Q It Up: The Deadly Missed Spot Syndrome

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Have you ever counted just how many spots get processed and dubbed at your station(s) over a single month? You would probably be surprised. For many, the number is in the thousands. Yet, when just one of those spots is missed over the period of a month, it’s as though some great system has come crashing down, costing the station and the salesperson loads of money, and perhaps the client as well. In sets the fear of missing that next one. Memos get written and words are exchanged. And the fact of the matter is, one in a thousand is a pretty exceptional percentage. Fortunately, the blame for missed spots is falling elsewhere these days, not just on the production crew. But regardless of whose fault it is, as one of our respondents below replied, “to miss a spot is bad.”  So this month we try to shed some light on the reasons spots are missed in these hi-tech days, and what stations are doing to prevent it from happening again.

Q It Up: What is the most common reason why spots are missed at your station, and what steps have been taken to prevent spots from being missed for this reason in the future? Do tapes come from the agencies too late? Is it human error in the production department? Is it malfunctioning equipment? Is it on-air staff mistakes? And if your station is one where spots are rarely or never missed, to what do you attribute this degree of excellence? Please add any further comments you might have.

<Osborne[at]aol.com>: At WNAP, the digital age has hit us right between the ears. Missing spots are about as extinct as disc jockeys are becoming on an evening shift. Our procedure is pretty tested and proven. First, the traffic manager runs a log check for the next day. This procedure, when finished, will tell traffic what spots are not in the system yet. After this is done, the missing spots are passed on to continuity, and she then checks with me to make sure the production orders are in my possession to be filled before the next morning. Since dubs are done by our evening shift person, we have time to find the problem and set the production into motion before anything is missed.

As a backup, the overnight person runs a log check to make sure that everything is in the system. We also run a “copy needs” sheet that alerts the production department what salesperson still has stuff out for the week. I then put a soft but firm hand to the salesperson to get the copy or dub in quickly. If they have had plenty of time to get the spot in, whether dub or not, and they don’t, they get bumped. It pays to have the backing of the Sales Manager in this instance.

Jimbo Kipping <jkipping[at]texas.net>, LBJS Broadcasting, Austin, TX: Show me a station that doesn’t miss spots and I’ll send my resume’! Unfortunately, no matter how “secure” one tends to make a system, it will never be completely flawless. We here in Sound Design have the Continuity chair, so we track cart numbers, watch for tapes, DG, DCI, and now “E-spots” [as discussed in this month’s RAP Interview]. We also have a “live” full-time production person in house Mon-Fri from 6AM to 7PM to handle the screw-ups. The only link in the chain that needs improvement is the human “jock” factor. A simple problem like not putting the correct date on the digital delivery system, or simply not checking off a station to receive the spot can really cause our “system” to come crashing down. The problem is, you can’t just have the attitude that “it’s easier to do the project myself to get it done right.” This will inundate you and lead to possible errors due to overextending. This is why I have implemented the full-time production folks, including myself, in the building at all crucial and costly hours. We have gone from writing off THOUSANDS of dollars to just a few because of this.

Out of our hands are the computer glitches. This is an engineering issue. Lastly, other problems beyond our control include, DG or DCI no shows or, “...the tape is stuck in Atlanta due to bad weather,” and our favorite: “You mean, so-and-so didn’t pick up my dub? GREAT! It was THEIR turn!!!” (Whine, cry, mutter, mutter, as they drive away in their BMW.) Most of these latter problems hit us after the logs have been printed.

Here’s a way to keep the money coming in when that NO SHOW happens: simply have the traffic department, with guidance from the Sales Manager(s), come up with a bump list. This should be posted in each control room. Any time a spot is not there, after trying to remedy the situation, pop one of the “bumped” clients on. They are happy. The sales managers are happy. The owners are happy.

Craig Jackman <craigj[at]canada.com>, CHEZ-FM, Ottawa, Ont., Canada: We rarely miss spots. I would attribute that to both the sales and creative departments. A couple of years back, both parties were working more against each other rather than with each other. There was no respect on any level, and arguments were becoming most personal in nature. Some creative people openly hated some salespeople and vice-versa. The GM finally had enough, and after a bunch of “just play nice” meetings and memos, all involved committed to raising their standards of performance. There were some personnel changes on both sides as well. After much work, things are working much more smoothly with much less stress as both sides are working to maximize revenues and keep the client happy. Our Traffic department is a real lifesaver as well, changing the logs on the fly sometimes, moving spots around to make time for spots that arrive later than scheduled. About the only times we miss spots these days are when the on-air playback system hiccups, eating enough data so the spot doesn’t air correctly, or when the spot is in production being revised at the same time it is supposed to air.

John Pellegrini <John.Pellegrini[at]abc.com>: Wow, is this a sore subject! All I can say is, anytime you allow humans to be involved in this process, something is going to get screwed up. Salespeople letting clients cancel at the last minute without fear of being penalized is our industry’s biggest problem. In fact, I have an article coming up on this very subject soon.

The biggest cause of spots missing is laziness. The agency was too lazy to get the spots to us on time. We’ve had spots show up at midnight on DCI for a 5 a.m. start time the next morning. “Oh, sorry about that” is DCI’s most frequent response. We’ve had agencies send us a tape the DAY AFTER it was supposed to be on the air. “Oops, sorry” is their most frequent response. We’ve had agencies forget to put us on the order for a commercial feed, even though we’re first on the buy. We’ve had salespeople completely forget to pick up copy points or tapes. We’ve had production people (unfortunately myself included) who forgot to do the production or the dub. And we’ve had on-air people forget to play spots. You name it, mistakes can happen. Hopefully, not all at once, and not only with the same client all the time.

Technical problems are almost always the result of operator error. Let’s be honest here. The DAW isn’t recording? Could it have anything to do with the time you were pissed off about something and smashed the record button with your fist? The Audio Vault isn’t playing the correct order of spots? Could it have anything to do with the fact that you blew off all the Audio Vault training classes and don’t know how to load anything properly? The cart (still using them?) died in the middle of the spot break? Could it be that you haven’t cleaned the cart deck tape heads in over a month? Strike the previous remark, technical problems ARE ALWAYS the result of operator error, if not your error, then the clown who used it before you.

Resolving all these mistakes is another issue, one that I’m also planning to address in an upcoming article. How’s that for two plugs in one Q It Up?

Greg Schweizer <soundbyte[at]prodigy.net>: At Jarad, we have three stations—two simulcast stations with different stop sets and one additional station. Whether it’s late copy, no tape, or a missing commercial on DGS or DCI, the majority of spots are missed because an agency didn’t get us the spot in time. All of our spots are fired automatically from a DCS computer system, and the stop sets on our simulcast stations have to match. So if a spot is missing, it will fill with a PSA. Sometimes we’ll say “screw it” and give another client we like extra spots by filling the hole with their spot until the correct one arrives. In most cases, the client who missed their spots will get make-goods in spades. So who loses? I don’t understand why the radio business is the only one where such complete disregard for deadlines and schedules are not only tolerated, but accepted as normal. I mean, we are having a group discussion about this very subject, aren’t we? Do newspapers and magazines allow clients to squeak something in past a deadline? I don’t think so.

Jeff Berlin <jberlin[at]kissfm.com>, Kiss 108, Boston, MA: Our dubs go on TWO carts, one for the FM studio, and one for the AM, even if it’s not running on the AM. The AM spots are played from a DCS computer; so those carts are just a backup for the FM. If a spot comes up missing, the jock grabs the copy in AM so we don’t miss the avail. This policy has saved us untold thousands of dollars over the years. Usually, the missing spot is found shortly thereafter – mis-filed.

Do tapes come from the agencies too late? Yes. The DCI and DGS delivery systems have allowed “last minute” to be taken to a new extreme. Sometimes spots arrive close to midnight, scheduled to run in the 6:00 hour the next morning, especially during TV sweeps. If a spot scheduled to run is missing, even at two in the morning, the jocks call a poor continuity person who gives them something else to run. Missing a spot is bad. Missing the avail is suicide.

Is it human error in the production department? No. We in the production department are omnipotent, and incapable of committing human error.

Thanks for letting me chew the fat with the Q It Up network!

Neil Andrews <Neiland2[at]aol.com>, WGY/WHRL/WRVE, Albany, NY: Thanks for the question. It made me rethink the whole issue. The main reason we miss spots is communication. With these stations, and most other stations I’ve worked for, communication is the missing element. The AE doesn’t get the complete instructions to Continuity (sometimes because the client or agency doesn’t get the instructions to the AE) on time for start. Or the schedule has been extended without the AE letting Continuity know to extend the end date. Sometimes it is incomplete information, or lack of information, to production for creating a spot. And occasionally, it’s failure to get client approval. To prevent these, we instituted a deadline that in most cases allows the errors to be eliminated. Although the main reason we don’t miss a lot of spots is a Continuity Director who constantly keeps the AE’s (all 25 or so) up to date on what is missing for start in the next couple of days. She does this with lots of lists, and a whole lot of voicemail.

Craig Debolt <CraigD933[at]aol.com>, WESC-A/F, WTPT, Greenville, SC: The majority of spots missed on either of our stations is due to the lack of follow-through with the salesperson. We have had “Come To Jesus” meetings numerous times, and since average about once every couple of months. These meetings usually are lasting for about a month or so, and then the pattern returns. It has gotten to the point that in the production department, if the deadlines aren’t met, the spots are not logged. We have found this system to be most effective and requires the support of your General Manager, Traffic Director, and Sales Manager. Our salespeople know that if copy is late (produced copy not dubs) it is not going to air the next day. Also, if we go more than three days without copy, the order must then be canceled or revised. It’s the most effective way to “light a fire” and keep your books/logs as accurate as possible.

Craig Buffington <cbuffington[at]wqik.com>, WQIK/WJGR, Jacor/Jacksonville, FL: We are very fortunate to have Prophet, which has a missing report built in to the computer. When the traffic department loads in the log for the next day, I pull up a missing report that takes about 1 1/2 minutes and scans what spots are on the log and what spots are in the computer. It then prints out what discrepancies have occurred. Usually, it only prints out what we have already assigned. But should a spot have gotten past traffic, this is a wonderful safety net. It beats getting called at 5:00 in the morning.

Dennis Coleman <denman[at]swbell.net>, CBS Radio, Austin, TX: Here at CBS we have only a small problem with missing spots. We are, as some of you may remember, on the Scott Studio System here, and a computerized system makes it easier to catch things before they are missed. BUT, on those rare occasions that a spot does miss, it’s usually because a sales rep didn’t pick up the tape, the agency didn’t have it ready on time, or DGS/DCI didn’t have us on the order placed by the agency/client. If a spot comes up missing, the jock on duty is supposed to call me at home, then my assistant, then the traffic director, then, if all else fails, the salesperson responsible for the account. We’ve narrowed the number missed down to only a couple a month, but we’re shooting for better. (The jocks don’t like calling me at home. I wonder why?) The only times those couple a month miss are when the dub doesn’t show up on time, but thanks to Jimbo over at LBJS, that may be a thing of the past as well. Since pretty much all of the station groups in the market have started e-mailing spots in mp3 format to each other, we’ve all but eliminated delivery driver screw-ups. (Thanks, Jimbo, for spearheading the effort to standardize!) Now if you could just talk to my sales staff about deadlines.

Mark Fraser <fixitinthemix[at]hotmail.com>, Metro Radio Group, Halifax, NS, Canada: At The Metro Radio Group we are running all 5 stations on the RCS V.14 system. Every afternoon our traffic department prints a proof log which tells us if the computer will not play any of the items logged for the following day. From here, the next step is to fix any of those offending items. In most cases, it’s just a matter of making sure the spots are about to be produced. Sometimes it requires fixing the run dates for the spots. Sometimes we’ll realize that the traffic person has logged the spot incorrectly. The upshot of all this is that spots are rarely missed, and the only reasons are national clients insisting that “the audio absolutely will arrive in time” on the DCI, the occasional mystery computer glitch, or human error (for example after the proof log has been done the producer still could have a mind-freeze and forget to properly load the audio). All said, the days of missing spots for any length of time are virtually over.

Donnie Marion <dmarion[at]urjet.net>, 104 KRBE, Houston, TX: To miss a spot is bad! Probably the main reason spots are missed, at least in the last 4 or 5 years, is those digital delivery systems. The spot is supposed to be delivered overnight so it can air in the morning. Often the spot is not delivered. Other times the spot is delivered, but we think it’s coming to DGS and it comes DCI. Sales folks just know it’s not a tape, and the spot is delivered via something that starts with a “D.” I’ve tried to get the guys/gals who dub to think to look on both machines, just to cover our butts.

Sometimes we don’t have enough information on our production order to find the spot, meaning the ISCI code doesn’t match, or it’s not on the form, and the advertiser listed on the production order isn’t the same as it is on the DGS. The best example I have is Coca Cola products. We may write down Coke, but the DGS has it under one of the other labels. But sometimes we just don’t find the spot even though it has been delivered.

Another way we have trouble is mis-filing the carts. Dyslexia is a terrible thing. There are times when the old fashioned way of delivering spots—FedEx/mail/courier—fails, and the spot doesn’t get here. Having written all that, when the jocks/producers pull the spots for an hour early enough, you can call the traffic director and play a different commercial so you don’t lose money. Usually, the salespeople and traffic dept. can work it out so that the client that is logged for that particular time still gets one of their commercials aired.

We try to avoid missing commercials.

Kate Kirk <katek[at]mvp.net>: Greetings from Zimmer Radio Group of Southern Illinois! The most common reasons spots are missed on any of our 6 radio stations are as follows: 1) Traffic made an error when assigning or entering cart numbers. 2) Sales Executives are late putting in production orders. 3) The producer failed to complete their assignment. 4) Computer errors.

Fortunately, we don’t have a problem with missing spots very often. Every afternoon I get a “Missing Spot Report” from our traffic office showing any problems with the next day’s logs. I then locate and load any ad found on the report to the appropriate station(s). (This report also alerts me to any producer that may have “forgotten” to do his/her production in a timely manner.)

All in all, we do have a great sales team and creative services team, and that really helps keep problems to a minimum. Within in our “Creative Zervices” department we have Tim Miles as our Creative Zervices Director, Ryan Patrick as our Head Writer, and myself as Solutions Administrator, as well as 15 additional producers. As Solutions Administrator, my function is to assign and monitor production and work with our traffic office to ensure the cart numbers are correct. I also work with our sales team to keep apprised of any upcoming production or problems with copy information.

<WMXSLEE[at]aol.com>: The only commercial production that I see is the rare emergency, last minute, please help me out kind. I handle the imaging for three of our seven stations. Our Production Director, Jack Steele, handles the commercial production for all seven stations and images three of them, flawlessly! If there is a spot missing, it’s either an equipment malfunction, or the production just didn’t get to us on time from sales or an agency. Hats off to Jack!

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