R.A.P. Interview: Bob Holmcrans

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R.A.P.: The format obviously has a lot to do with the success of WPGC. You called it an urban/Top 40 crossover format. Tell us a bit more about the music.
Bob: We were able to carve a niche by playing music that black people would listen to and white people would listen to also. We play all the street rap and have club shows at night, and we also tone it down a little bit with crossover stuff like Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston, particularly in the daytime. We pretty much play all the stuff that is on the urban charts. It's pretty urban. But, that is what the kids are listening to. Our listener breakdown is about sixty-six percent black and the rest white.

R.A.P.: Would you say the station is highly produced?
Bob: No, not highly produced. It is more or less understated actually. But apart from the day to day, week to week production of commercials and promos, there are some special pieces that we do. An example of one of these was a tribute we did to Martin Luther King, Jr. on the anniversary of his death. We contacted various people in the public arena and had them recall where they were and how they felt when they heard of King's death. We also had them state what they felt his legacy was. I then produced an intro and outro and put a bed under the sound bites. The result was a very powerful series, including Smokey Robinson recalling his civil rights work in the '60s as well as David Brinkley remembering his experience at the time. I almost fell over when we called ABC News and asked to speak to him. The next thing we heard was, "David Brinkley speaking."

We also produced a "Dream Concert at Fantasy Park." This was a 4-hour radio broadcast of a make believe concert. It took almost forty hours for Christina Kelley, Paco Lopez, and myself to write, produce, and mix. We used bootleg live versions of songs by Madonna, Janet and Michael Jackson, Prince, etc., and with the help of reverb, delay, EQ, and sound effects, we put on quite a show. I think my favorite part was the "interview" we did with prince. We got hold of an old interview Prince had given years ago by telephone. We produced it by having Christina insert questions, and we EQ'd her voice to sound like a telephone conversation. Then we put them both in a limo. The result was Christina talking to Prince from a car phone, talking about his performance at "WPGC's Fantasy Park Concert" as they both left the concert in Prince's limo. The whole thing was great fun and a real exploration of that old radio term, "theatre of the mind."

There's another thing we do once in a while. It's a simple concept, but very effective if done properly. It's taking an issue that's in the news, usually one which has the elements of some kind of emotional impact, using a song which relates to the issue, and inserting sound bites from the people involved in the issue -- news bites, and listener comments. We used "Wind Beneath My Wings" when Magic Johnson's retirement due to AIDS happened. We also did "Leave Me Alone" during the Michael Jackson controversy. Most recently we used a Frankie Beverly and Maze song called "Mandella" as the basis for a piece when Nelson Mandella won the election in South Africa. These are very effective, but you can only do something like this two or three times a year. Otherwise, I think they lose their impact. It's also very easy to do them poorly. You have to be careful or else they will sound very amateurish. But, if you really craft them, they sound great on the air.

R.A.P.: Describe your roll as Production Director at WPGC.
Bob: I look at my job as being at the crossroads between sales and programming. Obviously, the Program Director is my boss. I am responsible for promos, stagers, special features, things along that line, and I'm also responsible for all the commercials. There was a Bobby Poe convention in town recently, and I was talking to a few Production Directors there. They were saying how they really don't deal with commercials. Basically, their gig is taking care of promos. Boy, what a sweet thing that would be. I serve two masters: there's the sales department and the programming department.

The way I think production fits into what we are doing is you have two hands, and you need the left hand and the right hand to survive. Sales is essential. We bill very well, and we don't miss commercials. One of the things that I pledged to the sales staff when I became Production Director seven years ago was that they would not lose commercials, that I would be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I have not let up on that pledge in all this time. We don't miss commercials. The jocks know to call me twenty-four hours a day if anything goes wrong. I'll get up in fifteen degree blizzards at three in the morning to get an overnight spot on the air if I have to. And I think that is real important because that gives me respect from the sales staff.

I also hold the programming staff to those standards, too. They have to call me. They have to do their production. There is no excuse if they don't. So, I think production plays a major role in the station. The promos, they stand out. They are clever, but they don't take away from the product. Music is the star.

R.A.P.: Do you write the promos?
Bob: We all do. I write some of them. The Program Director writes some. Christina Kelley, who is our midday talent, is also my assistant. She does a lot of the writing. We write in teams sometimes. We all take part in the writing.

R.A.P.: Do you write the commercials, too?
Bob: I don't write commercials very often. The sales staff is mostly responsible for that.

R.A.P.: Does Christina write commercials?
Bob: Not usually. Christina is my absolute right hand. She has got one of the most gorgeous voices you would ever hear. When I am not there, she takes over production, and she does a fine job. She is an excellent producer. As a matter of fact, she used to be a Production Director in New Orleans.

R.A.P.: Since this was your first Production Director's position, what guidelines did you have to set up the department? What idea did you have of what a Production Manager was supposed to do?
Bob: That all goes back to 'BCN and my training there. As I mentioned, Tom Couch was the Production Director that hired me on as an intern, but about a month or two after I became his intern, he left the station to go off to fame and fortune working for Second City TV and then on to various other projects. That is when Tom Sandman came to 'BCN. Tom is, in my eyes, the greatest Production Director of all time. He is just wonderful. He taught me standards. He taught me technique. I learned how to run the department from watching him. Billy West was his assistant. Between the two of them, I started learning the basics and saw what production could do, what the possibilities were.

Then, when I became the producer of the morning show, Billy was in charge of the creative. We had a group of people called the Not Ready Before Breakfast Players. They were a group of about six or seven writers and voice talent. They would come in every morning, and we would do either a parody song, a little skit, or some type of satire or comedy. It was a very, very demanding pace. It was very quick, and very topical. We'd be there at six o'clock. Billy would be writing his head off, and then, boom, we'd put together something that would air in an hour and a half. That is when I got my first skills, working under deadlines and working under that pressure. By the time I got to 'PGC, I had the basics down, but I could by no means have stepped into a number one major market station at that time.

We had this guy, Dr. Dave, who we still use for our voice work. Dr. Dave worked at our station and was very good at production. I learned a lot by being there with him. In terms of actually setting up the structure of the station, I called Sandman and I said, "Help! Give me a few pointers!" As I went along, I would make mistakes. There was a lot of trial and error. But I had a good base from those people at 'BCN from which to build and some good help from Dr. Dave as I came along, and I gradually built it up that way.

I think two of the most important things for any Production Director to have are organizational skills and people skills. And those are things that I am real strong in. In terms of creativity, yeah, I can write. In terms of a voice, I don't have a big ballsy production voice, but I have the dedication.

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