R.A.P. Interview: Paul Fey and Stuart Sloke

Paul Fey, President/Chief Creative Officer, and Stuart Sloke, Senior VP/Production Director, World Wide Wadio, Hollywood, California

By Jerry Vigil

It’s the dream of many reading this to leave the radio station, build that cool studio, and make a decent living with your own production company. If that’s a dream for you, then doing what Paul Fey and Stuart Sloke have done would be your dream times a thousand. World Wide Wadio is the ultimate radio production house. Start with a 10,000 square foot studio on Sunset Blvd. with eleventh floor penthouse views from some 60 large windows overlooking the Hollywood hills, downtown Los Angeles, and the Pacific Ocean. A recent 3000 square foot expansion includes an all new, ultra-cool game room. Over 700 awards line the walls. Their list of clients is way too long to list but includes such names as GTE, Chrysler, American Airlines, Budweiser, Coca Cola, Discover Card, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, 7-eleven, MTV, CBS, NBC, Fox Television, Warner Brothers, HBO, Disney…you get the idea. This month’s RAP Interview visits the guys who make those “big agency spots,” and you can hear a sample of their work on next month’s RAP CD. (This month’s CD is devoted exclusively to the RAP Awards finalists.)

Paul-Fey-Mar01JV: Let’s get some background on you two.
Paul: I started out on the advertising side and was always interested in doing creative, but I really enjoyed radio commercials. I grew up listening to Stan Freberg, and I got interested in what Dick and Bert were doing back in the seventies when I was in college. I was just a big fan of that stuff, and it just happened that the first agency I went to work for, a small agency in St. Louis, sort of specialized in radio. They were doing funny radio, and I got a chance to get into that quickly. I was doing a bit of everything, but that was what I got the most opportunity to do and enjoyed the most. From there, I took a detour through broadcasting and was recruited to work for the CBS-owned television station in St. Louis at the time, KMOX-TV. They hired me in-house to do all their advertising—all their radio, TV and print. And this was a TV station that used radio quite a bit to recruit new audiences. While working for CBS, even in that small way in St. Louis, my work came to the attention of people higher up in CBS in the bigger markets—New York, L.A., Chicago, Philadelphia—and over a year or two they all tried to hire me. But they did it in such short succession, and I had such a nice gig and was being so well treated in St. Louis, that it occurred to me that I was going to ride that out, go into business for myself, and instead of working for any one of them, take them all as my clients. So, when I did go out on my own in late 1985, within a matter of months, all five of the CBS-owned stations were clients of mine. Within about a year or so, I started to move my interest out to L.A. because the talent’s so great out here. It just kind of all blossomed from there because they stayed my clients. All those people who were my clients at the CBS-owned stations in New York, Chicago, L.A., and Philadelphia moved on to bigger things and became heads of advertising at King World, CBS Television Network, Paramount and other things like that. And they ended up staying clients for us. Then I started to pick up more advertising clients—a lot of Budweiser work was coming out of St. Louis in those days. And the business just built up from there.

Then as we fast forward to something like four years ago, maybe coming up on five, Stuart joined us, and Stuart just kind of took us to a whole new level. He came along at the perfect time when we had already made the commitment to build this facility, but we had barely started it. So Stuart was able to add his knowledge and background and experience in creating studios to what we were developing and really brought it up to a whole new level. I understand, based on what Stuart and some other people tell me, that we may be sitting in the best radio production studio on the planet. I’m just feeling very, very fortunate that the first one we ever built rose to that status pretty quickly, but I have to thank Stuart and his previous experiences for getting us to that point.

JV: Stuart, give us a little background on you and what brought you to World Wide Wadio.
Stuart: I worked as a music engineer back in Chicago, and somebody told me about a fellow who needed some help. His name was Dick Orkin. I went over to Dick’s place and helped him fix some equipment. Then he got me involved in some production on a project that he was doing called “Chickenman,” so I worked there on some of the last Chickenman stuff. Then came the Tooth Fairy. Then Mr. Berdis joined Mr. Orkin, and I worked there in Chicago with them. When they moved out here to Los Angeles, I was also moved as one of the team to the facility out here which I helped build. Orkin and Berdis split, and I stayed with Dick for about a year. Then I went with Bert. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I became a partner in our studio, which was called Waves Sound Recorders. I stayed with Bert for close to ten years with Waves, then I met Paul at an awards show. Paul won the award that I should have won, and I was pretty pissed about that. So, we had words. It didn’t come to fisticuffs, not that night anyway, but a short time later it did, and I got the damn award from him. (laughs)

Paul: He wrestled it away.

Stuart: Yeah, it’s now sitting in my office. The label says he got it for The Simp-sons, and I’ve got this thing pasted on it that says, “No, it’s for Pepsi.”

Paul: By the way, that was our first major award. We’ve won lots of them, but for us that was a real milestone. It was important because it ended up sort of indirectly hooking Stu up with us. It was maybe the third year of the Radio Mercury Awards in New York, and we won the top prize for humor that year, which came along with a twenty thousand dollar check. It turned out to be a drop in the bucket in terms of what we were doing, but it sure helped in the process of building the new studio.

Stuart: So anyway, I came over here and I joined Paul. As he said, the studio was in construction, and I led him down a very dangerous path, you could say, in making some capital expenditures, which have paid off for us rather handsomely. I don’t think this is like any other radio production facility in the world. In fact, I think it’s better than a whole lot of music facilities out there. We now have three rooms, which mirror each other. We can start a project in one room and finish it in any of the three rooms. They all are equipped the same way. They all have the same automation. But they each have their own unique feel. Each one has views of the Hollywood hills from both the studios and the control rooms, which is an amazing thing. I mean, most people sit in a booth all day. It’s dark, and all they’re doing is looking out through a window at somebody sitting in the other room watching them. We have talent who are able to see out into the world and are able to see some of the beautiful sunshine we have here, and the smog, and I think it invigorates you. It generates a tremendous amount of energy as opposed to some of these other places. I know for years and years, every day I walked into a dark room in the morning, and I walked out at night and it was dark. And that was my day—kind of depressing.

Paul: Recording studios almost never have windows, so this was a real treat for us. The talent enjoy it and respond to it, and the clients who come visit us certainly appreciate it because they’re not used to having windows in a recording studio. More than anything else, we’re the ones who get the most out of it because we’re here forty plus, fifty plus hours a week. I think it helps us creatively just to not feel like we’re closed in a dungeon. We’ve worked really hard to make the environment one that’s creative and fun and not dank and dreary like most studios.

Wadio-StudioA

JV: What kind of equipment do you have in the studios?
Stuart: Fairlight is the name of the system we have, and it’s all digital. Everybody’s got digital stuff nowadays. We also have the Fairlight F.A.M.E. editing platform, so it’s a completely integrated system. The recording, the editing, and the mixing—it’s all one system.

One of the biggest aspects of our setup is the database of sound effects and music we started building from day one. Right now, I would say we have about two hundred and fifty hours online at our fingertips. “Hey, can I listen to some jazz?” “Well, what kind of jazz do you want?” “Soft jazz.” “Okay. Here’s two hours of soft jazz that we’ve already pulled off of CDs. We’ve already prescreened it and said ‘Here’s the stuff that we like.’” Or somebody will say, “I want something that’s really alternative rock.” Okay, let’s go to that category, and I’ll play you an hour and a half of alternative rock pieces. This is not playing a CD. It’s from a CD that we’ve already listened to, but we just don’t take CDs and put them on a shelf and say, “Oh, here’s some good library music. It goes up on the shelf.” We put it into the system immediately—the good stuff, the stuff we like. Then it’s in the system for us, and we never have to load it again.

The same with sound effects, and we have a huge number of sound effects which we’ve created ourselves, as well as all the usual libraries that people would have. It’s a tremendous tool because if somebody says to us, “Gee, I don’t like that dog bark. Do you have another one?” “Well, yeah, we don’t have one. We have maybe two hundred and fifty, and we can play them for you just as fast as I can press a button.” And very quickly the point is proven: “Okay. You have more than what I can even deal with.”

Paul: And the engineer, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, never even has to get out of his chair.

Stuart: We have them all at our fingertips. They’re all categorized, and we can also do searches through these things. We can do what’s called an audio-based search on the Fairlight System and just enter “chainsaw,” and it will bring up twenty-five different chainsaws, no matter where they exist in our system. And we can play them instantaneously and import them into our project instantaneously.

We did a spot a long time ago where the client wanted to have zillions of frogs, but these frogs had to be very unique in their tonality. They wanted to create a forest scene and it had to be believable—just about everything in the book. They had a raccoon in there and a squirrel chirping. It was very unique, and it was built extremely quickly. There were a hundred and fifty layers in there.

JV: I can see how having all your music and sound effects on computer really is the ideal situation.
Stuart: Yeah. And this allows us to do things very differently. I don’t think most people have this luxury, but when we get a script and a project, and somebody pulls the trigger and says, “Yeah, you guys have it,” one of the first things we do is start pulling sound effects. We do pre-production. We do the same thing as people who would be doing a television spot would do—start with storyboards, etc., etc. We build the commercial before the people ever get here. We will have different music lined up. We’ll have fifteen different pieces of music, but we’ll have the top three to five pieces of music that we think work best with their spot ready to go. We use a tremendous amount of music here in our production. We like to change the scenes, and we like to paint the pictures. And we do it with music. Utilizing the sound effects and music libraries, we’re able to do that very effectively.

As far as the voice tracks go, we take the auditions from the people they have already picked; we take those auditions, put them up against the tracks we’ve already put together, and we’ve got their commercial pretty much built when they walk in the door, even before they’ve started doing any recording here, before production actually starts.

JV: That has to impress a client when they walk in, thinking they’re starting from scratch!
Paul: The whole concept of pre-building the spots, at least pre-building a really strong starting point for the spots before the clients even walk in the door and before the first talent actually walks in to perform, is something I’d never seen anywhere else before, and the clients are wowed by it. It also tends to make everything go more smoothly and a lot faster. And of course, because everything we do is non-linear, if there’s something they don’t like, or if we need to change the timing a little bit in the final performance, it’s a real simple matter. We’re not committed to anything. And it gives our clients the opportunity to sort of hear it the way we would want to hear it rather than to go through the process of doing it one layer at a time. Watching it one layer at a time, they don’t get what is going on. But if you can expose it to them all at once, then it’s easier to sell your idea and to get them excited about how great it’s going to sound before you’ve even really started.

JV: What’s the typical creative or brainstorm process that occurs after you’ve acquired a new client and you sit down to come up with an ad?
Paul: Well, about half our work involves advertising agencies bringing in scripts that they’ve written and asking us to bring our production expertise and some of our script doctoring to it as well. The other half, which is probably what you’re referring to, is where we’re writing, producing, and directing the spot from scratch. With the stuff we create from scratch, generally speaking, we start with a thing we call our five-minute brain download, and it’s just a short questionnaire where we get the client to focus on what they’re trying to achieve. Basically they tell us about the product or service, tell us about the audience they’re trying to reach, tell us the specs of the assignment and who’s the bulls eye of the target market, and what behavior we are  trying to get them to do. Are they looking to increase sales by five percent by a particular deadline? Are we trying to increase viewership on a particular TV show on a given night? Whatever their goals are, we try to make them be as specific as possible about what they’re trying to achieve. And then it’s really pretty simple.

Then ultimately, we generate a strategy document based on what they tell us, to make sure we’re all on the same page. Our executive producer, Michael Niles generally works with the clients. He will generate a creative and strategy brief based on our input from the client and anything they sent us. Then it’s sent back to them for them to sign it and approve it to make sure we clearly understand what their goals are. At that stage, depending on our workload and the deadline, generally speaking, we like a couple of weeks to write script and present them with ideas. And as often as we can—something that we build into the price of our projects, which we have found has been enormously successful—rather than present them scripts, we actually create demos for as many of the ideas as we want to present as possible, and we do them fully produced, ready to go on the air. Radio scripts are hard for people to read, and five different people can read it and all hear something different in their heads. So presenting them with produced demos really helps. Obviously we know there may be changes because a lot of times they’re hearing this for the very first time. They’ve never even seen the script. So we’re putting a lot of stuff on paper that ultimately might need to get changed or tweaked or whatever. Generally speaking, we’ll take four or five fully produced radio demos to them. If they’re out of town or whatever, we’ll send it to them on a CD with a quick little preamble before each one saying here’s what we’ve achieved in this spot. Our batting average of not only selling the creative on it, but actually putting the stuff directly on the air without making any changes, is huge. I think ninety percent of the time they pick something and put it on the air without making a single change because they can fully grasp it and visualize it at that point. There’s no ambiguity. They know what they hear. They can play it for their boss, and internally, everybody hears exactly what we’re talking about.

Clients tend to make more suggestions about making changes when it’s on paper and hasn’t been produced yet. They feel like they really have a chance to influence it. The truth of the matter is, they’re hiring us because we’re experts at this, and some clients are smart enough to let us do what we do. But at the same time, other clients are a little more hands-on. We just sort of take that opportunity when we can do these demos to get one free shot at it, to produce it with nobody making changes before the production. We get to expose it to them the way our vision has it, and then if they want to make changes, that’s fine. But at least we’ve had one fair shot at showing them what we hear. The committee doesn’t start meddling with it before it gets produced.

JV: A couple of weeks to come up with the script is an eternity in a radio station. What is the average turnaround time for a spot from World Wide Wadio, start to finish?
Paul: We love three to four weeks if we can get it, if we’re doing it from scratch. And it depends on how big the assignment is, too. If it’s one spot, that’s not as hard. If it’s a five-spot campaign, obviously we’re going to want a little bit more time just because the creative development takes a lot longer. Generally speaking, maybe a couple of weeks for the creative, from when we get the strategy to when we’re ready to present ideas, either on paper or ideally as finished demos. Roughly a couple of weeks to do that. Then roughly another week if we have to go in and do more production. If we have to recast something or do additional production, maybe another week. So, I’d say three to four weeks, depending on how big the assignment is and how much other work we’re juggling at the time. 

Stuart: I’d also like to add that there have been times when the planets all align, everything seems to be right in the world, and we have done some things here in three or four days, but those are few and far between. Usually that’s because of the clients, not because everything’s perfect in our world.

Paul: And the fact that we have three studios that are totally parallel gives us such a high level of productivity and efficiency. And you can add to that the fact that we have such ready access to casting and the best talent pool on the planet coming in and out of here all day long every day.

Take a client who brings in a pesky script. It’s a crash and burn, and they’re trying to make a deadline. If they’re willing to cut through some of the layers of approval just to meet a deadline, we can turn that around, generally speaking, in a week. That’s very doable. If it’s a really fast thing, we can do it in a couple of days as long as they trust us and are willing to cut some more of the approval layers, like out of the casting process and stuff like that.

JV: You have a full-time staff of how many people?
Stuart: Something like twelve people right now.

JV: Are you guys the main writers?
Paul: Right now I’m the only in-house writer, per se. We’re in the process of hiring another writer, and we have a couple of key free-lancers we use. Depending on the assignment, we can kind of shop around. A certain free-lancer is better at episodic TV promotion, and somebody else is better at concept humor or whatever. We have an interesting arsenal of resources outside of our own walls that we can bring in for that, but internally, it’s mostly me.

JV: Regarding the stuff that you do from scratch, are you best known for humorous material?
Paul: Yeah, mostly. That tends to be what people come to us for. We’re very happy to do dramatic and serious spots that are powerful. We’re also really well known for sound design kind of stuff. We do a lot of work for Fox Sports Net right now, and they might think the spots are funny. I don’t know. If anything, it’s more just spots with attitude, but the driving force behind them is really the incredible sound design and power. It’s sports stuff, so we’re pushing a bunch of different things. Fox has NASCAR now. That’s a giant thing for them, and we’re doing all their work on the radio promoting that. We also do basketball and hockey for them and football. Stuart kind of created a template for a bunch of the stuff we do for them, and this NASCAR stuff falls into a whole different category than the weekly tune-in stuff. It’s powerful sports sound design, high energy impact, a lot of driving music. It’s really killer sports stuff that Stu brings to the party. It’s something we’re known probably equally well for as the humor stuff.

JV: How many ads are you able to knock out during the course of a week amongst the twelve of you?
Paul: It really varies from week to week. A couple of summers ago, we generated so much work in this particular summer that we were just kind of marveling at it. We ended up putting out a demo CD of only stuff we’d done that summer. We did more than two hundred spots in that three-month period for some pretty high-level clients. How many per week? I don’t know. Stuart, how many do we do in a week?

Stuart: I think last week was kind of an interesting week. We’ve been in sweeps and we did a bunch of stuff for CBS. We also did stuff for Fox Sports Net. We did some stuff for Sears. I would say all told—all versions, revisions, everything else—I would say in excess of fifty spots went out of here last week. But that’s all inclusive of some of these like the spots for the Grammys where there were six different versions—different music, different announcers, different lengths.

Paul: I almost hesitate to say we do that many because you wouldn’t assume that, based on the volume, there would be much work going into every one of them and that they would sound as amazing as they do, but they really do.

JV: The kinds of spots you produce are what most of us in radio refer to as “the big agency spots.” We all want to make spots like that, but, for the most part, we have nowhere near the time or the resources to even come close. However, every now and then we are able to craft a jewel in our rudimentary little studios.
Paul: I know a big part of your readership is dealing with substantially more limited resources. It’s no real secret. Unfortunately, some of the worst radio that’s on the air is some of the stuff that’s generated by the stations. And there’s good stuff coming through there too now and then. There are a couple of stations here that I hear good production from, but there’s a lot of it that I just have to assume that they’re working with their hands tied—very fast turnarounds on scripts that are written by account executives and so on. And they’re very limited in terms of the voices they can use because they only have so many people in the station. And I’m sure in a lot of these cases the production guys are doing the voice stuff as well. They’ve got to wear a lot of hats. They have to be engineers, voice talents, maybe they’re writing the stuff, too. We have an appreciation for how difficult that is. What we do is just on a whole different scale. People are coming to us and spending a lot of money to get the best of everything—the best writers, the best producers, the best directors, the best engineers, the best facility, the best working experience. I realize that’s coming from a whole different place.

Stuart: I think radio has unfortunately painted itself into a very dark corner. Somebody goes out and does a buy for twenty thousand or twenty-five thousand dollars, and the sales guy stands there and says; “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to throw in your spot for free.” Anytime somebody uses the word “free,” I’m sorry, you have to say, “What am I going to get if somebody gives me something for free?”

And another situation that you run into here is with the writers who are involved at the agency level. For these people in general, radio is not their love. This is not what they come to work every day for. What they come to work for is these spots that are hopefully Super Bowl bound. There is so much talk about people watching the Super Bowl, not for the game, but for the commercial content. It’s entertainment. What’s sad is that radio has painted itself into this corner, and it does not provide within its advertising very much, if any, entertainment. It’s all information. It’s some guy who is going to talk for thirty or sixty seconds about his cars, that he’s got a sale on cars this week and to come on down because you’re not going to get another deal like this in town.

I think also with the advent of Internet radio, as well as XM satellite and Sirius satellite, you’re going to have people driving in their cars with those services. You have satellite and cable feeding your house with radio. They have no commercials. Broadcast radio is going to come, as far as I’m concerned, under more pressure to perform, especially for some of the larger organizations. They’re going to come under greater and greater pressure to meet these financial expectations, and if the way they are going to do it is to sell more time and provide no better sales tools to create a spot to go in that time, I think that is very self-defeating.

And I’m sure it is so frustrating for many of the people at the radio stations who have to deal with somebody saying, “Well, how come I’m not getting more people in the door here? I’m running spots on your station.” They can have a great station going, but they haven’t provided a writing staff or even a single writer. Again, in a lot of stations, people are using shared resources, where the salesperson or somebody else is writing the commercial. And that may not be the best place for that product to come from, but they’re doing the best they can.

Also, up until recently, radio stations were notorious for equipment. Boy, they wouldn’t put a new piece of equipment in until the last one was smoking and had flames coming out of it. Finally, they’ve started to turn, especially because some of the new equipment has become much less expensive. They’re starting to get some of the tools.

Paul: And there’s a real two-edged sword with the idea of how ambitious the spots that a production person at a radio station should try to produce. On the one hand you hear spot after spot that just tends to be kind of boring, straight sell, and there’s nothing there to make anybody interested in it. But to be honest, the other side of that coin is that if they do try to make it entertaining, for whatever reason, the shame of it is, more often than not they fail. There’s nothing worse than an unfunny funny commercial. They’re trying to be entertaining, but whether it’s the limitations of the writer or the limitations of the actors you have available, or limitations of the time to work on it...it’s no small trick to make a really funny radio commercial. There are very few of them out there.

There are something like forty spots on the Radio Mercury Awards CD every year, and when you eliminate the serious spots and the PSAs and whatever, maybe you’ll hear a dozen, maybe fifteen really good funny radio spots that come out of United States of America in a year. That’s kind of a sad statement, but it just means it’s really hard to do. That bar is set really high. But it sort of means there’s an awful lot of unfunny funny stuff out there, too. And personally, I actually find that harder to listen to than a straight sell. How do you win if you’re the production guy at the local station? They’re not giving you a lot of tools.

JV: Probably the one thing that could make the greatest impact on the quality of commercials produced at the local level would be to actually have a budget for each commercial produced. You’re right; if we have to do it for free, what can the client really expect? What can we expect? What do you guys charge for a typical local commercial that you do from scratch?
Paul: A single spot, for a major market, and we write it, produce it and direct it—it’s probably anywhere between twelve and twenty-five grand. That’s out the door including talent and all that stuff.

JV: Right. And the local radio guy, if he gets any budget at all, it’s maybe fifty bucks or a hundred bucks to throw at a voice talent who is down the street at the local community theater or something.
Stuart: Exactly. We understand that. And it’s a sad state of affairs.

JV: Obviously, radio stations can’t get twelve grand for production costs, but even a thousand could do wonders. And as you said, what’s the message you relate when you tell the client that you are going to give him the production at no cost?
Paul: Right, and they kind of cut their own throat the minute they do that.

Stuart: Exactly. I think they have to put some level of value on that. And here’s another thing. If I’m a writer, and supposedly nobody paid a nickel for what I’m going to be working on, I think a certain amount of what goes on in your mind is, “Jesus, somebody doesn’t think that what I’m doing is worth paying any money at all for! They’re throwing it in as part of the media buy!” I think that’s a very defeating setup to start at that point and say, “Okay, I really have to fire up all my juices and come up with something really great here… even though somebody didn’t want to pay a nickel for what I’m about to do.”

You go back to the history of radio and television, both of them, and of course you heard Fibber McGee and Molly or whatever else, and they would simply have a person off to the side start talking about Pepto Bismol or Pepsi Cola,  and a couple from the cast would chime in. It was all live, and it was part of buying the time. There wasn’t an advertisement that was produced and a cost involved. That has carried on in radio. What happened with television was that all of a sudden, people started seeing special effects and they wanted this and that. They needed all kinds of other things, and an entire industry was born out of that. Radio never followed that same path. Radio is the bastard child. It’s the bastard “mother” of mass broadcast advertising.

Paul: Well, it certainly doesn’t get a lot of respect.

Stuart: Yeah, it certainly does not get the respect it’s due. Also, I think one of the most interesting things is that almost anybody will say to you that with a TV spot you have a visual image, you have an oral or audio component, and you have the ability to put print across the image at the same time. With radio, you have one single element. You have sound. And if you’re just going to give somebody talking, again in general, that’s not an entertaining process nor an interesting process. Television has these three elements that are capable of nailing the target all at once. What I’m saying is that it’s much harder to do something in radio that is creative, that is interesting, that is a call to action. You’ll hear something on the radio and decide to call that number or go over there or buy that or whatever. In television, they are able to give you a much more compelling story because they are utilizing those other elements, but it’s much harder to tell that same story on the radio.

Paul: Yes, radio is much harder to write than television or print. And that’s something that people in advertising agencies either don’t know or never figure out, or they figure it out when they try. They tend to give the radio assignments, because they’re lower in the pecking order, to the junior writer, when, in fact, they’re giving the hardest assignment to the new guy.

Stuart and I do lectures occasionally to radio groups and stuff like that—and when we talk about how to do good radio, it almost always comes down to the writing. I mean, you only have so many production resources, but you can’t hide bad writing on the radio. You can hide it on TV. You can use some flashy art direction and some sizzling graphics and sound design, and it all goes by and nobody really realizes that there wasn’t much of a concept there or that there wasn’t really any kind of a script. But it was dazzling to look at. When you don’t have those tools, that script is just naked. There’s no way to hide it. So even with really good production tools and really phenomenal talent, if the script is poor, it’s really hard to hide it.

Stuart: Ironically, I wish we had a lot more competition from radio. I wish the broadcasters themselves were able to give us a lot more competition and raise the bar. But they don’t and they haven’t, and I don’t see it changing in the future, not unless with the advent of all these new forms of broadcast audio that are coming upon us in the next year or so they are forced to change. They may be forced to change some of their aspects or their attitudes and say, “Why is it better to advertise on our station?” And they’re going to have to come up with more reasons in the future than just the fact that two hundred thousand people listen to the station.

I think when you get into narrowcasting on the Internet, advertisers are going to be able to say, “Well, I can go to these people who specifically listen to this station because it’s all about do-it-yourself stuff around the home.” Where is Stanley Tools going to advertise? If they can find a station that’s aimed at people who like to do stuff around the house, I think we’re going to see some interesting divergence in what we’ve had previously in programming. And I think somebody is going to say to radio, “Hey, I don’t want to go with you. I want to go with this Internet radio site that does nothing but narrowcast, not broadcast, to a very select group of people. It’s a small group, but that’s my audience.”

Paul: The thing that I don’t really understand is that, generally speaking, the commercial breaks that you hear on the radio are filled with mostly bad commercials. Whether it’s done by the station or by an advertising agency that is just not very good at this, the level of creativity in radio advertising is so much lower than in other media across the board. What I don’t really get is that it seems it would make the stations themselves afraid that people are just going to tune out. In other words, even if I like your programming, if I’m listening to a long break of really bad commercials, aren’t I going to hit the button? And then you’ve lost them forever. But my sense is they’re not looking at it that way.

Stuart: I’ve done the exact same thing listening to the Howard Stern Show as I have done listening to some much, much smaller station. It doesn’t seem to matter how big or how popular your show is, it seems like bad advertising has a place everywhere. But, yeah, I hit the button.

JV: Well Paul, you may have answered this question to some degree a moment ago. But let’s take a client who comes to the radio station with a budget for the radio buy at twenty thousand dollars. It wouldn’t be so outrageous to go to them and say, “Look, why don’t you take a thousand dollars of that or fifteen hundred dollars of that and spend it on your commercial.” Granted, this is at a much smaller scale that what you operate at, but if you had fifteen hundred dollars to spend on a commercial for an advertiser at a radio station, what would you do with that money?
Paul: I’d spend at least a third of it, if not half of it, on a script. The writer is the place to start. The truth of the matter is, everybody’s got an in-house production facility and music libraries and all that. So I would spend a third to a half of it on the writer and spend what’s left on good talent.

Stuart: If you’re asking me, I would say even more, sixty percent on that writer.

Paul: Well, it just depends. You can get a pretty good script from the right writers for five hundred to seven hundred and fifty bucks, on that level. I know people around the country who are pretty good at this and who would work for that.

Stuart: What you can also do is fan this out to three writers and say, “Look, I’ll give each of you a hundred dollars to write a script on this,” and each of them turns out, hopefully, two scripts. So you’ve got six scripts. You’re out three hundred dollars, and whoever ends up with the final script gets another two hundred dollars.

Paul: But you know, writing radio commercials is such a strange animal. In other words, I don’t think most markets are going to find three writers to send this to. I think you’d be lucky to find one good writer you can kind of get in the groove with who also knows how to, not just write with the ear, but also write within the production limitations. In other words, you can’t have him go out and write an opera if the guy at the station can’t deliver that. So, it’s got to be somebody who knows the medium.

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