R.A.P. Interview: Tom Barnes

R.A.P.: How important is production to the success of a radio station?
Tom: I always bring things back to economics. A lot of guys get on me about that and think I compromise my artistic integrity, but in this particular case, I think this is good news. Morning show prices are getting out of hand. Talent prices are getting out of hand. It's not like the production people are in competition with talent, but when it gets to the open market, they are. In my discussions around the country, I've discovered that there's a great deal of dissatisfaction with the high cost of morning shows, and morning shows are your franchise. That's what gets people to lock into your radio station for the rest of the day. A lot of people will say, "Gee, I don't want to pay $200,000 a year for these guys, but I've got to because I've got to have the franchise if I'm going to be competitive." So they put that money out, and they get what they get. A lot of times it's good. Sometimes the morning show is great, but it doesn't fit the market or the target demo.

One of the things I've been saying, and it has somewhat fallen on deaf ears because it's kind of out there, is that you can hire a couple of great production people for $35,000 a year each that will be absolute maniacs because you're paying them what they're worth, and then get a reasonably priced morning show guy to kind of "M.C." all the creative stuff that these guys pump out. Now you've got yourself a morning show that can extend into middays and afternoon drive. You've got the perpetual morning show, which is something Lee Abrams has been talking about for a couple of years as well. This is not economically feasible utilizing the current management methods, but, all of a sudden, it does become economically feasible if you go out and find kick ass production talent and give them the tools that they need.

Now, a lot of people haven't heeded my advice yet. In fact, nobody has heeded my advice yet, but I'm convinced it will happen. It's just one of those things that's going to take time for people to wake up and realize. It has got to start with production people who realize that, "Hey, I really can contribute more. There is a lot more I can do for the sound of this radio station, and it's up to me to begin to realize my potential by learning about equipment that I have in my studio and by doing things for the air talent that are above and beyond the call of duty." Learn about audio symbolism. Learn about creating sounds for the radio station to use rather than just going to the library and pulling something out that has been used a hundred times before. It's just a function of going above and beyond, showing people what can be done, and blowing them away. Then, people like me will be going around saying, "Hey, we've got to change the economics of this thing a little bit. Understand the importance of the role of the Production Director in making the station have a "whole" sound."

The Production Director is the only guy whose creativity is on the radio all day. Think about what that means! That's huge! That's really important, and not a lot of people consider that they are the only person, beyond the Program Director, who is responsible for the way the radio station sounds all day. If you're air talent, you go on and have your shift, and you've got your voice on a couple of spots, but you didn't necessarily create the texture and the feel of the spot like the Production Director did. The Production Director is the guy who, with the Program Director, gives the radio station that whole sound. They're incredibly important, and they're really undervalued.

Production guys need to realize that that's the situation right now. I know they know this, but it only makes them mad. It doesn't really motivate them to action, which is what they need. They need to say, "Boy, there is a lot of stuff out there I need to learn about, and there's a lot of stuff I can explore and experiment with." It really is going to have an impact in a couple of years. The status quo isn't going to stay the same. It just can't because market number fifty five cannot afford to pay $200,000 for a morning show. The talent price has really peaked out, and the money is going to have to be shifted elsewhere. Guys just need to realize that and understand that and believe in it and use that as a motivation to get really hot because the demand is going to happen, and it's going to happen in a snap. Once something works in radio, once somebody takes a chance on something that ends up working, everybody copies it. Trust me. One of the guys that reads this is going to go out and get this done, and he's going to be the first guy that does it. Then everybody is going to follow.

R.A.P.: You have a very interesting concept that may spark a lot of production people into action, but how do you get this creative concept across to a GM that comes from a non-creative sales background?
Tom: Ultimately, it's economics that drives the decision, and that's what I'm really trying to get across to everybody. Ultimately, they're going to hit a wall. There'll be that time when they're going to need a morning show, and they'll find out that what they can afford just sucks. The economic environment in radio is really under a lot of stress, and a lot of GM's don't feel like there's any way out.

It gets to a point where you just gotta be able to be a good cook and utilize the right skills. It's just like what Rick Allen said in the last issue (March '91 R.A.P.): "Don't try to do it all." The guys that try to do it all are going to end up being mediocre at everything. It's going to come to a point where GM's will say, "Well, instead of getting one guy, one superstar that does it all, I'm going to get five guys that are maniacs with the blade, and maniacs with the typewriter, and maniacs with people, and are willing to go out there and go nuts. And I'll pay them the same amount of money I would have had to pay the superstar and see what I get." It's going to work. Then, all of a sudden, GM's are going to have this new option, and things are going to come more into check, more into balance.

Let me say that morning show guys are some of the most creative guys around. I'm not coming down on morning show guys, and I'm not trying to take anything away from them. All I'm trying to say is that a lot of them are overpaid relative to what they do. Now some of them aren't, and some of the ones that make the most money are not overpaid. It's really important to me that morning show guys understand that I'm not bashing them. There just needs to be some equity. You're paying your morning show team $200,000 a year, and you're paying your production guy $30,000. What's wrong with this picture? Is it because the production guy doesn't have great pipes? Give me a break! Is it because he doesn't write great jokes? There are a lot of great joke writers out there that are less expensive. Creativity needs to be compensated for in an equal fashion. What you bring to the table is what you should be compensated for. Morning show guys who are Production Directors or have that under their belt know what I'm saying. They're going to think I'm trying to take bread out of their pocket, but that's not the case. It's just a function of things having to be a little more equal.

R.A.P.: Do you see a day when it is the Production Director who is making "the big bucks?"
Tom: Yes. I would like to see that. I would like to see guys get good enough. I would like to see guys work with writers -- get writers on the phone and network with writers more -- and yes, make the big bucks. Instead of just having the morning team, you also have your production team of Joe the production guy, and below him, the writer, both making the big bucks.

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