R.A.P. Interview: Tom Sandman

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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.

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