R.A.P. Interview: Joel Moss

Joel Moss, Production Director, WEBN-FM, Cincinnati, Ohio -- "AOR Radio & Production at its Best"

by Jerry Vigil

If there existed such a thing as a radio dictionary, under the word "institution" you would find the call letters, WEBN. Look up "consistency" and, once again, WEBN would be there (22 years with the same format). You would also find these call letters defining other terms such as "community involvement", "rock and roll", and "number one". The history and success of WEBN is a story in itself; and, as with most successful stations, the production department at WEBN is an integral part of that success. This month's RAP Interview takes us to Cincinnati with WEBN Production Director, Joel Moss.

Joel's background in radio started some 20 years ago at WLIR in Long Island. Shortly thereafter, Joel spent some time at WPLJ then returned to WLIR as Program Director for a couple of years from 1975 to 1977. Then it was off to Boston and Denver for a few years, as well as a brief stop in New York at WNEW. Rock And Roll Disc Jockey was his trade, but it wasn't until the early 80's that Joel discovered his true calling.

Joel: I was an adequate air talent. It was not my calling. I wasn't going to make a career of being on the air, at least not to any great degree; although I did do some airshifts at some fairly well known stations. Around 1980, I took some time off to try and figure out what I wanted to do. The previous 10 years had been fun; I was loving every minute of it, but I never really felt like I had found my niche. After about 3 years, I wanted to get back into radio. I ended up programming an AC station in Middletown, Ohio, which is near Cincinnati. This was kind of a way to get back in. About a year later, I heard that WEBN had an opening for an Assistant Production Director.

I took a tape to Denton Marr, who was the Program Director at the time, and there were elements in my tape he felt were close to what WEBN was all about, in terms of attitude. So we gave it a go. After about a year, Marty Manning, the Produc¬tion Director at the time, left to go to Phoenix, and I was thrust into the position. It was very intimidating in the beginning. This station has always put a high priority on production. Tom Sandman was among the list of Production Directors as well as Jay Gilbert, who is also very well known around here for his talents.

R.A.P. Judging from what we've heard on The Cassette, copywriting must be high on the list of requirements for the job.
Joel: Writing has always been a paramount issue, in terms of a Production Director here. Frank Wood, who was the General Manager at the time I was getting the position, said, "It's all in the typewriter. That's where your job is. We can find technicians. We can find voices. We can find someone who can work a Harmonizer, but it's what you can do with the printed word." That was the most challenging part of the whole gig, realizing that it wasn't just commercial writing, although some brilliant commercials have come out of the Production Department here. It was a lot more than commercial writing.

WEBN had established a couple of lunatic ideas which became forums for some of this creativity. One of them is Tree Frog Beer, which is basically a spoof beer product that allows you to do a whole campaign regarding Tree Frog Beers. It's a wonderful opportunity to get creative and get it on the air quick. We also have Brute Force Cybernetics, the company that "creates a need, then fills it." That's a situation where you can do just about anything. There's always the opportunity here to do that kind of in house comedy and satire. There weren't a lot of radio stations doing it way back. WEBN has been doing it for years, so it is established here, and it continues, probably to a greater degree now than ever.

R.A.P. We featured your "Quality Performer" condom commercial on a recent Cassette. This was from one of WEBN's "Fools Day Parades". Tell us a little about this parade.
Joel: We've been doing the Fools Day Parade for 13 years now. It's your basic theatre of the mind. It's a parade staged on the streets here but all done on the radio. It's a chance to look at events of the past year and develop pieces, whether they be mock floats or the spoof spots. We probably do 20 or 30 spoof spots for the parade. This year we changed the way it was done. In the past it was all produced live on the first of April. This year we committed the entire thing to tape in an effort to streamline it. It runs for 3 hours from noon until 3. In the past, it was about 8 hours, including the pre-parade activities, and when you're doing that much, some of the material may not be as funny as you would like it to be. When you exercise the control of putting the whole thing on tape, it affords you the opportunity to make a lot of editorial judgments. So the thing was streamlined and a lot funnier. It was a strong 3 hours. It's more work for this department, but the end result is really worth it. The Fools Parade is another thing we do that is a tradition, and another opportunity for everybody on staff to participate in that kind of nutty activity.

R.A.P.: Another tradition in Cincinnati is the WEBN Fireworks Show. Tell us about your involvement with that show.
Joel: We're preparing now for our 12th Fireworks Show. It began as a 10 year anniversary party for the station. Frank Wood always had a thing for fireworks, and when the station turned 10 in 1977 he wanted to throw this party, but he didn't know who was going to come. It turned out that tens of thousands of people showed. We have a unique situation in Cincinnati in that the river front is a natural amphitheater. The flood wall on the Kentucky side provides a wonderful venue to view the fireworks from, which are detonated from barges on the river. The other side is the city of Cincinnati with a beautiful river front scene. The other thing that makes this show work is the fact that the company that puts the fireworks together is really world class. It's Rozzi's Famous Fireworks. There are a number of families in the world that produce this quality of fireworks, and we're lucky to have one of them in our back yard. Their factory is right here in Cincinnati. So, the proximity of the Rozzi's and Frank Wood's enthusiasm for the art of fireworks came together, and the shows evolved into this dynamic half hour spectacle where we launch about 4000 shells; 2000 are launched in the last 2 minutes of the finale. It's beautifully choreographed, and there's a variety of fireworks that you don't normally see at your basic fireworks display.

What I do is a soundtrack that is in support of the fireworks. This will be my 5th Labor Day show. We talk for a couple of months before the show and discuss what we want the thing to look like. Then I put together the music and go to the Rozzi's. They'll listen to the music and decide to use certain shells at certain points in the music. It works the other way as well. They'll describe a particular flight of fireworks, and I'11 put together some music for that. It's a remarkable event. We get about 300,000 people to the river, and it's on television as well. In Cincinnati, it's pretty much the major event of the year.




R.A.P. The music you do for the fireworks is synced with the display. How is that done?
Joel: It involves a computer program which basically allows you to take that half hour and time code it. You have your soundtrack produced and you throw it up on a 4-track on tracks 1 and 2. You dedicate the•3rd track to SMPTE time code. On the 4th track, you actually have voice firing commands like "standby flight one", "fire flight one", etc. You go through the entire show with these voice commands. The computer itself is not sending a pulse to electronically detonate the shells. What it is allowing for is an ability to time code the entire half hour, providing a time reference, and then you can lock in your voice commands to fire the shells. The guys on the barges are listening with earphones to track 4.

We first tried this last year for our Bicentennial show and it worked very well. This year will be the first time we will use it for the WEBN Labor Day show. In the past, what we did was set up a remote studio, and I'd have all the music on carts. We would be in continual communication with the barges, and I would be cuing them and counting them down to specific flights. It was like old style live radio with a lot at stake. It was an intensely exciting, wonderfully exhilarating experience, a very tense half hour, and I'm gonna miss doing that. We expect that this new system with the computer will allow for a more synchronous performance than we've been able to get, even though what we've done has been fine.

R.A.P. It obviously would be an understatement to say that WEBN is involved with the community.
Joel: Yes. We do a lot of public service things. We do a blood drive with the local university hospital. We do an album project. We've done eleven of those where local artists get an opportunity to get recorded. We offer a cassette, a vinyl album, and probably CD's before long. We do a kite fly with homemade kites and award prizes for various categories. We do a beach party where we turn the river front into a beach for a day and bring in a couple of tons of sand, and we're doing a whole comedy series this summer, live free comedy. We also do a live local concert thing through the summer in conjunction with the mayor's office, so the station is definitely plugged into the community.

R.A.P. Who's the programming wizard behind this monster of a station?
Joel: That would be Tom Owens. Denton hired me and then six months later went to Houston. Tom Owens stepped in and has been here now for 5 years. He is a remarkable radio guy. He is much more than an AOR Program Director. He is a terrific, insightful, creative programmer. He consults a lot of the Jacor stations, and we're very fortunate that this is his base of operation. I'm real fortunate to have basically developed under him. He's made me a much better Production Director, and he's a hell of a guy, really.

R.A.P. WEBN is part of an AM/FM combo there. Are you involved with WLW-AM in any way?
Joel: No. John Bogart is their Production Director. The sales departments are separate also. We are two totally separate entities co-existing on a floor, and it has worked out great.

R.A.P. What are your main responsibilities and what assistance do you have?
Joel: Well, my assistant just took on a full time air shift here. He's now doing 10-2 at night. In the meantime, we brought in a part-timer to assume some of my assistant's former responsibilities. I do a lot of commercial writing. I do all the promos, imaging, positioning statements, and that kind of stuff. I write about 90 percent of the promos. Before my assistant went to the 10-2 shift, he backed me up full-time and did a couple of weekend air shifts. He would do dubs, tags, and write and pro-duce a lot of club spots. He's real good. We've been fortunate to have someone with his capabilities backing me up. He's still doing some of the work, but we'll have to wait a couple of weeks to see what shakes down. We're in a transitional period right now.


R.A.P. Give us a quick rundown of your studio setup.
Joel: The main production studio is an 8-track with the Otari MX-70 and two MTR-10's. We're using a Wheatstone board which has been modified considerably by our chief engineer. We have an SPX-90, and hopefully we'll have an SPX-900 in here within a couple of weeks. We've got the classic Eventide 949, an Orban compressor, reverb, and an Orban EQ as well. Our keyboard is an Akai X-60 with the NB-280 sampler/disk drive unit that goes with it, and frankly, we're not using it that much. I used it all the time a year and a half ago. We went through a pretty intense stuttering phase around here. I kind of agree with Brian Wilson's comments from last month's interview. We can get carried away, and frankly, I think it's starting to sound a little stale. We will use sampling effects occasionally, when it really works, but basically, we're looking for attitude and content.

The auxiliary studio is outfitted with MCI 2-tracks and an MCI 4-track. There are no effects generators in that studio. It's set up basically for dubs, tags, and simple voiceovers, but it's a real nice studio.

R.A.P. What are you using in the way of production libraries?
Joel: We have Flashpoint and Power Tools from Brown Bag. We have Signature 5 on CD and two other Signature packages from Joe Kelly. In the way of sound effects, we have Sound Ideas and the Electra on CD. We've got a BBC library and the L.A. Airforce set, and a couple of wonderful, classic, old effects discs from Major.

R.A.P. Do you see any trends in production? Is "attitude" possibly the new trend?
Joel: Well, yes. Commercial writing is a pretty big part of what I do here. Probably 30 percent of my time is spent writing and producing spots, and I enjoy doing it when I have the time to do it well. I must refer to that article in last month's issue about how to sell things and dealing with emotions. You can't just say "Solid Sam's has got 2 for 1, it's the place to go." You've got to be able to strike a chord. It's attitude. It's how you position your-self and the language which you choose to do that.

R.A.P. Can you think of a little production tip or technique you'd like to pass on?
Joel: I can't think of any one specific thing, really. Just keep your ears open and watch MTV.

R.A.P. What's in the future for Joel Moss?
Joel: It's hard for me to imagine what the future would be; I'm so content now; I have been for the past couple of years and for the first time in a long time. I spent a lot of time finding something I wanted to do, and now I'm doing it here. I've had a couple of offers to move back to New York and an offer to go to LA, but I really like EBN and Cincinnati. It really doesn't matter where you are.

I'm fortunate to have worked in New York. If I hadn't done that, it may have been something that I would want to do. But I like the lifestyle here. I like the pace of life. I like not having the traffic. I like the mid-west. I really do.

R.A.P. You have several years in the business, and you've had several offers to move. What do you think Program Directors in the larger markets look for in a Production Director?
Joel: I've got to believe that the skills to operate the equipment are more easily attainable than the creative skills that come out of the typewriter. I believe that is the direction more astute programmers look to when they want to find somebody for this position. It's easier to find a technician than it is a skilled writer, and I think when you marry those two, you've got a guy that's gonna do a lot.

Look for work from Joel on this month's Cassette. We'd like to thank Joel for the opportunity for this interview and also for his continued support of Radio And Production. Joel is one of our charter subscribers.

We have no rules about the RAP Interview. We plan to make stops all over the country regardless of market size or station ranking. As you're well aware, the Production Director is someone who seldom gets the recognition due for his or her talents and accomplishments. With the RAP Interview, we hope to give this recognition to those who deserve it.

If you know of someone you feel would be a great subject for a future interview, drop us a line with the person's name, number, and affiliation. If you feel you personally have something to offer our readers and would like to be interviewed yourself, let us know. We by no means have the complete list of interview worthy production talents in the country, and as we have said, this is your RAP sheet; this is your forum to speak your mind. Don't be shy, drop us a line and tell us who you are and what you feel you can offer our readers. We'd be happy to consider you for a future interview. Thanks!

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