Q It Up: What's the first thing you tell an intern who wants to do what you do?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: You just acquired an intern who says, “I want to do what you do.” What is the first thing you tell them about being a Production Director, Creative Services Director, Imaging Director, and/or Commercial Production Director? Then… what is the second thing you tell them?

Richard Stroobant [bigdick[at]cjay92 .com] CJAY 92/VIBE 98.5/AM 1060/CKMX, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: I was fortunate enough to recently teach at a local college. It was an introduction to audio production night class a couple of times a week. The first thing I said to this class was, “If you don’t like Kraft dinner, leave the room now.” Second thing, “’Cause if you don’t like Kraft dinner, you won’t survive the first few years in radio.” It was the same thing I heard 20 years ago, sitting in that exact same class. So when someone green as grass comes into my room and says, “I want to do what you do,” I tell them they should go to college and take a broadcasting course.

At my first job, 18 years ago, when I said “I want to do what you do,” the head producer started me off winding tape onto carts. I didn’t know it then, but HE knew that if I was prepared to do the “grunt” work and do a good job at it, then I would also care enough to do a good job on REAL production tasks. So, now when a student from a broadcasting course comes in my room and says, “I want to do what you do,” I find them a menial job, something to test their mettle. If they care enough about doing that crappy job right, then I will take the time to show them how to do other REAL production.

Everyone who walks in wants to learn Pro-Tools, but there is a lot of “stuff” you need to learn before you even step into the Pro-Tools arena. If you have no idea how to set a level, or proper mic placement, or how to use a control board, or... well I could go on and on, then you might be an expert at Pro-Tools, but your stuff will sound like shit, because you never learned the basics. Walk before you run, and that’s what I teach my students and people who job shadow.

Mark Fraser [fixitinthemix[at]hot mail.com], Metro Radio Group: The first thing I say is, “What? Are you nuts? Did you get dropped on your head as a child? You must not have a girlfriend, do you? Are you independently wealthy? Am I getting through to you...hello?” Then, on a slightly more serious note, “You’ll need to have good time management/organizational skills. This is a fast-paced, meet-the-deadline-then-on-to-the-next-thing-while-juggling-several-other-projects-at-one-time-and-maintaining-a-high-level-of-creativity kind of job! So think long and hard before you do this to yourself!” Then, “Oh, and could you get me a coffee!”

Chris Rice [chrisrice[at]krxq.net], KRXQ/KSEG, Sacramento, California: A production/imaging intern? What’s that? The first thing I’d tell this purely hypothetical individual is to not be afraid of making mistakes or doing something that sounds weird or different. I think some of the coolest sounding stuff I’ve done has either been completely on accident or the result of trial and (much) error. And some of the best writing has come from a completely random tangent that just kind of evolved into a promo. The beauty of living in the production environment is the fact that if something doesn’t sonically work, you get a do-over. The second nugget of wisdom I’d impart upon this mythical creature would simply be to listen. Listen to my station, to other stations, to the RAP CD, to people’s voice and production demos, to TV promos and movie trailers, and try to figure out why some pieces work better than others. That’s something I’m still trying to do myself!

Dave Foxx [DaveFoxx[at]clearchannel .com], Z100 Radio, New York City: Once I stop laughing and pick myself up off the floor, I generally tell them that the career path they’ve chosen is the easiest AND most difficult job in radio. It is the quintessential “communications” job. The only way to successfully prepare for it is to study English, Math, Music, Speech & Dramatic Arts and Business. Radio? That’s not a degree...is it?

Also, with the possible exception of jocking, this job has the widest differential in pay. I think it was a survey I read in this very magazine a few years ago that showed people earning anywhere from $9k to $120k, depending on market size. Hopefully, the lower boundary has lifted somewhat since then.

Finally, I’ll explain that this is one of the few jobs in radio that offers a tangible end product. The jocks deal in ideas, salesmen deal in time, but production people can actually hold up a CD and say with pride, “I made this.”

VoiceGalaxy [gr8pypz[at]adelphia.net]: That’s a tough question. First I try to talk them out of it. If I am successful, they don’t really want to be here. Then I let them sit with me while I edit or do something mundane. Then I try to talk them out of it again. If they survive to this point, I try to coach them with different reads and interpretation of the copy, and try them on tags. After they hear themselves on the air they usually become VERY enthusiastic. Then I let them do some mundane things and see if they REALLY want to do this before they waste my time and theirs. If they keep showing up, I spend as much time and effort as I possibly can with them and try to give them every opportunity. I love to teach. I spend time at the Ohio Center for Broadcasting in my area teaching about freelance, production, radio, etc. It is very rewarding when one of them hits a home run.

Rich VanSlyke [richvs[at]bellsouth.net], Rich VanSlyke Productions, Suwanee, GA: The first thing I would tell them is that it’s a great job with the opportunity to have a lot of fun. If you have some talent and work hard, you can do what you like!

The second thing I would say is if you want to make a decent living at this job, be prepared to move to another city/station. Because the threat of leaving is often the only way to get higher pay.

Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge .com], Susquehanna, Indianapolis, Indiana: I welcome the intern who shows interest and wants to learn. The harvest of interested new up and coming radio people is too few and far between. So many are turned off by all they hear about consolidation, VT and such. But I digress.

First, I invite them to listen, watch and  learn. Don’t ask questions at first. There is so much to observe. Just soak it all in first. After they get their feet wet, welcome those questions for clarifications sake. But so many times, if someone watches long enough, those questions may turn into knowledge from observation. Don’t hide any of the good, bad or ugly. There’s a lot to learn regarding today’s technology. Secondly, I certainly try to encourage that they learn the basics. Music beats, harmony, keys (avoiding melody madness), reel-to-reels, editing tape and any insight into the old days. Many of us at the helm of the Production or Imaging duties may have decades of experience to share with newbies. Don’t forget the people that have been in the biz for many years too who have decided to go into production instead of daily on-air. They are another aspect of new blood.

There is so much to learn and teach from working with your PD, the VO guy across the country, Traffic, Continuity, Promotion Directors, Sales Managers, Account Execs (and don’t forget Engineering and IT - your BEST friends) and others that it’s really exciting when you see that sparkle in the eye of an intern who originally came to the station to get free t-shirts, be a “radio jock” or hang out at remotes… and now they see the magic that can happen behind the production door. Let them in. Swing the door open wide. Water them with your knowledge and insight and watch them blossom into their own style and “twist.” We’re all looking for the next idea, that new angle, that spark that ignites our “air.”

Hey... you might even learn something back from them.

Nick Livingston [nick.livingston[at]cit comm.com]: Aim higher.