Some Things That Make a Difference - Part 2

by Marshall Such

To all you Prod Pros who have asked me, “When are we gonna see part deux?” here it is. Running the Potato Empire and writing gobs of production music has left little time to proselytize. I apologize.

Writing

I think there are two things that make for a sassy script: Great writing and getting the voice talent(s) to interpret your words the way you hear them in your head.

Let’s start with the second part of the writing conundrum first. As I wrote in “Writing For Your Station Voice” (Radio And Production, March 1995), use markings in your scripts! We get TONS of scripts every month for our various voice talents, and nearly everyone is typed in CAPS with no other markings other than periods and commas. Just goes to show you how effective the article was, huh?

To really get your words spoken the way you hear them, here’s a reprise from that article with the markings and their meanings. Believe me, these will add dynamics to the voice talent or actor’s read.

  • A double dash (--) means an abrupt stop—a change of thought or momentary pause.
  • A series of periods (....) represents a slight pause...or contemplation.
  • Italics generally connote a change in timbre or a slight emphasis on the word.
  • Bold lettering will indicate hitting a word much harder than the other words.
  • Underline is a cross between bold and italics. It means hit the word a little harder with a different inflection, but keep the flow of the copy intact.
  • A bold underlined italic means nail the mutha! With double!!
  • And don’t forget that your voice talent may not know pronunciations. The city of Carmel is car-MEL’ in California and CAR’-mel (like the popcorn/apples) in Indiana.
  • Whenever possible, mention the call letters of the station in the first sentence. (The reason seems obvious, but also consider this: If you’ve got a lot of lousy commercials on, people will know that a “station message” is coming and not a screaming car dealer spot.)
  • You “could win” not “might win.” “Could win” is more positive.
  • Use alliteration whenever you can. Prose is powerful when properly placed.
  • Usin’ a rhyme, ain’t a crime. (Jesse “Potato” Jackson) I think the best way to use a rhyme is in a longer internal context, i.e. “All weekend it’s the Stones, Zeppelin and the Who, as Classic Rock 94.7 brings you... (Be sure to note to the VT about the rhyme.)
  • Always remember your 8th grade English lesson. Start with a statement, a question, a joke, or a quote. I know it’s hackneyed, but it’s always a good starting point.
  • If you’re going to use clips in a promo, write around them. Don’t write the promo first then randomly insert the clips. It sounds a lot cooler if your promo voice says, “...and Classic Rock 94.7 will have commentary from rock giants like Keith Richards” (Keith: unintelligible muttering) versus “...and Classic Rock 94.7 will have comments from the greats of rock.” (clip)
  •       If you’re going to use clips in a promo, write around them. Don’t write the promo first then randomly insert the clips. It sounds a lot cooler if your promo voice says, “...and Classic Rock 94.7 will have commentary from rock giants like Keith Richards” (Keith: unintelligible muttering) versus “...and Classic Rock 94.7 will have comments from the greats of rock.” (clip)

As I also mentioned in that same article, using stage directions can help a voice talent understand where you’re coming from with a script. Look at the example below:

Classic Rock 94.7 is convinced that it’s new Bitchin’ Bike Giveaway is so easy to play, we’re calling the dumbest guy in Washington.

Read it out loud. Now let’s add some stage direction and a few markings. Read it again and see how it compares:

(fast paced; excited) Classic Rock 94.7 is convinced that it’s new “Bitchin’ Bike Giveaway” is so easy to play, we’re calling the dumbest guy in Washington!

Did you notice how you read “convinced” the second time? And did you hit “so” harder the second time you read it? These subtle little changes can bring your writing and production to a new level—trust me. And your voice talent or voice actors will have an easier time interpreting what you’re trying to achieve.

But all the markings in the world won’t help a crappy script. I want to mention two PDs who have given me some great advice about writing scripts for radio promos. The first is Roy Laurence who was my PD at an Oldies station in Indianapolis. (Last time I talked to him, he had said “Adios” to radio...a real shame.)

Roy would give me the facts about a special weekend or promotion, and I was relegated to write the script. (Raise your hands if this sounds familiar.) I would bang out a draft on the ol’ Smith Corona PWP-6, bring it down to his office, and was soon shooshed out to do a rewrite. His comment would be: “Write with words that convey action, that are visual, that “color” the picture you’re creating.” Damn great advice!

Consider this scenario: It’s the middle of February, the temperature’s in the single digits, roads have been slick with ice, and your station is sponsoring a free concert at Union Station (Indy’s downtown mall) on Saturday afternoon. How do you get them out of the house and motivated to attend your event?

In my “pre-Roy” script, I’d probably write something like:

(bright, upbeat) This Saturday, get out of the cold and into the OLD..ies as WLKR welcomes Paul Revere and The Raiders to Indianapolis. (song hook)

After Roy would rightly chastise me for sleeping while writing:

(dramatic, powerful) The dog sled team is being assembled.. (sfx: dogs/dramatic music starts) a trail will be forged through the snowy wasteland from the airport to Union Station... (sfx: wind/music builds) and WKLR, clothed in the world’s largest down filled parkas and thigh high muckalucks, will personally deliver— this Saturday—Paul Revere and the Raiders! (song hook)

Now, a case can be made that the rewrite takes more time to set up the payoff. But one of the things we’re all missing out on these days is great audio theater. And what else needed to be said? Time of concert, bring the family, and the “sponsored by”? This promo could easily be brought in under :60 with a good number of quick song hooks.

And with the rewritten version, we’re trying to get inside the listener’s head and say: “Look, we both know we don’t have dog sled teams in Indianapolis, and that “snowy wasteland” has a major freeway running through it, but hey! We’re going to be sure the band is going to be there, so why don’t you bring the family out Saturday afternoon for some fun?

The second PD that I have to mention (since I work with him now—just kidding) is Phil LoCascio, a/k/a “Dr. Phil.” What Roy Laurence taught me about strong visual words, Phil has mentored me on the “PHILosophical” side of this wacky biz we call radio.

Call it stationality, call it imaging, call it advertising your product. You as the Production/Creative Director, have to become involved in your Program Director’s vision for the station.

Up until the first part of March 1999, Doug Tract, a/k/a The Greaseman, held the morning slot on Dr. Phil’s Classic Rock 94.7. When Grease was fired, (you discuss it amongst yourselves—I’m verklempt), the whole foundation of the station crumbled.

Consider this: Nearly every positioning statement included “Greaseman in the morning, Classic Rock all day.” Our contest at the time tagged out with, “...as the Greaseman puts you on the payroll.” The big fall concert was “The Greaseman Jam”—the list goes on.

When Greaseman was anchoring mornings, the image of the station was quite rowdy—it was a guy’s station. The station van was the “Big Ass Truck.” We could do our Classic Rock Quick Reviews with stuff like: “NBC Thursday nights...Niles is gay,” and many of Greaseman’s “naughty” phrases were integrated all over the place. (One of my personal favorites was my partner Mike Fuller’s mom, a terrific 74 year old voice actor saying: “I just love the slap of the ol’ doodads on the Greaseman show!”)

Now, mid-May, without a morning show and all that brings to the station, Dr. Phil has to regroup and refocus the station. And as his Imaging Director, I need to listen carefully to where he wants to go.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the way to handle this interim situation is to focus on the music—the primary product. So, we’ve done the obligatory “institutional” imaging.

But one of the reasons I love working with Dr. Phil, is his great sense of humor. So while we’ve been cranking out “the greatest rock ‘n roll yadda yadda,” we’ve also been having fun. We just finished a “Nutty NATO Weekend” where we had people from around the station do phony testimonials. Call me nuts (“You’re nuts!”), but a male voice saying, “This is Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright and I listen to Classic Rock 94.7” makes me laugh. What was even funnier, (again: my sense of humor) was when someone tripped over the pronunciation of the name of the foreign ambassador—we left in those mistakes of course. We then used these phony testimonials as sounders to call in and win city maps. (Washington is a logistical mess when a gazillion foreign dignitaries descend on the city!)

The point is this: Be on track with your PD. I’ll be going through another major metamorphic evolution with Phil LoCascio once a new morning show is hired. And we’ll probably argue about many things, as we always do. But the end result is a pretty good, if not well thought out, collaboration.

Promo Writing Tips

· Whenever possible, mention the call letters of the station in the first sentence. (The reason seems obvious, but also consider this: If you’ve got a lot of lousy commercials on, people will know that a “station message” is coming and not a screaming car dealer spot.)
· You “could win” not “might win.” “Could win” is more positive.
· Use alliteration whenever you can. Prose is powerful when properly placed.
· Usin’ a rhyme, ain’t a crime. (Jesse “Potato” Jackson) I think the best way to use a rhyme is in a longer internal context, i.e. “All weekend it’s the Stones, Zeppelin and the Who, as Classic Rock 94.7 brings you... (Be sure to note to the VT about the rhyme.)
· Always remember your 8th grade English lesson. Start with a statement, a question, a joke, or a quote. I know it’s hackneyed, but it’s always a good starting point. 
· If you’re going to use clips in a promo, write around them. Don’t write the promo first then randomly insert the clips. It sounds a lot cooler if your promo voice says, “...and Classic Rock 94.7 will have commentary from rock giants like Keith Richards” (Keith: unintelligible muttering) versus “...and Classic Rock 94.7 will have comments from the greats of rock.” (clip)

Next time, we’ll look at sound effects, production music, and more fun filled radio production tips.

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