R.A.P. Interview: Tom Sandman

Article Index

Tom Sandman, Production Director, WRRM-FM, Cincinnati, OH

 tom-sandman-may94

by Jerry Vigil

Not so long ago, in the late '60s and early '70s, FM stations began to pop up around the country with a whole new approach to radio. They were called AOR stations. These were the stations that would walk the line, and sometimes cross it, between what was the norm and what was maybe a little too "much" for public airwaves. Creativity, as it was known then, was unleashed in an "anything goes" arena of rock and roll, and it was on these stations that truly creative radio production had its beginnings. There is a long list of production wizards who began in this era, a list that contains some of the greatest names in radio production. Many on the list are still at it today, using the same basic approach to creative production they used twenty years ago. Tom Sandman is one of those veterans. What's the approach? Fun. Radio's supposed to be fun.

R.A.P.: Tell us about your beginnings in radio and how you wound up at WARM 98.
Tom: My first exposure to radio was in college at the University of Cincinnati at the gone but not forgotten WFIB. It was a carrier current station at UC. I started there in '73, and that turned into an opportunity to work at a real radio station, the public station, WGUC. They had an all-night show when they still allowed students on that station. The show was called Full Moon Radio. The show is gone and the student involvement at 'GUC is gone, but again, that gave me a chance to attract the attention of a couple of people at WEBN which was the hometown AOR station and one that I have been listening to ever since they clicked on the air.

I got a weekend gig at WEBN, and it proved to be a fortuitous move because the production skills I had started to build in college were sorely needed at 'EBN, but not because they didn't have a good producer. They had a great producer, Jay Gilbert. 'EBN was going through a big growth period at that point. Their ratings and their commercial load was skyrocketing, and Jay needed some help. So I was hired part-time to assist Jay in the production studio, which later became full-time -- four days a week in production and one or two weekend shows. Jay went on to start his own production company called Jay Gilbert Productions and moved to his home town of Philadelphia, and when he moved I was given the Production Director's job at WEBN. That was around 1976. I was there until 1982.

In September of 1982 I left 'EBN to take a position outside of my home town for the first time. I had never lived outside of Cincinnati until then. I thought I owed it to myself to see what I could do, so I kept applying for jobs at major market stations I always wanted to work at. Finally, WBCN in Boston had an opening. Tom Couch had left the radio station in order to, again, go into business for himself, Tom Couch Productions. So, I was there working with the likes of Billy West, Mark Parenteau, Charles Laquidara, and Ken Shelton during what a lot of people called the Golden Age of 'BCN. Oedipus, as he is now, was the Program Director and is to this day the greatest I've ever had the honor to work with.

I felt pretty lucky because 'BCN and 'EBN were very similar in that they both started very early. They were heritage AOR stations. 'EBN started playing progressive rock in August of '67. 'BCN started in March of '68. They were both started by a couple of owners who were, you would say, eccentric. They were trying to establish alternative radio programming styles. Frank Wood in Cincinnati was programming a blues, jazz and classical station, and T. Mitchell Hasting was trying to program a network of classical stations. He had WBCN in Boston, WPCN in Providence, and WHCN in Hartford, and they weren't making a lot of money on these radio stations. So they both kind of turned the asylum over to the lunatics who promptly started playing this new underground progressive rock, and the rest, they say, is history.

What's interesting is that both radio stations also had, from day one, a commitment to offbeat, creative, eccentric, weird, humorous production -- produced elements in between the records, some of them commercials, but some of them not commercials -- just production for the sake of entertainment, image production. That also attracted me to 'BCN, and I had a very happy and productive eight years there.

After fifteen years as a producer, I had an opportunity to become a programmer. So I took a job as Program Director at WBOS in Boston. I didn't know it at the time, but the station was going through some bad financial problems. In fifteen months the radio station was sold, and I was out of a job. 'BCN had already hired John Riley, who is doing a great job there. So I found an opportunity back in my hometown of Cincinnati at WARM 98, the heritage soft rock AC station here, and I've been here for about two years and two months.

Since I arrived, we've taken on two competitors; they're both adult contemporary stations. We put one of them, MAGIC, out of business. They were just sold to Jacor, and they are now a classic oldies station. Susquehanna's a nice company to work for, and it's nice to be back in my home town again.


R.A.P.: This weird, creative, eccentric production you did at WEBN and WBCN, is this something you're doing now at WARM 98? Do you produce things just for the sake of entertainment and hand them to the Program Director and say, "What do you think?"
Tom: Yes. In fact, the powers that be at WARM 98 have given me a lot of creative freedom. If I get an idea to do something purely for entertainment's sake, they not only let me put it on, but they welcome it. They relish it. Grant you, this is not the kind of stuff that we hit our listeners over the head with; we're still an adult rock radio station. But we get creative. Our morning show has really taken on a more up front position. It consists of Tom Walker, Pam Rahal and the Program Director, Michael Grayson. They have made the show more kinetic. They did a remote broadcast from a nudist colony this past year. They did a show from a billboard on Interstate 75 to promote the Great American Smoke-Out, the smoke free day that the American Cancer Society sponsors.

We're doing stuff like this, and it's a good venue to play funny recorded stuff. Maybe it will be a parody of a song. Maybe it will be a bit about the smoking ban at Riverfront Stadium. Maybe it will be a satirical but funny piece on Marge Schott or one of the local politicians. We try to keep it locally based. People from out of town won't get most of the jokes that you hear on the morning show, and that's the way we like it. We're bringing an element to the radio listener that they really can't get from a syndicated broadcasting service or a syndicated comedy service or production service. It's produced and written here in Cincinnati.

With my experience as a writer and producer and with the announcers I have at WARM 98, the production is network caliber. It's high quality. It's as good as the stuff I've done anywhere in Boston or Cincinnati, and they can only hear it in Cincinnati on WARM 98 right now. Tom Walker, the morning guy, is one of the most sought after voice talents in Cincinnati. He does a lot of work for agencies in town. He's also one of the main character voices at King's Island. Paramount King's Island owns all of the Hanna Barbara characters for use in the park, and Tom does Yogi Bear, Fred Flintstone, and just about anybody else inside the park. So, if you're ever at a Paramount amusement park, and you hear a character voice, chances are it might be Tom Walker.

Ted Morrow is our Assistant Program Director. He's the mid-day guy and he has, again, a very smooth, wonderful announcing voice. He used to do liners for the jazz station, WCDJ in Boston, before they went country. Then there's Jim Smith, our afternoon drive guy. He's another very highly sought after, very highly regarded announcer in Cincinnati radio and television. Really, the three best announcers in town are all working at WARM 98. So, as you can see, I don't have to be that great of an announcer. I can squeak by with my little character voices and let those guys do the bulk of the really good announcing work.

R.A.P.: You've been in production for most of your career. Did you do any air shifts?
Tom: I was always on the air on the weekends, and I still am. I don't work every weekend, but I work about three weekends a month. I think that's an important thing for me as a producer to do. I think it's important to stay in touch with the radio listener, and the best way to do that is to go on the air and imagine that you're speaking one on one to that person. I think that experience once a week helps you when you sit down at a typewriter or a workstation and start writing a commercial because, really, you have to do the same thing when you write a commercial. You try to touch one radio listener at a time, one on one.

It also gives me a chance to see how the cartridges are working, to make sure they are in proper working order, that they're labeled correctly, that there aren't any updates that are out of whack.

R.A.P.: Are there any sister stations that you are also producing for?
Tom: No. We're a stand-alone FM.

R.A.P.: That's getting to be a rare situation.
Tom: Well, it already is. You know what's happening in town with Jacor. They now control seven radio stations. They have the entire AM band. They have every AM signal of significance, plus they have two FMs, 'EBN and the former MAGIC which is now called THE POINT 92.5. The FCC isn't doing a thing about it. They own four of the stations, or will own four of the stations, outright. The other three are owned by a local lawyer, Chuck Reynolds, who is friendly with the company, and he is letting the company run them. But he is the owner on paper. It's horrible. They now control more than half the billing in town.

It's hard to keep up with this situation because Jacor has taken all of the call letters and switched them to different frequencies. 550 used to be WLWA; it's now WCKY. 1530 used to be WCKY; it's now WSAI. 1360 used to be WSAI; it's going to be Oz Radio. That's what they're saying anyway. Basically, by juggling all these call letters and frequencies in Cincinnati, he's made all of the trademarks virtually worthless, and the only frequency of relevance that maintains their dial position is 700 WOW. I don't think the FCC intended such a gross monopolization to occur when they deregulated.

Hey, I don't like producing for four stations, but I can deal with that a lot better than seven. Anyway, that's another story. But I've been lucky. I've never had to produce for more than one station at the same time.


R.A.P.: Do you have an assistant?
Tom: No, I don't. I have voice help, and I get help on some dubs and tags, but it's probably about two or three percent of the workload.

R.A.P.: Are you writing and producing all the commercials, promos, IDs and such?
Tom: Yep.

R.A.P.: You must stay pretty busy.
Tom: Well, it comes with the business. It's certainly not any busier than we were in Boston. WARM 98 has a manageable commercial load, ten commercials max, and that's only in morning drive. I think nine commercials is the norm. And most of our clients are repeat clients. That really frenetic production schedule that you might expect at a rock station, where you're dealing with five, six and seven different kinds of companies at a time, doesn't exist as much at an adult contemporary station. During the summer we get a lot of work for the local Shed Riverbend Music Center, and that keeps us real busy for the summer. But that's the only extremely man-hour intensive client that we have.

And it's nice to be able to work with what I consider to be a pretty cooperative and professional sales department. It's nice to actually sit down and write, create, and conceptualize a radio campaign for a local client and have the time to do that. I'm not saying that last-minute things never happen, but it's nice to be able to sit down and have a relationship with a client and actually do things a week or two before it goes on the air. It's almost like we're acting as that client's agency, and, in fact, we are. Granted, we're not doing television or print or outdoor or direct marketing; we're just doing the radio. But we're doing everything an ad agency would do for that radio account. We conceptualize it. We write it. We voice it, produce it, and put it on the air.

By the way, I was lucky enough to win an Addy award, the broadcasting award from the Advertising Club of Cincinnati. This year there were twenty-three Addies awarded to the local ad community for all the various media -- radio, television, print. We got one of them, and we got the only Addy awarded in radio. It was for a commercial for the Sure Good Biscuit Company and their Frookie cookies.

R.A.P.: Would you say your best talents lie in producing commercials, promos, or both?
Tom: I would say both. I like the promos because when you do promos you're basically your own account, and there are usually less people that you have to get approval from. Promos can be done with whatever idea I decide to come up with, for whatever product, service, or event we're trying to promote. The Program Director, the General Manager, the Promotions Director, they give me that kind of trust, and it's nice. But just to keep myself honest, I'll regularly go to them with a script, whether I'm sure of it or not, and say, "What do you think? Do I have everything covered here? Are all my 'i's dotted and my 't's crossed? Am I missing any details? Do I have everything right? Will you proof this for me?" I do this because I hate to produce something and then have to reproduce it again a day later. I know it's part of the business, but it's the worst part of this job. It's enough to make me do like a postal worker and start shooting up the office, get out an Ouzi and start taking it out on the poor receptionist! It really is a frustrating part of the job. So, whatever I can do to minimize that, I do. If it's a commercial, I'll let everyone and his brother read the damn thing before it gets produced, if I have enough time.

R.A.P.: You said your sales department was "cooperative and professional." What's the secret?
Tom: I don't know what the secret is. I think part of the secret is that the station and the format have been around for a while, and there are three or four salespeople who have been there for some years. One of them has been there for ten years. The Sales Manager has been there for eleven. We just lost our Regional Sales Manager, and she was there for nine years. You don't get that kind of stability without having good organizational skills, and these people have good organizational skills. It's not that they don't have last-minute problems. It's that most of the time I get things on time, and that's kind of a new experience for me because with AOR nothing is ever on time. I mean never. Maybe the organizational skills aren't there, or the salespeople are under more last-minute deadlines. Maybe there's just more concerts and stuff like that. But, for some reason, clients like grocers and cookie companies and exterminating companies don't have those kinds of deadline pressures that, let's say, motorcycle shops, or concert promoters, or clubs do.

Oh God, clubs. The nightclub stuff would drive me crazy. At 'EBN, we'd have to crank out between nine and twelve club spots over a weekend. And for each club spot we had to find music from the local band who was performing there. And since 'BCN had the biggest local music library in the country, they usually had it, so we had to go digging for it. It was a nightmare, but we got it on the air.

Every station has different needs, but I'm very impressed and happy with the sales department here. They cooperate and they get things in on time most of the time.

R.A.P.: Are there deadlines, or do they just pretty much know how much time you need for various spots?
Tom: They know that for a spec spot I've gotta have a week. They know for a commercial, like a straight read, I've gotta have two days. And they know for something I write, I need about three days, and I need it to be approved by the client before it's produced. Now that doesn't always happen, but more often than not, it does.

R.A.P.: How many production studios are there?
Tom: We have two. One is a very small one that's not really worth talking about, and mine is a decent one except for the tape decks. The tape decks are pretty old. I've got Sony MCI decks, two 2-tracks and one 8-track. Fortunately, I've got dbx on the 8-track. That helps.

We're still in the analog world, but our parent company, Susquehanna, is now testing a digital workstation at our San Francisco shop, I believe. If they like it there, then it's gonna start spreading. I think they're working with the Sonic Solutions workstation. I've played with some AKG equipment, and I hear good things about the Roland. I don't know what they're going to decide on, but whatever it is, I think they're going to go chain wide with it. And it could be as early as this year. It will be exciting. The company has made a commitment not to buy any more big analog decks. I'm working on Ford administration era equipment. That's not a joke. When these decks were made, Gerry Ford was President! It might have been Nixon, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say Ford. Everything else is pretty good, though. I've got a nice Pacific Recorders ABX board and Tomcat cart machines. I've got the Ultra-Harmonizer. I've got a Lexicon digital reverb, Shure SM5B mics, and a couple of EV RE-20s floating around. It's good stuff, and I love the Pacific Recorder's board. They're just the best.


R.A.P.: You've been producing for radio for a long time. Have you changed anything about the way you work?
Tom: One thing I've tried to do is not be such a perfectionist. I know that sounds crazy, but I would literally spend hours getting the mix perfect on a commercial that would run for a week or less. Now, I'm not going to put anything sloppy on the air -- I want everything to sound good -- but there's something we've got to understand about radio. It is the most disposable medium in the world. You can't see it. You can't take a picture of it. There's nothing to throw away after it's over. It's just gone. And if the mix is ninety-five percent perfect, and it's done, and you have a choice.... Am I going to go back and make this mix one-hundred percent perfect, or am going to say, "It's done," and go on to the next project? In this business, in my studio, quantity equals quality, and I'm constantly fighting that battle with myself every day. You've got to pull back and say, "It's done." Now, there have been times when maybe a week later I've gone back and said, "Well, I've got a spare minute, and I've still got these parts on the 8-track. Maybe I can make it even better. It won't take me long. I've got some free time." I've done that, too.

R.A.P.: You were Program Director at WBOS in Boston for a little over a year. Tell us a little about what you did with the station?
Tom: We called it rock without the hard edge. It was a yuppie, hip, trendy, soft AOR station. It was trying to be a soft rock station. But we really played soft rock; we didn't want to play adult contemporary music. In other words, if it sounded adult contemporary, if it was Kenny Loggins or Anita Baker, we avoided it. We just wanted to sound different. We just wanted to be a soft rock station. So we played soft James Taylor, soft Rolling Stones, soft Beatles. We even played soft U2.

We didn't have much promotional help because the radio station didn't have any money. I didn't know that when I started. They had lots of billboards, but that's about it. They didn't have any television, and we really didn't have any promotional muscle behind us. So it was a difficult concept to put across. I think I would have done some things differently if I had another chance, but, we gave it a good shot. WBOS is still doing somewhat the same thing today and is sounding pretty close to the kind of thing we were doing when I was programming. If you turn them on right now, they're like a very acoustic flavored soft rock station. We were playing new music like the Rembrandts, the Poseys and K.D. Lang, the softer side, but not necessarily the less hip side. Actually, in a lot of ways, we were too hip. We had a very eclectic and weird currents list. It was probably too eclectic and too weird.

R.A.P.: In retrospect, what are your thoughts on programming?
Tom: Frankly, I didn't go into the situation with as much confidence as I had as a producer. I realized as a Program Director that everybody wants to be a Program Director, and everybody has an idea as to how a station should be programmed. It doesn't make any difference who you are. You can go to a radio station and talk to the engineer, the Promotions Director, the Sales Manager, the receptionist, the janitor -- they all have ideas about what a Program Director should be and how your radio station should be programmed. Everybody wants to be a Program Director. Unfortunately, so do a lot of General Managers and salespeople who have no business being Program Directors, but that's the way it is.

On the other hand, if you're a producer and a writer, well that's not something people can get as close to. They hear something funny on the air, and that might give them a chuckle and might make them remember a product, a service, or an event. It might cause some water cooler talk in the office, people talking about the radio station. But very seldom do you hear somebody say, "You know, I have an idea about how I'd like to produce that commercial better," or, "I think the writing style could be changed on that." You see, you're really not threatened by political forces when you're a writer/producer as much as you are when you're a programmer.

And, I didn't resign. I basically got canned when the radio station changed ownership. It was not as happy an experience for me as producing was. Of course, we didn't have successes, so I have to take responsibility for that. I've never had a bad or unsuccessful experience as a writer/producer, as a Production Director. All the stations I've worked for were great stations, and they only got better. And that's what's happening now at WARM 98.

I came into a situation where WARM 98 was the number two radio station among the ACs in town, and there were three ACs -- WINK, WARM and MAGIC. And WARM was the heritage station. There was no reason why it should be number two. Well, today, MAGIC is gone, and we're the number one AC station. We're the number one station in revenues, number one in ratings, number one in personalities, number one in production, and that's what we should be. We're the heritage station. It's gratifying that everybody at the radio station has really busted their butts. Joe Schildmeyer brought me back to Cincinnati, and I'll be always grateful to him. Our new General Manager, Dan Swensson, has done a tremendous job of bringing up the intensity level of WARM 98 a couple of notches higher.


R.A.P.: Where do you get your creative ideas from? What gets the creative juices flowing for you?
Tom: Well, the ideas can come from anywhere, and that's one thing that's nice about the job. You've always got a steady flow of ideas. But, in a way, it's a curse because you can never really stop working. If you're sitting at home reading something in the newspaper, or you see something on TV, that could be the genesis of a new commercial or a new promo or a funny bit.

Here's something I'll do to help me come up with ideas. I have a copy of just about everything I've produced that I was proud of. Every now and then, I'll just go through and listen to old tapes. Stealing from yourself is as legal as legal can be. There have been commercials that I did at 'EBN that were originally done in college, and there was stuff that aired on 'BCN that was originally an 'EBN bit. And there's stuff I'm doing at WARM 98 now that had it's beginnings on 'BCN. It's not a lot, but a good idea is a good idea.

Archiving is a very important part of this job. For example, take a look at what the record companies are doing. Their vaults are lined with all this old classic rock and archived material, and they're making a lot of money out off of it -- Nat King Cole re-releases, Beatles and Beach Boys re-releases, Rolling Stones re-releases. You name it. It's out there. And they can make much more money off of this than they can spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to establish new music and new artists.

If you go back and look at the stuff that you've done, maybe you can re-use that idea next week, next month, next year, or five years from now. If you do that, then you've got an advantage. A good bit is a good bit.

Dick Clark makes a living putting together television retrospectives. There's no new material there at all. It's just wrap around. It's Dick Clark Presents the Bloopers, Dick Clark Presents the Best of American Bandstand. There was a guy named Jack Haley, Jr., and all he did was put together anthologies of old movies. That's Entertainment is a Jack Haley, Jr. film. Some of his documentaries still show up on the A&E cable channel. All he does is take old, archived material, chop it up, and reuse it. It's fascinating, and I love doing that.

We put together a collage of WBCN's greatest moments for their twentieth anniversary. That's one of the best things I ever did and one of the most fun. It was a forty-five minute program of 'BCN's best moments. We went through the archives of the radio station and found things we didn't even know we had. We found a two and a half hour concert featuring Canned Heat live from 1972 or 1973. Two members of the Jay Giles band come on as guest stars, and they start doing this jam. It's unbelievable, and we didn't know we had that! We found the Bruce Springsteen visits. There were two of them in 'BCN's history.

Archive your stuff. I've done an awful lot of musical theme collages over the years. I started doing them twenty years ago at 'EBN, and I'm still doing them now. I do a New Orleans collage for Mardi Gras day. I do a heart collage for Valentine's Day, a green collage for St. Patrick's Day, a baseball collage for opening day. We have about twenty or twenty-five that we use throughout the year. So, for twenty-five of the fifty-two weekends, we've got a collage on the air on WARM 98; and it's a good sounding, attractive, music-oriented piece at the top of the hour that identifies us as more than just a radio station that plays music. It identifies us as a station that also has a personality in between the records twenty-four hours a day. And that, I think, is important. It can differentiate our radio station from not just the other adult contemporaries, but from all other stations in town. It takes a while, and not everyone gets it; but if twenty-five percent of your listeners get it, that's an exciting advantage for you. They know that you do something different, and the other ones don't.

R.A.P.: It can't be said enough. If two or more stations are playing basically the same music, the difference is going to be in the presentation of the music, and that's done with air personalities, promotions, and production.
Tom: Yes, it's all in the presentation. When we present a promotion on the air, we try to have fun with them, even if they are promotions that aren't necessarily fun to us. There are listeners of WARM 98 who look forward to visiting our remote broadcast vehicle on the weekends. We call it the WARM Wheels, and we don't do much more than show up at a grocery store, spin a wheel, give away CDs and maybe a free pizza, and do some call-ins on the air. But there are listeners who track the vehicle, who find it, and who have fun visiting with us.

Let's keep it simple. Radio doesn't have to get any more complicated than this. Just make everything sound like fun, because it is fun. It should be fun. If it's not fun, then we shouldn't be in this business. That's why we're in this business anyway, because it's more fun than being an accountant or a lawyer or a doctor. It's a hell of a lot more fun.

R.A.P.: How have you kept the Production Director's job fun for so many years?
Tom: Well, one good way to keep it fun is to go into programming and get fired! But besides that, I really enjoy listening to recorded material. I've always loved records. I have a record collection at home that I like to listen to. I like to have platter parties at home with my family. I like to listen to stuff at work. I like to listen to comedy. I like to write comedy. I like to laugh. If given a chance between having a boring day or a fun day, I will probably choose a fun day. To me, having a fun day means doing something that I'll enjoy, and something that, hopefully, one radio listener will enjoy as well. And maybe they'll talk about it. "Did you hear what WARM 98 did this morning?"

It's obvious that we're very close to WINK. I mean, WINK and WARM right now are almost playing the exact same music. But after a while, after the years go by, it'll start to sink in that we are different, that we are a little more creative, that we do something that isn't cookie cutter at the top of the hour, that we do something better, more distinctive, more personable, more fun. And we're not talking about something more audacious. We're talking about more fun. We're never going to be able to out-AOR the male-oriented, hit them over the head stations. We're not that kind of station. But you can't tell me that WARM 98's core of listeners doesn't have a sense of humor. The statistics show that our listeners are predominantly female. You can't tell me that they don't have a sense of humor if in the evening they watch Roseanne and Home Improvement and Frazier and in the daytime listen to soft rock. They do have a sense of humor. The people who don't have a sense of humor are the AOR Program Directors who don't know how to program to women.

R.A.P.: What would you say is the single most thing you would contribute your success to?
Tom: I had some good teachers early on. Billy West, Jay Gilbert, Frank Wood, Jr., Beau Wood. Beau told me the most important thing about writing and producing. He said, "It all comes out of a typewriter first." And he's right. You can have all the bells and all the whistles, the best sound effects, and the best announcers in the world, but if it's not funny to begin with, if it's not a good idea that reaches out and touches that one listener and motivates him or her to either laugh or get up and buy something or get up and go somewhere that is remote or do something or write down the radio station's call letters in a diary, if it doesn't get them to do something or to touch them in some way, it's not radio. Real radio motivates, and it all comes out of a typewriter.

If you can write something that you can read to your inner ear, and hear how it should sound on the air, if you know it's gonna be an effective piece of motivation or entertainment, then you've got it. The rest is all practice. You can practice being a good mixer or a good director or a good announcer. You can get other people to do the announcing for you if you don't have the ballsy-est voice or the best character voice, but it all comes out of a typewriter first. And if the script isn't there, no amount of effort can save it or make it really great radio.

R.A.P.: You really seem to enjoy being a Production Director. What advice can you give to those who find more stress and frustration in their day than fun?
Tom: There are a lot of frustrating things about the Production Director's job, and most of them have to do with the less fun aspects of the job -- deadlines, copy changes, spot revisions, demanding salespeople, demanding clients, and so on. But radio ought to be fun, and you really have to take those things in perspective. Do those things and learn to accept them as part of the business. Learn to accept them and get them over with as soon as possible. Just do it, then you can leave yourself with some quality creative time.

Just give yourself a half an hour or an hour in the middle of the day before the late work comes in, before those dubs and tags that always sweeten the end of your day come in. "Okay, I've got an hour. What am I going to do? Should I do a song parody? Should I do a collage? What am I going to do? I'll read the paper. Maybe I'll get an idea. Should I do a baseball bit? The Reds are hot. Clinton. Should I do a Clinton bit? Maybe I should go through these records and find an old comedy bit that's already produced that would work well here. Maybe it's an old George Carlin baseball/football bit." Take some time and just think of something funny to do. But to do that, you have to get the other stuff done first. That's unfortunate.

R.A.P.: What's down the road for you?
Tom: I really don't know. I'm really happy being back in Cincinnati. My family's here. My mom is here, and my wife's parents are here. And my son, who is eleven, is rediscovering a whole new family life that he really didn't have much of when we lived in Boston. He was pretty happy up there -- we all were; don't get me wrong -- but we're going to stay here in Cincinnati for a while. Other than that, I don't have any plans.

Susquehanna and WARM 98 have been good to me. They just announced a new President, Dave Kennedy, whom all of us at WARM 98 know and like very much, and we are looking forward to good things with him and from him. I think that we have as good a chance as any stand-alone in any market to be successful. We are now one of two adult contemporaries, not three. I think the future looks good for us. '94 could be a fabulous year in WARM 98 history, and that's exciting.

I really like radio, and it's really exciting to be part of a group effort. I've toyed with the idea of going into advertising, but I don't think the advertising agency work would have the synergy that radio demands. All the departments have to be working together kind of like pistons in an engine. I know it sounds corny, but it's true. Promotions, traffic, continuity, air staff, production, sales -- we've all got to be popping. We've all got to be on the same wavelength, and when you're on the same wavelength, success comes. It's really gratifying.

And it's neat that I didn't do this alone. I couldn't do this alone. I had to have good announcers, and they had to have good copy, and the copy had to be generated for an account from a salesperson who knew what she or he was doing. It really is a teamwork kind of thing, and that's something that is very gratifying. I don't know how else to describe it, but I've always felt that way, and I've been lucky to work with some great people in the business.

I guess the next thing I'm looking forward to is digital. If I could apply my talents to a new medium that will let me save time and do higher quality work, well, sign me up. And I'll take one of those computers for my house, too, while you're at it. And, gee, maybe I could just do all the work at home. Then we'll have to invent some digital linking system so I can get voice-work over the phone from the morning guy's house. He could just call me up at home, and I could put it together and digitally transfer it to the mainframe of the radio station downtown.

R.A.P.: There's no inventing necessary. With the new ISDN lines we discussed in last month's interview being installed everywhere, the technology is already here to do what you're talking about!
Tom: It's really scary how it's going to change the face of radio. You know, it's funny that the cart machines, the single most important invention to change the face of radio thirty-five or forty years ago, are finally being replaced, and the revolution's going to be twice as big. I mean, just the thought of me putting together a commercial and sticking it into a huge hard-disk system -- no cartridge, no label, can't drop it, can't lose it, can't erase it. If the salesperson needs to call it up and play it for a client, he just does it from his workstation. The guy on the air needs to air it? He just calls it up. If traffic needs to, she can call it up to make sure the copy is okay or that it's not out of date. It's going to be great. We'll all be fat and lazy because we won't have to walk. Just think of all the walking you do to go from one part of the radio station to another, and all you're doing is carrying one lousy cart with you.

R.A.P.: You're a creative talent working for people that know how to get the most of your skills. What would you say to programmers and managers about how to get the most creativity out of their creative people?
Tom: Well, first of all, choose a person who is not only creative, but has good organizational skills because, unless you've got a two-man operation -- and I have seen that in more than a few places where you have the organizer/producer and then the funny guy, the idea guy -- unless you've got that, you really have to choose one person who is evident in his or her creativity, but also shows some organizational skills so that they will have the time to use their creativity. Then, once you get that person, give him or her a chance to really be creative. That is, make it a point that the radio station knows that there are certain guidelines that have to be met in order for this person to get the most out of his or her potential creativity. In other words, give them the space that they need. Be respectful of that person. If there is a five-day deadline on spec work, make it a five-day deadline.

The short buck and the short run aren't as important as what you can potentially reap in the long run from a dependable, creative person. I'm talking about the kind of person who, if he gets everything in on time, is never late with your needs. He will spend an extra hour or two or three, if need be, to get the work done, but he knows that you're being fair with him or her because the guidelines they asked for -- the timetables, the schedules, the deadlines -- have been met on the sales end. Hey, I'll work all night if I have to. If the work's there, that means the radio station is making money.

Be respectful of that person as sometimes being the last filter before something gets on the air. Sometimes that person is the last person to touch it, to listen to it. Sometimes it doesn't even get client approval. That commercial goes in the air studio, and the jock hasn't heard it before. He puts it in the machine and hits that button, and it goes on the air for the first time. And the last person to touch it or hear it or make sure it's okay is the Production Director. That's a big responsibility, especially when you've got thousands of those things to do every year.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Your post will be moderated. Your email address will not be shown or linked. (If you have an account, log in for real time posting and other options.)
0 Characters
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location