and again, until every single word is just absolutely perfect. The same goes for the technical quality of the spot. It's got to be perfect or it can't leave here.
R.A.P.: That sounds very idealistic. How do you find time to do all those spots with these strict criteria? There has to be more locally produced stuff on your station than agency work. Is that correct?
Gary: That is true, especially in our case right now. We haven't even been through a book yet, so we have no numbers to speak of, and most of the business we have has to be produced. We have three guys here, including me, who are really well versed in 8-track production, and we're producing all day long. Our studio is up in the morning by seven o'clock and doesn't stop sometimes until midnight. I'm here between twelve and fifteen hours every single day, without fail, just because everything has got to be perfect. A lot of people think you're crazy when you spend two and a half hours on a commercial that's just a straight read over music. Our view on that is that it's not just a straight read over music. We think "national" about everything we do here. That's one of our little sayings, "Think national!" We want everything that we do to sound like that. Then, hopefully, everyone else will start catching on. As it is, a lot of other stations in town already run our spots, and our commercials sound just so much better than theirs.
R.A.P.: So, increased quality in your production has already netted some talent fees for your guys, right?
Gary: It sure has. Viacom Cablevision is the big one. They do about fifty to sixty percent of their work out of our studios. They have me and a couple of the other guys around here voicing all their spots. All they have at their facility is a microphone and a small board, and everything that comes out of here is real clean. These are TV spots that we do for them, and now, even the television spots in this town are starting to sound a lot better because of the work we're doing. We're really happy.
R.A.P.: How does your sales staff fit into this system of "perfect" production that takes time? Are they all believers in this system? What are their backgrounds?
Gary: Our sales staff came on last October. We've been through a few of them, but we finally put together a crew that is really doing well. Nobody on the sales staff had any radio sales experience prior to this. That was a big plus because our GM, with his sales and marketing background, has taught them an incredibly great system that's guaranteed to work every time. So, we're starting from scratch with salespeople, and it's nice, also, to teach them the production system.
R.A.P.: That's a nice setup -- being able to train a "virgin" sales staff on how a production department works. That's an excellent opportunity to teach a salesperson that a good commercial takes time.
Gary: Yes. Because they started at this radio station and have never worked at any other radio station, they have nothing to compare it to. It's a little bit easier than working in San Francisco where I handled twelve salespeople every day. There, it was just get the spots done and get them on the air. Even so, I don't want to paint a pretty picture. There are heated conversations, and we have our share of last minute work. For example, yesterday we had four spec spots that were to be done for one client, and I finished them ten minutes before the presentation. I raced the cassette down the hall and threw it at the salesperson. He jumped in his car and was gone. We're lucky to be in a small town where it only takes ten minutes to get somewhere. Then right after that, I did two more spots for a presentation that was to be done at four o'clock. I finished that right on time. By the time I finished the second project, the first project had come back to me with revisions.
We do a lot of specs spots here, but that's just part of our overall presentation of the station. If you walk into somebody, for the first time, and say, "Hey, I've got a really good idea for some commercials, and here they are on tape," that means something to them. That's what you've got to do to get the really big business in town, especially in a small market.
R.A.P.: Your GM must be a rare one. Tell us a little more about him.
Gary: His name is Paul Barth. He's also one of the owners of the station. There are a few others, but everybody is "silent" except for him. He started Hunter-Barth Advertising Agency in Orange County in 1972. He's been doing spots on a national level for some time. He does all the really good Taylor Made commercials that you hear in the bay area.
I don't know how he keeps track of himself. He flies back and forth between here and his agency all the time. He does a lot of the voice work for clients of his agency. To cut down on his traveling a little bit, they'll send the paperwork down here over the fax machine or in a FedEx packet. We'll do his voice here, I'll produce it, then we'll send the finished spots back down to the agency. We do a lot of work for Akron, Cleveland, Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego, and other markets. Most of it is for Sharp Copiers. His agency has that big account, and we do a lot of the work down here. That means extra money for me, too.
R.A.P.: How are the clients reacting to your station in regards to the quality of commercial production you do there? Are they knocking down the doors to get on your station?
Gary: For a new station, we have had a lot of people call up out of the blue because they like the station as an advertising medium. We have such a high value, we believe, that when we first came on the air with no ratings at all, we tripled the highest rate in town for some of our really good, high class production. There have been some businesses that have said they won't pay the rate because it's totally outrageous, compared to what they're used to; but we've also had just as many people pay the rate we want, and they get excellent commercials.
R.A.P.: Are you saying you charge a production fee on top of the regular spot rate?
Gary: Yea. For local stuff we charge $35 an hour just for the studio use on top of any time they buy on the station. Now, that is negotiable on some major projects. For some major accounts, we devote a lot of free time because we know we're going to get a little more out of them in the long run.
R.A.P.: What are your spot rates?
Gary: When we first came here, what was high rate for one of the top stations in town was between eight and ten dollars. We're charging just a little over eighteen dollars a spot now.
R.A.P.: That kind of increase just since last October has got to have an impact on the rate structure of the entire market.
Gary: We're trying real hard to change things. We have a couple of stations that understand where our philosophy is coming from, and they agree with it. They're saying, "Thank you for coming to town. We've been trying to raise the rates a little bit, and people just aren't going for them." Still, there are a lot of stations here that just don't want to raise those rates. What they don't understand is that if everybody in town would raise their rates, we could increase the standard of what people pay for spots in this town. I really wish people would stop and think of our point of view and be open-minded just a little bit. We believe it would work for them.
There's a big car dealer in town. It's called the Cyprus Auto Center, and they spend about $30,000 in advertising among four or five stations each year. Our rates with them were kind of low at first. Then we upped our rates, and they didn't want to pay them. So, we declined them. It's amazing that anyone would decline business, but we believe they will be back once they see the value of our production and our station in general. Our station sounds really good. This client was a little heated when we raised our rates because two other stations came to him that same day saying they had raised their rates. I believe these other stations raised their rates because of us.
R.A.P.: It sounds like your station is selling its super commercial production more so than super promotions and programming.
Gary: That's right. We don't do a lot of monster promotions. The biggest thing we've done since last October was Friday morning at Marie Calendar's. We bought everybody's breakfast between seven and ten in the morning. A total of 568 people showed up, and we bought their breakfast.
Our plan is to go for that high class, white collar person in town. We want them listening to us, and that's who we're targeting with our full service contemporary format. Rather than doing a bunch of full blown promotions, we just like to do whatever we do, very well. We market the radio station as a whole, every aspect of it: promo-tions, production, programming and everything else. We're trying to sell the station to everybody out there in every kind of way.
It seems to be working out. My GM really knows what he's doing. I've learned more from him in the past six months than I've learned in the past six years in both San Francisco and Sacramento, as far as business and management type stuff go.
R.A.P.: If you're using the same philosophy with your programming as you do with your production, I would venture to say that the station sounds better than any of the others by a long shot.
Gary: We believe it does, and we get a lot of feedback on that. Another big plus for us is that we have the Research Group on our side, and their record speaks for itself. Nobody else is doing anything in the form of research and music testing. We do auditorium focus groups and music testing, and everything that we play is very highly tested or else we don't play it. We've got Selector, and that is an added benefit to the way our music will fall. No other station in town has any kind of music software at all. Everything they do is done by file cards and music sheets. I would take this station today, put it in Sacramento, and feel very good about the outcome.
R.A.P.: In a nutshell, what would you say to another small market station that wanted to do what you and K9 are doing, particularly with spot rates?
Gary: Develop a good product, then just believe in your product a million percent and have the guts to decline a lot of business from a lot of big business people who spend a lot of money on advertising. Believe that they'll be back in two or three or four months after you get some ratings. I think that's what you've gotta do. Don't be afraid to decline business from time to time, because as many accounts as you lose, on the other side there are that many accounts trying to get on. It's hard to do that. It's hard to turn down business. You've got to have a company behind you that's willing to do that. We're really fortunate in that area in that my General Manager has some really good backing and knows what he's doing.
R.A.P.: So, what's in the future for Gary Moore? You mentioned having your own company.
Gary: Yes, within five to seven years I do want to have my own business here in town, and I do want to be affiliated with this radio station and this company. We are looking to buy other stations down the line, and it would be nice to be part of a really good company. I'm really high on the management chain already, particularly because there's really nobody else in the company but those of us here now. I'd really like to be with the company for a long time, and I do want to open up my own advertising agency. But, there's always that question mark -- there's always that city that may call someday. You've always got to keep an open mind.
Our thanks to Gary for this month's interview and best wishes to Gary and his team. Gary sent us a few samples of some of the production being done at his station. Listen for them on this month's Cassette.
It's good to hear that, in a small market, there is some-thing you can do to bring the overall quality and profitability of radio up several notches. Obviously, management and ownership at K9-FM is a key factor in the making of this small market "power" station. Most managers in markets of similar size will read this interview and say, "Sure, we could have an 8-track studio and someone talented enough to use it if we had twice or three times the billing!" What's to be learned from this interview is that this extra billing CAN come from selling the same amount of spots for two or three times the current rate. To do this, you must have something to offer, and you must have other stations in the market wanting to do the same thing. What you offer is quality, not quantity. This quality brings results to the clients, and the results bring more advertising revenue to the station.
Keep in mind that "quality" ultimately pertains to the people on staff. Small markets have always offered a lifestyle that appeals to major market talent in search of a more laid back way of life. The one thing that keeps many pros out of the small markets is the lack of money, but a situation like the one at K9 can easily compensate for this. Higher spot rates can provide for higher salaries. A well-equipped studio can offer a talented producer another means of increasing his income in a small market by doing a lot of freelance work, and this work doesn't have to be exclusively for this one small market. And management minds that think "major market" in a small market can create at atmosphere at a radio station that will attract larger market talent as well as instill pride and dedication in their employees.
The story of K9-FM is almost a fairy tale, and the real story resides in the future of this station. Can this attitude towards small market radio work? Can the market bear doubling and tripling of the spot rates for very long? Will advertisers shut their doors to radio Account Executives and open them for the newspaper guys? As with many questions, only time will tell. So, we'll keep an eye on Gary and K9-FM and check back next year to see how things are going.
In the meantime, if you're a talented producer in a small market, strapped to an inadequate 2-track production room, let your GM read this interview. Remind him that it's not necessarily the quality of his salesmen that decide how much billing the station will get, but that quality commercials can, by themselves, attract advertisers.