R.A.P. Interview: Wally Wawro

R.A.P.: What happened after TM?
Wally: I left TM in 1981. They had a housecleaning and were going off in a different direction. The company had been bought and sold. Whatever the reasons, they let a number of people go. I free-lanced for quite a while in the Dallas area and sort of got the reputation, at least locally, of being Mr. Demo. I did demos for just about every local production firm with one exception, and that was JAM. I have done things for Century 21 and Otis Connor. The Music of Your Life format was coming into its own then, so I did a fair amount of work for Jim West who was in charge of syndicating that. Satellite Music Network was just getting started at the time and I did a lot of demos for them. It went on and on, and for several years I was doing demos. At one time I had written and produced demos for four competing production libraries that were all coming out of Dallas. I was like "Dial A Demo." I can't describe it any other way.

R.A.P.: How did you wind up at WFAA-TV?
Wally: While I was at TM, WFAA did a big music package with us, and they later got into the habit of coming over to TM to record their announcer copy and such. They were using Larry Dixon at the time who is now at KPLX. So, a producer from Channel 8 would come over, Larry would come over for the announcer part, and I would usually engineer and mix the session. I got to know the Promotion Manager at Channel 8 fairly well, Lee Minard. Then, in the midst of my freelance career, I got a call from Lee asking if I would be interested in producing radio commercials for the station on a freelance basis. It was guaranteed money every week for about twelve or thirteen weeks, so I said, "Sure."

I came to Channel 8 basically to do that. Lee had an assistant at the time by the name of Ed Aaronson. Ed came up to me one day and said, "How would you like to go on full time?" I accepted and officially joined WFAA in November of 1981 and have been here ever since.

We started off with a very small setup. We had a 12-input Ward Beck console, an Ampex 4-track, and a couple of 2-tracks. We've grown it over the years, but it's been a slow process. One of the first things we bought was a Studer 8-track machine. That machine has been a workhorse. For the longest time, we kept the little 12-input board and ran everything through that. Over the ten years or so that I worked on that equipment, I dare say we produced a fair amount of interesting stuff.

R.A.P.: Did you maintain much freelance work after taking the full-time position with WFAA?
Wally: Yes, I continued to do a fair amount of freelance work. Satellite Music Network became a fairly steady client. I was doing their programming demos to help them sell their format and a number of other little projects as they came up.

I had a relationship for about eighteen months with a radio station up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, KRAV. I was doing all their contest promos in 1986 and 1987. I worked with a Canadian firm, Airforce Broadcast Services, doing various things for them. One of the more interesting projects I've had - the venture failed but it was kind of fun - was with a group that was going to syndicate a radio format called the Kid's Choice Broadcasting Network. It was essentially kiddie radio, designed for kids ages two through eleven. There was a station in Little Rock, Arkansas that had experimented with the format and had some success. They won a Peabody Award, and the principals behind this station thought there was potential for syndication. They came to somebody I know here in Dallas, and I got hooked up with them through him. We went ahead and produced sales material and a demonstration tape, and they took it from there. Eventually, they found there was just no market for it, but it was a novel idea.

In the rest of my freelance activities, there's one I would think many of your readers would want to do -- a beauty pageant. I got hooked up with a couple of producers out of El Paso, Texas who held the franchise to produce the Miss Texas USA pageant which had a state-wide TV audience. I sort of became their audio guru for the production. I mixed the show from the TV truck, did all the pre-production ahead of time, and worked on all the music production. I still continue to do it. It happens once or twice a year. I get to go down to San Antonio or El Paso or wherever they are having their show and spend five or six days in the TV truck. It's wonderful fun and everybody says, "Gee whiz, what a great job," and I say, "After you've seen one girl in a bathing suit, you've seen them all. Thank you."

R.A.P.: What is your title at WFAA, and what are your responsibilities?
Wally: My title is TV Audio Production Director, and I work in conjunction, primarily, with the promotion department. I handle all the audio production needs of the TV station. I do not mix newscasts, but anything else in the way of audio, I take care of. I do a very limited amount of voice work. "Starts Friday at a theater near you" and "Available at K-Mart" are probably my two most famous lines around here. Fortunately, we have a couple of very good announcers who are on contract to us and handle just about all the other announcing needs. I am responsible for coordinating the sessions, getting the copy from the writers and producers who put these things together on the video end, getting the sound tracks produced, and making sure the producers have the material when they go into their video sessions. I also produce all the radio spots for the station. That is an interesting area in itself because we buy advertising on the radio primarily in sweeps, and we will buy ten to twelve stations deep in the market. That will involve over three separate schedules because we will have schedules to promote different aspects of our programming. For example, we'll have a schedule that promotes our local news and says what's on the Oprah Winfrey show. Another one will promote our local news and say what's on Entertainment Tonight. Then the other one will probably be our local news and what the ABC TV network has on for the evening. So there is a fair amount of tape jockeying going around during sweeps time which for TV is November, February, May, and July. It gets pretty hectic around here.

On top of all that, the TV station also supports a radio network called the Spirit of Texas Radio Network. It is fourteen radio stations in the ADI that re-broadcast our six o'clock newscast every evening. We give them the news, and in exchange, they run commercial advertising for us. That network requires spots to be fed to them, and we do probably 26 to 30 reels a year just going to the network alone. There can be as many as ten spots on a reel or as few as two or three. It just depends on what we have to promote and what we need from them.

There is a lot of production coming out of here, perhaps not as much as a major market radio station, but we still come off with quite a bit.

R.A.P.: Are you involved in the production of the TV commercials for WFAA's clients?
Wally: No. WFAA is basically out of the commercial advertising production business. TV stations in the bigger markets put their resources towards news. For network affiliates, in the large markets, news is the primary product.

R.A.P.: So is it mainly the independents that do a lot more of the commercial production?
Wally: Yes. That would be correct. And in the bigger markets you have advertising agencies who are more comfortable going to facilities that are dedicated to doing commercials -- post production houses and such. So, that idea of producing TV commercials in-house, for the large market TV station, is pretty much a dwindling thing. Of course, as you get into the medium and smaller markets, in-house commercial production becomes very much a way of life and an important revenue source for them.

R.A.P.: You did a lot of production at the radio stations you were at. Outside of the obvious video aspects, what differences do you find between producing audio for TV versus producing for radio?
Wally: It's amazing how things are similar. You are working with copy, hopefully good copy. You usually have the requirement of music and some kind of effects, be they sound effects or whatever. I think the big difference is in terms of the talent. In radio, you often have more voice talent available in-house, and many times, the voice talent is also doing their own production. In TV, at least in my situation, 99% of the time I am producing with an outside voice. Of course, that gives you an opportunity to be able to direct the talent, to coax the read out of him or her the way you hear it. In radio, you have a few more tools to work with. Perhaps you've got a little bit more in the way of a budget to get better talent or maybe do something a little more customized in the way of music or effects or something along those lines. There are similarities; there are some differences. I cut and paste spots like everybody else. I'll find a bed on a music library, slap the announcer against it, and let it rip. Then there are things that get rather involved when you begin to work with natural sound recorded out in the field by a camera crew. We also do a fair amount of film work here, and I spend a fair amount of time out in the field on film shoots gathering audio for that. Your horizons expand in TV, but I feel the basics are pretty much the same.

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