Q It Up: Do You Have Enough Production Studios?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: Are producers standing in line to use your production studio? For many stations, consolidation has brought with it more work, but not more studios in which to do the work. Is production room availability a problem at your facility? Are people constantly waiting to get into the production room? How do you deal with this problem? How do you deal with the frustration and negativity this can cause?

Kevin Dyer [kevin[at]cr101.com]: In my local cluster of stations KLLL/KMMX/KONE, we have 3 stations and only 2 production rooms. And one of the production rooms is where we do our voice tracking from as well. But we only voice-track 2 of the stations, and that’s only on weekends. But the downside of that is trying to get everyone in the production room on Friday. I have jocks from 2 stations needing to get in and voice-track, on top of other jocks needing to get in and do production. The biggest wait is after our morning shows get off the air. We have morning shows wanting to get in to do the morning show promos, Promotion Directors needing in to cut station promos, and normal commercial production as well.

The other time “traffic jams” occur is mid afternoons. I have 2 midday guys that get off the air at 1pm needing in at the same time as 2 of my afternoon guys that go on at 3pm. This is a major factor I take into account when assigning production along with regular voice rotation. I do have a Production Room Schedule, but it’s pretty hard to go by at times. I have certain people sharing time and it usually works out. They usually work it out between themselves. “Traffic jams” are inevitable sometimes. It’s just impossible when 4 people need to get in and do production at the same time. But there are also many times when both production rooms are empty. One of the problems I run into with a waiting line for the production room is jocks not spending enough time on their production because they feel rushed.

Darren Marlar [darren[at]marlar house.com], KCWJ: Time in the production room is more valuable than oil nowadays, and if I could find a way to profit from  it ethically, I would surely do so. However, I am not the owner of the production studio... I’m only the Production Director. So, I must make do with what I have and try to make all of our clients happy while getting all of our production done as well. It hasn’t been easy.

In many cases the problem is increased by the sales staff scheduling clients to come in, yet not telling me before hand. So I’ll be in the middle of a complicated recording project just to be told that ABC Ministries is in the lobby to record their half-hour show that needs to air later in the afternoon. (Being a Christian station, we have a lot of block programming that local ministries use; and they don’t have recording studios themselves, so they use ours.) This problem became so frequent that I had to risk losing my job in order to remedy it. Without asking permission, I made up a production room schedule and then sent out a memo requiring everyone (including the GM and the PD) to see me before asking clients to come in to record. I argued that the day may come when a client shows up and is unable to record because somebody else’s client was there first. That would be embarrassing for the station and frustrating for the client. Either way, it could cost us an account. They seemed to perk up to the idea at that point. From then on, people would not get into the production room without it being scheduled at least 24-hours in advance.

To those clients that require time weekly in our production studio, we gave set times every week so they would always know when the room would be available for them; and so we would not accidentally schedule clients simultaneously, we blacked out those times on the schedule weeks in advance. This also benefited us because we could more easily plan our day around the clients, knowing well in advance when they would be in.

As helpful as this has been, it has not solved the problem entirely, especially during those times of heavy production (like now, during the holidays). Also, there are “emergency circumstances” (yeah, right...snicker... snicker... because you couldn’t say “no” to a client, it suddenly becomes an “emergency”) where we need to get a client in right away without notice.

We’re hoping to remedy this problem when the station moves to another location in a few months by building a smaller studio, which would be well-suited to record one or two people digitally into SAW or onto MiniDisc so we can produce the project later, leaving the main production room open to continue business as usual. In the meantime, it’s just a matter of extreme patience in dealing with clients and sales reps. I’m anxious to see what everyone else is doing to solve these problems. I could use a few ideas!

Johnny George [JG[at]johnny george.com], Susquehanna Indianapolis: We have had a 3-station trombo as long as I have been at Susquehanna Indianapolis. In our old building, we had one Imaging studio, one 2-track studio (B) with a minimum of “toys,” and one 4-track room (A) with “toys” and the DCI, DGS, etc. All three had digital workstations. (Spectral)

There was plenty of shuffling with reserved times amongst the day parts. And our commercial Production Director was usually working in “A.” Now with our new facility, our commercial Prod. Director has his own room that is also utilized by others when he’s at lunch and after his day is over at about 5:30. He does share it when scheduled several times during the day. But we also have the luxury of 3 other production studios for a total of 5. And most of the time they are in use from 9-6 daily for the brunt of the day’s work.

My imaging studio isn’t really shared—guess everyone’s scared of me. And the rest are scheduled according to what each room offers over the others—ISDN in 2 of them, DGS in 2 others, Pro Tools in my studio and main commercial production, Spectral in others.

Respect for each other’s time and schedule works for the most part. And we jockey everyone else in order to be timely with their prep or production tasks. Occasionally we get caught short, but for the most part, we have a pretty professionally minded team that has worked out the kinks.

I was promised ISDN in my studio last month so I don’t tie up two studios when I need to record my boys each week. I wonder if my engineer reads RAP. Hello?

Mike Wilcox [mikew[at]triplej .abc.net.au], Triple J FM, Sydney, Australia: Here at Triple J fm in Sydney, we have a very well organised studio sharing facility, as there are around 12-14 program producers and production staff, and only 5 studios to share. So the only way it can work properly is if everyone works to a timetable system, which works like this: Every studio has a weekly booking sheet on a clipboard outside each studio, with each day split into hourly blocks. So it’s up to each person to have their workload well enough organised to plan ahead and “book” themselves the studio time they need. People simply write their bookings on the sheets outside the studios. So it’s basically, first in, best dressed!!

Advantages to this system are, nobody can kick you out of a studio that’s been booked ahead. However, the nature of radio also means “work” will sometimes come out of nowhere that needs to be done immediately, which makes for some interesting “deals” going on between people who “hand over” their studio time to someone else.

I would like to think this is a unique situation, or at the very least, not common to other people’s systems. We are a non-commercial broadcaster with different priorities to normal commercial stations, which is largely why we can afford to do things our own way.

Don Elliot [voiceovers[at]earthlink.net], KFI/KOST, Los Angeles: No one likes this one, but you change the shifts! I myself bought a Sony laptop with a CD burner in it and hooked it up to voicebank.net and just send stuff all over. It’s real easy to bounce spots around the station from room to room that way.

Dave Green [DaveGreen[at]ccorlando .com], Clear Channel Communications/Orlando: Ever hear of the expression,”trying to put ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack”? Same goes for trying to channel seven radio stations worth of production through five or six studios.

Solutions? Well, you can always try walking into your GM’s office on bloody knees and with tears in your eyes beg for more studios. When they’re finished laughing, you have your fall back position—try to better utilize the studios you do have.

I’ve made every effort to create “room equipment parity.” I have pretty much the exact same equipment in each production studio, This isn’t always easy to achieve, I know; however, if you can do it, it pays off. There’s no more of the complaints that someone needs a specific studio because it’s the one with the “good” reverb. Each studio has the same mic chain processing. So, if you have to stop work on a project, you just backup on to a JAZ drive and leave. Later you can return to another studio, slap in the JAZ drive and reload to carry on where you left off.

As far as studio availability, it’s never easy. I have been having decent luck with a “reserve room” system. We have mounted a bulletin board strip beside each studio door. When someone wants to reserve the studio, they simply tack up a note stating the date and time frame. This works most of the time if people try to adhere to there times...and are understanding. Of course, there are times when you just have to wait, or reschedule, but, most people have figured out when it’s the best time for them to find an open studio.

My best analogy for needing more studios is to tell management that highways must have more lanes for rush hour traffic. Same goes for busy production departments dealing with short turnarounds and client approvals. Ya just gotta have more “lanes,” man. Amen.

Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com], Rogers Radio, Ottawa, Canada: This is a very timely question for me, as I’m a couple of weeks into this exact situation. In my consolidation case, we now have 5 stations located in one new building. We’re all in, but the physical plant is only about 70% completed - barely enough to get us all on the air, but on the air we are from our new location. When the plans for the new building were put forward, we asked for a minimum of 4 production suites. Unfortunately, due to time and (mostly) budget constraints, we ended up with substantially less than that. By reusing as much existing equipment as possible, we now stand with 2 soon to be fully functional production suites (also at about 70-80%). Nice spacious rooms with windows (a first!), but shared by 4 producers. There are 2 shifts in either room, 5a-noon and noon-7p, so what I used to do in my 9-12 hour solo room is now crammed into 7 hours. There is another, bare bones studio that is used 9-5 by the most junior member of the Production staff as he is constantly feeding an automated station. Eventually when the engineers aren’t working 22 hours a day, there will be a 4th, also bare bones studio, for news, long form, and jock production use.

Naturally, the stress has increased. Also naturally, the afternoon guy doesn’t really want to hang around and wait for the morning guy to “finish a couple of things.” After the afternoon shift, jocks are using the studios for their production use, and for trained monkeys to load music and syndicated programming into the automation system. How do we deal with it? Right now we just are. There is too much that has to get done RIGHT NOW! What helps is spending a couple of minutes at the beginning and end of each shift, and the change over, planning things out to keep the work load fluid should somebody require a day to spend on a specific project. All 4 of us are in the same boat, so we are trying to be supportive and encouraging.

So far, the most frustrating problem has been jocks (I think) coming in and playing with all the buttons and knobs on the console. So, when I get in at 5am, I have to waste half an hour resetting knobs that I set 4 years ago and haven’t touched since. Believe it or not, the Sales staff has been a big help. Really! When told “... no, you can’t have that now--I have 30 other spots to do today, and I can’t give you any time today. Ask again tomorrow...,” they have accepted that. Only one has been asked to leave the studio “before someone gets hurt.” I mean, what are people going to do when they are told that we just can’t do it? Line up with the rest of the jocks to get studio time and do it themselves with no production skills? It sounds pompous, and I don’t mean it to be, but in the production studio, when I say it can’t be done...it really can’t be done. If someone has another suggestion, I’m open, but no really does mean no. Sorry.

Speaking with my management hat on, I can understand why they are doing this. In the short term, it cuts costs. What they haven’t thought about is the long term costs, and how it is going to handcuff the sales reps. In my case, this is what they are asking me to do. So, for now, I’m willing to give it a try using “their” rules. If in 6-12 months it’s not working out, the situation will go back to the GM with the question of “Are we adding more studios?” If we’re not, the ball is bounced to me, and then I have to decide if it’s worth it, or if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Pete Jensen [PETEJ[at]kxly.com]: This has been the #1 problem we’ve had. And you’re right: the frustration level is very high when you have a huge pile of work to do, and no place to do it. I’ve been handling the problem by staying here every night until the work is done. Not much in the way of a solution, I’m afraid. Fortunately, our company, the KXLY Group, has committed to upgrading the facilities, and in a few weeks (months) we will have new studios. I predict an immediate increase in productivity.

Rob Vavrek [rvavrek[at]bear.fm], The Bear/CFRN, Edmonton, Canada: We have 2 production rooms for 2 radio stations. These 2 studios are busy from anywhere between 8: 30 a.m. till 3 a.m.!! Yes, that’s right, 3 a.m.! And even some weekends!! We have 3 producers, 2 of us are in all day and into the evening (the 3rd producer also op’s a sportstalk show from 9 p.m. till midnight, so he comes in around 6 p.m. or so, does a little studio work, and then after the show is back in the studio until the wee hours of the morning). During the day, bands will come in for interviews, clients voicing not only spots, BUT INFOMERCIALS, jocks wanting callers cut-up and bits produced out of them, and of course they want the bits on the air in the next few minutes! Not to mention the day to day stuff like SPOTS-PROMOS-IDS etc. etc. etc.

The way we work it is ORGANIZATION!!! If a band is coming in for an interview, we need to know ahead of time, and studio time is booked. Sometimes we have had to say NO, the studio is already booked for a client or maybe another band, or maybe were just packed to the nuts with spots. So if you want the interview, you have to do it live on the air. As far as clients go, we have pushed as many of them as possible to the evening producer (especially the infomercial clients). We don’t need them taking 2 hours of prime studio time, while they are trying to figure out what they are going to say for the next half hour. A lot of clients don’t like the fact they may have to come in at 7 or 7:30 p.m. to voice something, but unfortunately sometimes that’s the only time we can get them in!! Another way to avoid specifically bar clients from coming in is to book them EARLY EARLY in the morning. Usually they won’t do mornings, and if they show up late - sorry can’t get you in, we’re all booked up now for the rest of the day!!! Eventually they stop coming, and we get to produce their spots with our own in-house talent.

The morning show is usually in my studio before I get in, and if they need some heavy duty prod, they will try to book some time with me after their show. Some jocks will use our newsroom to do some editing or voice-tracking, even some phoners, and this really helps. If we had to do all that minor but time consuming stuff, our days would be really backed up!

There are always emergencies when you have to drop everything and do something unexpected. Let’s face it, if the Rolling Stones happen to wander into the station, I think we could probably squeeze them in somewhere. The key is to get everybody up to speed on how getting into the studio works, and that time is at a premium. We have to be extremely organized and efficient just to get through our days, and the rest of the station and staff have to understand that and work with us to crank-out a cool product!! And for the most part, the system is working just fine!

Jack Steele [jacks[at]amfm.com], Clear Channel Birmingham: Man! This is an ongoing problem. I have an assistant who wants to get into the room and start when he arrives. We have three rooms—two multi-track rooms and one dub room. In a few weeks we’ll have 4 rooms—three multi-track rooms and one dub room studio. The new room is where the producers and those who cause delay for my assistant will go once it is completed.  We have the Prophet system, so basic voice recording can be done in any of our 5 stations control rooms.

Bob James [bjames[at]amfm.com], KHAK/KDAT/KRNA, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Here at Cumulus Cedar Rapids, we’re lucky enough to have five production studios for three FM’s. One of our many owners over the past four years was Capstar (who had a corporate branch here), and they really went to bat for us. While all aren’t  equipped as we’d like, having them at our disposal is a real blessing, especially this time of the year. I feel for those of you who are working with smaller numbers though. During remodeling, we had three stations sharing one working production room. That was u-g-l-y!

Donnie Marion [dmarion[at]104 krbe.com], 104 KRBE, Houston: We are a stand alone FM with three production rooms waiting for use. One production room is assigned to me for commercials, another is used by Creative Services, the third is used by all DJ’s with production to do, (endorsement spots and dubs, etc.), and I work in the third prod. room, often just dubbing things from the DGS’s and web-based distribution companies. So around here, we only wait on Fridays when we produce our countdown show in the third prod. room. We’re lucky.

Adam Garey [gareyport[at]hotmail .com]: I am at the station part-time and at the odd hours. Because there are less heads to bump into or no heads but mine, I am free to think it, draft it, cut it, and REPEAT till I get it right. My production work is fairly limited, which also helps with my time frame. I am doing basically production second after first oping. I do mostly show “sweetening” such as opens, closes, etc.

If or when I come across the smashing LINE of production backup, I know the importance of segmenting. As your SAW multi-track window says, you can record in portions. If Joe Jock is here now, I will get his part in the hard disk and deal with the library of f/x and beds when the night crew starts working.

Having worked with voice trax in the past, I am use to segmented recording. Voice A is here now and I will get Voice B when she comes in. They are both supposedly conversing. That is the challenge of the producer, to get the listener to think they are in the same room talking to each other.

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