R.A.P. Interview: Tom Barnes

R.A.P.: Give us a sample of the philosophy of Joint Communications as it pertains to radio and the production on the air.
Tom: We're very much committed to the idea of "stationality." You'll hear consultants discuss stationality a lot, and everybody kinda goes, "Oh, that's a cool word. What does it mean?" What it really refers to is the sound that ties the station together, the sound the people think of when they think of the radio station. At least forty percent of that, if not more, comes directly from the production on the radio station.

It's important that production people realize how important their roll is in the radio station. A lot of times it gets glossed over. In talking with people in radio in general, most of the focus is put on the songs. I've got to tell you, as a researcher -- and I've seen hundreds of auditorium tests -- everybody is playing the right music. Everybody's playing the right songs. Sure, you may slip up and play one wrong cut an hour, or it might be in the wrong position, but it's getting to the point where that's nit-picking. In my mind, there are bigger fish to fry these days in terms of the sound of the radio station.

There are some guys out there that are doing some intense production, amazing production! It's very hard though for people to pick it apart and say, "Why is this amazing production? Why can't I get my guys to do this? What's killing me? Is it the voice I'm using?" That tends to be one of the big things that's touted now, that you've got to have the right voice on the radio. That's important. It's important to have the right voice, but what's even more important is having the "sound" of that voice working with other things that make it really stand out. It's important to concentrate on those things and know what they are. Know how they work and know where to place them.

Another thing that really gets missed a lot of times is that it's so important to pull listeners through time. That's the big job of radio. We call radio "mood service," and it does that; but another thing about radio that is very important to production people is that people use it to spend time, to get them through a boring task or to get them through a time which isn't really where they want to be. Radio is that companion that gets them through that and makes life more enjoyable. So, it's our job to pull them through and be linear with our production, our marketing messages and our communications. The keys are to be linear, to be clear, and to be efficient. When we listen to production we need to think about how the production is accomplishing those tasks -- how it goes about accomplishing efficient communication, how it goes about moving the listener through time quickly, and how it keeps the listener from being bored. People are so inundated with messages, either from a marketing angle or just people communicating with one another, that it all becomes noise and becomes very boring. We've got to get people out of that boredom, and the best way to do that is to pull them through time efficiently with what you're communicating. People will be very drawn to that which is more efficient. People are looking for the easy way out.

Another thing that's important is the way people learn because we are teaching people things. We're teaching them about the radio station, or we're teaching them about a client that's paying money to be on the radio station. People learn things basically two ways. I'm not a cognitive psychologist, but I have a couple of friends that are studying that, and one thing they told me in a nutshell is that people learn through surprise and repetition. If you come across new knowledge that amazes you, you will more than likely remember it versus something that is inane to you. The other stuff you learn through constant repetition, hearing it over and over and over again.

Production Directors can utilize this knowledge. Let's say you get some copy from a salesperson that's a laundry list. Well, it doesn't take a genius to know that this is not the best kind of copy, but what do you go back and tell your salesperson? "Hey, I don't like this copy." "Well WHY don't you like this copy? Now you've attacked my ego! I'm a pretty weird person anyway, and now you're attacking my copy!" What production people need to be able to do is communicate effectively with the sales department or the copywriter, depending on what size market they're in, about why the copy doesn't work. One of best ways to do this is to evoke the surprise and repetition law and say, "Mr. Copywriter, where's the surprise here? Where's the repetition here? Let's focus on the hook and repeat it, just like a song. A song has a hook that people remember. When we do auditorium tests, we play eight hundred and fifty hooks for people, and they recognize the songs from those hooks. We've got to do the same thing in our advertisements particularly because we have less time. We don't have four minutes like a song does. We have thirty or sixty seconds. So we've got to grab that hook and play it over and over again, and it's got to be really catchy. It's got to surprise the listener."

If you can think of a way to surprise the listener and use repetition at the same time, you're going to have an effective advertisement. I don't care what rules you throw out, if you keep those two things together, you're going to stick in the mind of the listener. That doesn't mean you have to be obnoxious. That doesn't mean that every spot you put on the air is louder and more obnoxious than the preceding one. It just means you've got to surprise the listener.

That's where the creativity comes in, and that's where you've got to sit with your sunglasses on in your dark office and try to figure out just exactly how you're going to approach whatever subject you're working on. That's when it gets to be work, and sometimes you've got to be willing to say, "I'm outta here, man. I'm gonna do something really wacky so I can come up with a good idea for this spot!" It's all a battle of knowing when to hold on and get it done or when to let go. That's where you bring discipline into the creative process.

I hate to talk about Robert Fripp again, but he's got a great line that says, "discipline is not an end in itself, only a means to an end." That's a really great rule-of-thumb for creative people of any type. You've got to have some sense of discipline, but don't freak out if you have a little problem trying to come up with an idea. Let it go, and then bring the discipline in. Use discipline as a method to impart your data so your communication is efficient, and use discipline as a means to generate ideas by understanding that balance between holding on and letting go.

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