R.A.P. Interview: Wally Wawro

R.A.P.: What opportunities do you see for radio producers to get into television audio production?
Wally: I see a lot of opportunity for the guys that are out in the medium and the smaller markets because there are stations there that you know and are familiar with. As I mentioned, in the medium and the smaller markets, they not only have promotion to deal with, but they have the commercial production load. I think there are a lot of guys out there producing for radio who have their spots wind up as the audio tracks for TV commercials. I'm certain it's happening, and I think if the radio guys become a little more aware of it and start talking to their local TV stations, they may find some opportunity out there.

R.A.P.: Would you say the television audio producer makes more than the radio producer in the same market?
Wally: I would say that probably, especially when we get into the medium and the small markets, salaries would be quite comparable for a television producer -- and let's not say "audio" producer because a TV audio producer is pretty much a non-existent entity in a lot of places. It really varies, but in terms of industry salaries, I would think, in the medium and smaller market TV stations, it is probably comparable to what they are paying in radio. Now, in the big markets, I think there is a guy up in Detroit that's got a million dollar a year contract to read the news. That's all well and good, and that's the other end of the spectrum. But even if I were to com-pare salaries in Dallas, I think radio and TV producers would be pretty close. I think it is a relative matter of where you are and what the economics of it all will bear.

R.A.P.: Do you think the television industry would welcome people from radio into the production end of it?
Wally: I think there are gobs of opportunities out there to make Promotion Managers and Production Managers aware of what audio can do for television. I think, for a lot of guys, these opportunities will be on a freelance level. It's doubtful you would move into a full-time position. But, in terms of perhaps an extra source of income, I think there are plenty of opportunities. I wish that some of the radio production guys in this town would go over to Channel 4 and 5 and pester the heck out of them and tell them to get their act together. Whether or not it will ever happen, I don't know. It's probably not going to happen in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, but we can talk about it in places like Kansas City, Des Moines, even Atlanta. In these places, there has got to be some sense of opportunity.

TV is an interesting business, especially in terms of the promotion of a television station. A lot of people rely on someone else to do it. They use consultants. Consultants in TV are as prevalent as they are in radio -- even more so. So, there is this tendency to just take your big news anchor project out of house -- have someone come in and shoot that film then go to Los Angeles or New York or Chicago to do the post production on it. That's well and good, but I think a lot of guys at TV stations lose sight of the picture. You still have local needs. You often need something that has to be turned around quickly. I think a lot of Promotion and Production Managers at a lot of commercial TV stations would really like to have the luxury of having a little bit more control on the product they offer.

R.A.P.: Anyone that pays attention will notice the "sound" of a TV station varying from station to station as they flip through the channels -- different EQs, compression, etc.. Is this simply inconsistent engineering, or are TV stations attempting to be competitive and do something with the overall audio signal?
Wally: TV stations have Optimods. TV stations have CRL processors. The equipment is there, but there is the long, slow process of educating the people that have dealt with video all their life that there is another side to it, and that is the audio. And audio is not the stepchild it once was.

Here is one of my biggest gripes. It is the little peanut or lavaliere microphone. The news reporter goes out in the field and does the stand-up. Who cares if he is holding a microphone? Well there are a fair number of them that don't want to be seen holding a microphone -- "That doesn't make me look good on TV." So they'll resort to putting on the little lavaliere or peanut mike, usually with a wireless on it. So by the time it gets back to the camera, there is a fair amount of hiss that is put on the tape. By the time it gets edited into the story with the reporter's stand-up and so on and so forth, it is down about four or five generations and comes out sounding grungy as all get out when it hits the news.

An education process is needed. "You don't need to do it this way. You can hold that microphone. It's not going to make you look bad!" Granted, on the ten o'clock news it is perhaps a different story because they are on a set, but they are also in a controlled environment. It is one of the things that grates me, the fact that audio gets treated secondarily. We don't want to see that microphone, so hide that mike under his necktie or under her sweater or something like that. Then they come up to me and say, "Geez, can you fix this? I can hear her sweater rubbing against the microphone," or, "He just sounds so muffled now." There is really nothing you can do. You can brighten up the EQ a little bit, but you can't correct bad microphone technique. I would like to think that I've made a difference here after eleven years, but I still get grungy audio brought to me all the time. However, the people are learning.

Everybody that subscribes to R.A.P. knows the voice of Brian James and has heard his voice on The Cassette. Now imagine...what if Brian had to record all his stuff, not on his super-fine mike processing setup, but with a lavaliere shoved under a necktie (if he wears a necktie)? Would he have that same kind of effect on you? I would tend to think the answer is no. You know he's got the gift of a great voice and the attitude and all that, but he knows how to use the technical facility to enhance that gift, that talent he has.

When you think of it in terms of this great reporter, standing out in the wind with a lavaliere under his necktie trying to convince you that this is the greatest news report he's ever done, it just kind of falls apart. It doesn't come across. TV people are starting to wake up to it fortunately, and are realizing that we can do things a little differently to make it sound a whole lot better. Try watching TV with no sound. It's pretty tough. You can listen to TV with no picture, but try to watch it with no sound. Unless you are gifted as a lip reader or something like that. It's pretty tough.

R.A.P.: I have heard Brian James on Channel 8. What other voices are you using?
Wally: We use Brian occasionally, but John Wells and Doc Morgan are our primary voices. We use Brian for special things.

R.A.P.: Does WFAA keep you pretty busy?
Wally: We are very busy on a day to day basis. News is the animal downstairs. It has to be fed every day. Our production department does quite a bit. They just finished coming off the road with the bus tour -- going around the small towns in the ADI and setting up to do two live TV broadcasts out of each town each day then packing up and going on to another place. We've got a couple of other interesting projects coming up. One of them will be going national, and that is a Christmas parade from downtown Dallas which we have done for the last couple of years. We started syndicating it last year and have picked up a few stations, a few in Texas and a couple of other places. I think they've got 51 signed up for this year. That's essentially an in-house production. We will shoot it with our truck with all of our people, and I will mix it. We've got another project coming up where we will be doing a Christmas special with different church choirs from around the area. That will be a video tape production, but it's going to have pretty interesting audio needs since we can do stereo around here now. We've got the technology available to us, and we certainly want to use it.

R.A.P.: One of radio's claims is the ability to create "theatre of the mind." Does having video with the audio eliminate this kind of creativity in television production?
Wally: Well, everybody remembers the Stan Freberg line from the 60s -- TV just stretches the imagination to 27 inches. Look what you can do on radio: drop the cherry into Lake Michigan which is full of hot chocolate and so on and so forth. He was right back then. He may not be so right today because of the advances made with video. Field tape is commonplace. You can go out and buy a video recorder, and the picture on some of those things is as good as what we were using for field cameras ten years ago. Everything that can be done graphically now just astounds me. I go to NAB and spend as much time looking at what they can do graphically as what the audio guys are showing because it's just incredible. The way a picture can be manipulated, processed, redrawn, painted...you can even do animation on a computer now. It costs a couple of dollars to buy the thing, but TV stations now have access to equipment that can animate. You couldn't do that even five years ago. Take a look at the low end of video processing and a product which has, I think, the greatest name in the world: the Video Toaster. For $4,000 and an Omega computer, I believe, you've got a switcher, video editing, and video signal processing -- for four grand!

The fun part is making the audio stand up to what they can do with video. I like to look at it as making your audio so darn good that they are scratching their heads when it comes to putting video to it. We work in a way here where our video producers basically get a pre-produced audio track and then add their video to it. So, I have the luxury of taking it in whatever direction it needs to go. A lot of it is straight forward. Sometimes we can have some fun. I love challenging our directors here; and I know our directors like the challenge. We're blessed with really talented directors who know the equipment and are real "graphic centered." They make the video sing as much as they possibly can given what they may have to produce. We're fortunate that we have tools, but it still takes a fair amount of imagination. So, there is imagination on the video end of it, and it's probably stretched beyond 27 inches now.

R.A.P.: What production libraries are you using?
Wally: I've got three main ones right now. I've got FirstCom, which is probably the workhorse in the building. I get quite a bit of use out of that. I've also got Network. Some people say, "Oh, Network," and I used to say that, too. But they are up to like 112 disks right now, and I'd say, in the last couple or three years, the quality of their material has been very, very good. And then I've also got, of all things, the Toby Arnold radio libraries, Attitude and Visions. I am getting gobs of use out of those two libraries for TV because, for producers that need fast edits and things like that, the tracks work very well. They are highly percussive and very modernistic sounding and work very well for that purpose. I am very pleased with all the libraries I've got.

For sound effects, I've got FirstCom's Digifex. I've got Network's sound effects library. I've got a very good, cheap library put out by the OmniMusic people called Omni Effects -- I really like that library quite a bit. And then I've got a smattering of things including some of the Electra CDs and Manhattan's sound effects library. I'm kind of a sound effects junkie. If someone has a library at a good price, I'll buy it.

R.A.P.: That sounds like an impressive collection of music and effects.
Wally: Yeah. We go through a lot of stuff here, so it's got to be big. Fortunately, I have the budget to do it on a yearly basis.

R.A.P.: Are you solely responsible for calling the shots on the libraries?
Wally: Yes. I'm responsible for all the libraries. One of the things facing TV more so than radio is the ASCAP/BMI stuff. Channel 8 is a "per use" station. We pay per use. We do not have a blanket license. You can imagine what that might cost for a TV station in a top ten market that makes a fair amount of money. Therefore, we depend very heavily on production music libraries just because that gets around the astronomical fees we would have to pay ASCAP and BMI.

R.A.P.: What's in your studio?
Wally: The audio console is a Harrison MR4 with a dozen stereo modules and 28 mono modules. Why is it so big? So we can have a top-notch, on-line backup that will essentially be able to handle anything in the station. If we wanted to roll a 24-track in here, we could. When we had the debates here -- ABC did the Democratic candidate debate here -- we backed up their audio through the console. We have lines running down to our main studios from the board so we can do backup. That's why it is so big.

My basic recorder is a Studer A80 8-track, and that will soon be supplemented by Solid State Logic's Screen Sound. I've got 3 Studer 2-tracks, dbx 165 limiters, and my main effects boxes are the Harmonizer 3000 with the sample card and the Lexicon PCM 70. I love that Harmonizer. That is the greatest toy ever made.

R.A.P.: Do you have a studio at home?
Wally: Yes, although I don't use it that much anymore. The home studio has the Tascam 38 8-track with dbx. My audio console is the Sound Tracks MR 24-input. I have Magnavox CD players, and I collect tape recorders. I've got two Revox reel-to-reel machines, PR99's, and a Revox cassette deck, and then a whole bunch of junk I've inherited from the station like broken down cart machines, an old Ampex, and an old Scully.

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