R.A.P. Interview: Frank Scales

Frank Scales, Creative Services Director, EMF Broadcasting, Rocklin, California

1007-scales frankBy Jerry Vigil

EMF Broadcasting is a network of two Christian formatted stations, broadcasting on some 500 frequencies across the country. Although these are non-profit stations, the production task is not a small matter. A staff of seven full-time producers in a building with nine full blown production studios knock out an enormous amount of audio every day. Heading the department up is Frank Scales, a veteran producer who learned a lot about large production tasks during his prior tenure with Bill Young Productions in Houston, Texas. This month’s RAP Interview checks in with Frank to get a peek at this monster network and how he manages the huge production load. Check this month’s RAP CD for a sampler of excellent work from Frank and his crew.

JV: When and how did you get the bug for this business?
Frank: The bug probably started when I was about ten years old. I got my first Sears & Roebuck reel-to-reel recorder — kind of James Bond looking thing — and began to record my voice, playing with tapes and doing radio shows and things like that. Then later in junior high and high school, some friends of mine, some Boy Scout troops, got involved in explorer posts at a radio station. So I would go hang out with those guys and watch the jock at night at the local AM station in Orange, Texas. I would say that was the point when the bug really hit. Then I went to college. I was in college for music actually — I was going to be a teacher or something — and that was really my first love. But I met a guy in the department who was also a weekender at one of the top 40 stations in town, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He let me come up and kind of hang out. His name was Bob Chambers. While he was spinning the 45s, he would let me hang out in the production room and play around, and that’s really how it officially started. I asked Bob, “How do I get into this?” That was back when a third class license was required. He said, “Well, you’ve got to get your third class. Then you’ve got to make a tape and the PD has to like you.” So, that’s what I did. I just started working, started studying, and got excited a couple of weeks after my application was submitted. I got the third class, and they wanted me to do overnights on the weekend. And that’s how I began way back then.

JV: Where did your career take you from there?
Frank: It actually brought me back home for a little while, in top 40 radio back in Beaumont, Texas – Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange, the Golden Triangle is what they call it. I worked afternoons in CHR, and then I actually programmed the first FM contemporary Christian station there, my first PD-ship, if you will. During that time, I began what would become a long-time friendship with John Rivers. I had applied and was hired by John to be his night man, the first night guy at KLTY Dallas — the very first KLTY. But something inside after I accepted the position said, hey, you need to hold off, stay at home for a little while. So, I did. I actually had to call him back and turn down the offer. Subsequently, KLTY went off the air after about a year, and it was shortly after that when I met my wife, right there where I was, at home. So it was just, if you will, God’s way of saying, hey, hold off.

I met my wife back in 1988, and then we moved on to Bryan-College Station. I spent a short time there to kind of get my CHR chops going as a PD, then it was on to Austin where I became the full-time Production Director at KHFI, which back then was a rare thing. I mean, in the markets I was in prior to this, you didn’t have a full-time Production Director. That gig wasn’t even thought of. You were a jock and then you did your production. I’ve really not looked back from production from that point on.

From there it was on to Genesis Broadcasting at B-93, in Austin as well, and then lastly, LBJ Broadcasting. Then I went to Houston to spend nine years voicing and producing concerts spots with Bill Young.

JV: What are some memories of your nine years with Bill Young?
Frank: I remember my first critique session with Bill Young. Bill was not the type to offer criticism too much. He didn’t talk to you too much. He interviewed me. We had dinner when I came down. Obviously, he and Steve Kelly gave me the gig. They just expected you to be a professional and come in and do your work. I’m thinking, hey, this is the biggest name in radio production that I’m coming to work for; I have arrived. Well, I did my first concert spot for him that first week and brought it to him. He listened to it. He listened to it kind of intently and didn’t say much. Then he walked me out and said, “You know what? Do these things that I’ve suggested, and bring it back to me, and then we can all be proud of it.” That was Bill saying in his roundabout way, I have faith in you, but you’re not there yet, and I’m going to whip you into shape here. It took me some time to realize that I was not going to be another Bill Young, that I had to find my own voice. I think coming there, you have this idea that the thing to do is to emulate him, especially back then when Bill was one of the big voices of the time. But in fact, it was really about finding my sound, for me. I eventually found that, and I thank Bill and Steve for that opportunity there. From there, I went to my current job, with EMF Broadcasting, which stands for Educational Media Foundation.

JV: How did this gig come about?
Frank: Well, let’s go back in time, back to my hometown, where I’m programming in Christian music and almost taking the job with John Rivers at KLTY in Dallas. At that time, John had hired David Pierce at KLTY to do afternoons up there at the same time, so it was a near miss working with David Pierce. Come to find out, David, John, and John Young were all guys that I had known or come in contact with; they had all worked for Bill Young at one time or another. So I would say that my name has been known. We had known about each other over these years in one way or another. And when EMF Broadcasting, that’s K-LOVE and Air-1, were in the market to expand their production departments, I was somebody who came to mind. The National Program Director is David Pierce. John Rivers is K-LOVE’s morning guy. John Young is K-LOVE’s station image voice. So it’s kind of all in the family, kind of full circle, and that’s really how it came to be.

David got in contact with me and said, “I know you’re there at Bill’s, but we’re looking to expand our department. We need a Creative Services Director to manage everything. It’s a role that we’ve not had before. Can you come do that?” I said I’d think about it, but I thought it was really cool being right where I was. There are not many guys that can say they worked for Bill in this role. We were happy. We were relatively close to home, and my daughters had pretty much made Houston their home. It was kind of a tough call. But over time, I felt this is the thing that I’d been prepared for with all my experiences, with my music, voice, and at Bill’s especially. You can do a lot in a day at Bill’s place. I don’t want to call it a factory, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, but you can learn to be very efficient with the amount of work that you do. I learned some of that at Bill’s, and I’m thinking I can apply that at EMF as well, and have been able to do it. That’s how I came here.

JV: Tell us a little about EMF and the two formats.
Frank: At last count, and we get an update every Friday, between stations and then our translators and low powers, we’re in excess of 500 stations around the country. That’s between two networks. They tell me that we are the largest broadcaster of contemporary Christian music on the planet. After seeing that list every week, I tend to believe them. I think they’re constantly on the lookout to pick up new frequencies.

Air 1 is a younger targeted contemporary Christian radio station. We call it the “positive alternative.” You’ll hear Jeremy Camp, Skillet, Newboys, Hawk Nelson, artists like that on Air 1. And then it’s adult contemporary Christian on K-LOVE.

JV: What are your responsibilities there as CSD?
Frank: I manage the audio guys first, and all of the content on the networks and in all of the what we call “regional markets.” Out of those 500 frequencies, we have nearly 80 markets at the moment where we have local playback capability. So we have announcements — event announcements, concerts, local promos, community calendars and things like that — that we schedule, produce, write, and coordinate. We have a regional staff of 30 regional managers who handle territories. It may be one guy has ten stations, but he basically makes time available to other 501(c)3 [non-profit] folks who may be putting on a concert or something like that to acquire some broadcast time.

JV: Do these stations have any production people doing some of this work?
Frank: No. We have a staff of seven people here, and we do all the writing and production here. We get a lot of dubs from outside sources as well, mostly for concerts and events. For example, if there’s a national tour out and they have a stock spot that’s 501(c)3 friendly, we’ll consider airing that too, if it fits our format, and obviously, if the production value is up there.

JV: Can you put numbers on the amount of work your department is turning out, let’s say in a week?
Frank: In fact, I’ve got some custom built software that I did in FileMaker that we have networked in all of our production machines — producers, program directors, promotions, web — all this we track in one system. We actually formulate our scripts from here and send them out via email from this system as well. This is something I started way back in the early days. [on the computer] Okay. I’m asking for everything that started 9/12/2006 through 9/12/2007, and I’m looking at about 4,000 orders in a year’s time. If you do the math, that’s roughly 77 a week. That’s the number of orders. Now, if you look at how many cuts we’ve done, how many we’ve either produced and/or dubbed, that number comes to 27,357 pieces of audio in the last year, or over 500 cuts per week.

JV: What were some of the major mountains to climb when you got there and saw that huge amount of work to deal with? Was building that FileMaker system one of the first things on the list?
Frank: There wasn’t a book I could read to learn how to do this. There wasn’t a manual. The FileMaker setup was certainly one of the first things. When I walked in folks were putting orders in boxes. I think the biggest challenge was that the methods of delivery were so vast. I think we had one of everything that was technically available at the time in the field somewhere — mp3 players, DCS, Scott Systems, what we call “phantoms,” DigiCart, and on and on. So the departments — producers, traffic, continuity as they are today; back then we called them production assistants — most of the folks helping out were having to dub and overnight and send things all over the place. I don’t see how it was kept organized. I’m kind of a structure freak. So that’s what we immediately started doing. How do we manage this from a software standpoint or just from some kind of filing system that we use? So, yeah, FileMaker.

Then I think one of the other challenges was finding out the core sound of these two networks by getting to know the Director of Programming, the Vice President of Programming, and getting to know their hearts. What was the vision for the ministries, what was the history, just getting to know about the people here. And then moving it toward a focused type of sound. Then getting producers up to par, getting producers out of their learned habits of production, stretching that and mentoring that. I’m very proud of their progress by the way. Some of my guys were here back then and have made some really good progress from the production standpoint.

Another challenge was taking on the traffic department; I’m managing that as well. It isn’t quite as intense as a commercial station having a cluster of ten spots or so, where the station income is contingent on the traffic department. This is different. It’s more relaxed in that respect. But when you multiply it times 70 or 80 stations that we have currently, that have localization, that have to have a daily log, it gets to be a lot of stuff. So, everything we do is kind of in a bigger recipe. But my staff has come alongside and really provided great support.

JV: Who are the guys on your production team?
Frank: I have Garrick Whitehead, who just came on within the last year from Phoenix. He was a CHR, slicer-dicer dude. He’s Mr. Pro Tools and does really good production and is sort of the imaging guy for the networks. There’s Kim Snyder who came from Kansas City. Kim is my copywriter and a voice talent. Shawn Farrington. Shawn’s an audio producer and voice talent. George Leonberger is my Regional Production Director. We also have Luke Broersma, who is one of my up and coming. He was here as a board op and kept coming by my office bugging me to let him be a producer. So, I challenged him and said, create some spots for me. He came through, and over time has become a very good track builder. His passion is video as well, so he does a lot of video production for the ministry, EMF. We have a Final Cut system that he uses. Jason Hollis is a production assistant, as is Jack Reeves. We have a killer studio tech guy, and his name is Frank Maranzino. He actually came from Skywalker Sound, which is about a 100 miles from here. Frank is on his own, but I mention his name because he’s really helped us out. The Traffic team consists of three guys.

JV: You mentioned video. I take it this is stuff you’ll put up on websites?
Frank: Sometimes we do. Artists visits for example. They’ll come in the studio and do stuff, and they’ll put that on. Then they’ll do something like you’d see on Letterman, stupid-human-trick sort of things where the jocks take on the artist at ping-pong or something like that. They’ll put that on the web that day and promote it. We also do a lot of in-house stuff, training stuff. I don’t have the official count, but I think there are more than 300 people that work in the ministry. So, HR is a very busy department here. They do a training almost weekly for new people that come to work here, like a two-day intensive. They’re trying to get the entire library of training and safety and all that reproduced in a fun, entertaining way on video. So Luke’s video thing is becoming kind of an in-house video department. We also have in-house graphics department, very talented folks there that contribute to the video effort as well. Plus, we have monthly staff meetings and things like that, and they’ll utilize the video department heavily for those things, so regional managers can get online and watch the meetings and things like that. They make resources available when we have guest speakers, artists, and things like that here in the building. We have a big multipurpose room here in the building with a stage where some of the artists perform for us. At least once a month we’ll have an artist stop by for what we call a “brown bag” lunch or just a free concert for us.

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JV: Tell us about the studio setup. How many studios?
Frank: Here in the building, I would say we have nine large-scale production rooms. Then there are six smaller rooms that are used for voice tracking, as voice booths, for dubbing and such. Then there are four on-air news booths, two auxiliary studios, and two master control rooms. It’s a huge complex.

JV: The production rooms are all Pro Tools rooms, right?
Frank: All Pro Tools and all on Mac, and anywhere from Version 6-something through HD.

JV: Was that what you were working on with Bill Young?
Frank: Yeah. Actually, at Bill Young I think they still were on the PC platform, simply because the entire building was on PC. It’s easier when your whole multimedia department or company is on one platform or the other, and it happened to be PC there at Bill Young. It made sense from a networking standpoint and things like that, but going from one to the other was not really that much different. I hear that they’ve since gotten into a bigger system. It’s like a central server kind of a system now. Ultimately, that’s what we’d like to do here. We have a really good IT department who is supporting multiple platforms. Most of the audio work is done on the Mac side, as well as video and our graphics work.

JV: What’s a typical day like for you?
Frank: Lately, to be honest with you, I’ve been covering different areas. I need a Continuity Director. That job is open right now if anyone is interested. So I’ve been busy kind of covering that. I’m a big proponent of making sure people are cross-trained. So when somebody is out, I can go pull from other resources to get help. Right now, I’m out one continuity person, and so I’m having to cover a lot of stuff there, doing traffic as well — a lot of sick folks and stuff, and we’re actually deploying brand new traffic software for us. That has been a long time in the making. I came into this directorship right about the time the software was being delivered to us.

So, between that and the audio and stuff like that, a typical day in the office right now starts with answering email at about 7:00 in the morning from my home studio. Then I will knock out any freelance work I have for the day. I still do a lot of station imaging. I do that through Vanilla Gorilla down in Houston, and some various clients that I have around the country. Then I do my daily walk. Then come into the office. I’m here at 9:00 taking care of the day’s business. Meetings are usually in the first part of the day, and I’m usually either in production by about 11:00 or sometime after lunch. We’ll be in production until about maybe 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. Then it’s on to other things that I have to take care of, like making sure schedules are done or other things that need my attention. I’ll do that whenever I get out of the studio.

JV: As much responsibility as you have, it seems you might have given up some of that production and delegated it by now. Or do you keep it up because you enjoy it?Frank: I do have a passion for it. I would say that I have slowed down on my production since I came here simply because you can’t do it all at the same time, but I still love it. I do it because of the love I have for it, the passion to produce great radio work, to do a great promo, to do something that moves somebody. That to me is what it’s still all about.

JV: What would you say is your greatest achievement?
Frank: Personally? Surviving having three daughters [laughs]. Professionally, I would say it’s the people I’ve come in contact with and was able to meet, and the places I got to work. The things I got to be a part of, the legendary folks that I’ve been honored to be allowed to get to know. But ultimately, I would say it’s in the people, namely the younger guys that have worked for me and are working with me. I see them soar and I see that they have a love for production and for radio. I see them successful. Honestly, that to me is my greatest feeling of achievement. It’s like you had a part of that. That’s humbling to me.