Surviving a National Emergen… ah, err... Contest

By Drake Donovan

It’s 2007; a brand new year! I walked into work on January 2nd refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges that lay ahead. I was hoping those challenges would present themselves later on in the calendar year and in the form of several new voice-over clients willing to pay me ungodly sums of money to be a station imaging voice. In reality, the new challenges of ‘07 were just a day away, in the form of a national contest. What follows is a cautionary tale of ‘be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it!’

This contest just didn’t come totally out of the blue. It had been on the promotional radar for our sister station for some time. But on January 3rd, it was decided that my station would be the better fit for the contest — a contest that started on January 8th, a mere 5 days away, that required “lots of great, creative promos” to air in just two days.

Now the contest entailed the giveaway of 42" Panasonic Plasma TVs. My first idea was to revisit some older production. We had done a similar contest two years ago on the other station that I image here in the Pittsburgh cluster. However, I couldn’t recycle anything from that campaign. I had so cleverly wrapped the contest around our station’s name with primitive TV-like promos or shows like “Everybody Loves Star 100.7,” “Star-vivor,” “Star & Order,” and “CSI:Star 100.7” that nothing could translate to Y108. I found myself in the position none of us likes to be in… staring at a blank page… with a blank mind… and nothing but the sound of the clock ticking…”tick, tick, tick.” (Okay, I exaggerate a little. It’s a sound proof room and the only thing I can really hear is the obscenely loud cooling fan of the ancient Orban Audicy in the far corner of the room!)

Trying to write with a deadline looming is akin to knowing you’ve got to use the bathroom before a long car ride, but you just can’t go. So you try everything you can, like running the faucet. But, the only thing that can make you “go,” either physically or mentally, is time. So a trip to the local coffee joint was in order.

When I returned to the office with my non-fat caramel macchiato in hand, I moved on to Plan B: Talk it out. I started talking to our morning show host and picking his brain for some thought starters. “Giving away a big screen TV,” he says, “Too bad this wasn’t last year with the Steelers in the playoffs. Bet you could have come up with some great promos then!” Yeah, I could have. Thanks… (FOR NOTHING!) So, as I left him to his daily YouTube viewing, I started to think, “What kind of angle could I use that involved the “Steeler-nation” even though our beloved “Black & Gold” were eliminated from the playoffs?” And then it hit me, I imagined a Y108 listener watching a game on his new big-screen, hi-def TV and seeing a well-known player in the stands, enjoying the game! Ah, brilliant! It ties in the local angle while playing up the benefits of the clarity of HDTV. I knew it would work. It had to work.

Because a national contest is typically a multi-week venture, I realized that my wonderful new promo would eventually outlast the span of play-off football. More “great, creative promos” would still be needed. So, I went to my next resource, my fellow producers. I hit up other producers who were working on the same contest and asked what folks were doing. Now, I’m imaging for a country station, and our brand of country rarely goes the “western” route of rodeos and cowboys and such. But one of our sister stations was using the phrase “big-screen bonanza” to describe the contest. I wanted to find my own way of incorporating big-screen or plasma or flat-panel into the name of our contest. Then, I remembered that the country concert series at the local outdoor venue was called the Route 18 Roundup. I was hesitant to go use a western theme, but Widescreen Roundup... that just might work.

Now what do with it? I started to visualize about what a Widescreen Roundup would look like. I imagined herds of flat-panel TVs bounding through the dust of the wide-open plains, while cowboys on horseback drove them to the ranch. In addition to 42" TVs, the contest was also promoting the brand new 70" plasma that was the grand prize. So if the 42-inchers were the cows, the 70-incher was a massive bull! Once I picture the scene, I started to write.

So one day remaining to produce, I had written two promos, a slew of contest elements (including sweepers that repeat the phone number several thousand times), and the required contest rules (that even when read like the “Micro-Machine Man,” John Moschitta himself, still clocked in at almost two minutes!). All that was left to come up with was a “cue-to-call” sounder. Now, since we were going with the cattle-drive motif, the sound of a cowboy yelling and the crack of a whip would do nicely.

This was definitely a challenge, but one that has strengthened my confidence as both a writer and a producer. To get the job done, I relied on every trick I could think of, from bouncing ideas off of a friend to revisiting past work to networking with other producers. Once I had an idea, I had to make it come to life. By visualizing what the end result would look like if it were a movie or a TV show, I was able to find the right sounds and music to illicit that vision in the mind’s eye of the listener. So that, my friends, is how I survived my first national emergency… ah, err contest of 2007. I hope my experience helps you survive your next crisis of creativity!