R.A.P. Interview: Steve Martin

R.A.P.: What are you doing for production music?
Steve: In this country there's a system called MCPS which is Mechanical Copyright Protection and PRSCs. In British radio you only pay for the music you use. This is extremely useful because it means we can have a vast number of libraries in stock here, and the disks are provided free of charge by the production library companies themselves. They generate their revenue when we use the music on air. So we have a good variety of material to draw on, and quite a lot of material which is available is relicensed from American libraries.

The alternative to that is to use a buyout system. For some stations, that's really more cost effective. In the BBC, and the way we use the material here, it's far more valuable for us to have a good range of quality material to draw on, then we only pay for what we use. Now that does mean that there's a lot of administration involved in logging the material which is broadcast, and that will become easier once computer digital play-out systems become the norm. At the moment, it's all done manually. We have to log, second by second, any library production music we use, and then the BBC will pay for the music which is aired. I've got about a dozen different libraries here: KPM, Bruton, Chappell are some of the big British libraries. Atmosphere is another big library. They all have slightly different styles and different ranges of material, and between them you can generally find the sort of material you want quite quickly.

Also, the big libraries will operate a free music search. So if you want a specific piece, say a brass band playing a particular piece of music, and you can't find it quickly, just give the music library a call. They'll let you know if they have it on their library because it's in their interest that you use their material.

The problem with using library music in this way is that there is no exclusivity, so it could be that another station in this market is using the same piece of music for a different function. I made a promotion some time ago for one of our Radio Scotland programs. It was a discussion show. I'd worked quite hard on this, and I happened to be driving around one day and heard the same piece of music being used on a commercial for a shoe shop on another station. I wasn't too happy about that. It doesn't happen too often, but some of the better known libraries get used quite a lot on television as well as radio.

R.A.P.: How many CDs of music would you say you have in-house to choose from?
Steve: About a thousand.

R.A.P.: How can you possibly keep up with what music you have?
Steve: What tends to happen is whenever a new disk comes in, and we tend to get four or five a week from the various libraries, I make a point of listening--even if it's just for the first second of each track--to the material. You get to know the libraries quite well in that way.

R.A.P.: What American produced libraries are you using?
Steve: I have seen some stuff come through from Brown Bag, and there's some Firstcom available, too. Of course, we always have the option of buying out material. I think you can buy material from companies like Jam and Production Garden and Music Bakery. That sort of material is available on a buyout, but, again, there's no guarantee of market exclusivity. Radio Scotland covers a large area, and there are a lot of other stations in that area. If a company was selling music in a market-exclusive way and they sold to a station like Radio Scotland, then there'd only be one sale in the whole of Scotland. So it's not in their interest to market that way.

R.A.P.: Are you the voice-over talent on any of the promotional announcements?
Steve: No. I haven't broadcast on air since I worked in London, for a couple of years now. That's the one area I've missed from previous jobs. The continuity announcers I spoke about earlier are very much the voice of Radio Scotland. They become familiar and associated with it. They tend to be the voice talents I use on air, and we're very lucky in that a lot of the continuity announcers--we have five or six who are working regularly with us--are actors in training. So I can write character parts and create drama scenes just as easily as doing straight voice-overs, and they don't sound hammy which is quite often a problem we hear with commercial stations who are making radio commercials on a fairly low budget.

R.A.P.: Are you producing any material for any other BBC stations?
Steve: Yes. The radio station also produces material for the BBC's UK-wide station, so not all the material which is produced at Radio Scotland actually goes out on our own station. We were talking about frustrations before...because listeners are choosing stations more and more by identity, it becomes more and more important to know where your program is being broadcast. And if you are a program producer here, quite often you'll be making programs for different services and, therefore, different audiences. And each individual service will want to have its own house style.

A lot of the work I'm doing at the moment is trying to stamp a more cohesive house style, a more distinctive brand identity into our programming because the programming, in essence, could exist without Radio Scotland because the programs are made individually. As I explained before, they only form together as the one station when they hit the air.

I'm now starting to work backwards into the programs so the programming itself is starting to inherit the positive statements of style and behavior that are distinctive to Radio Scotland. The identity of the station is now moving back into the programming, so it becomes far more cohesive and solid. There's a danger when you're involved in a radio station which is constructed of single programs and continuity junctions that you are only the radio station you say you are in the continuity junctions. At the other times, the station is broadcasting a program which could be broadcast anywhere, really. That's the danger. As the listeners choose more and more by stations, we need to be more and more clear to the listener that we are Radio Scotland all the time, not just when we say we are. That, hopefully, is what we're achieving with Radio Scotland. You can turn on Radio Scotland at any time of the day or night and know instinctively that it is this station. That's the ultimate goal, and we've started a fairly large branding project inside Radio Scotland to ensure the values and qualities that people associate with the Radio Scotland brand name are exploited throughout the programs. We could just, every two minutes, remind people this is Radio Scotland, but we want to do more than that. We want to take the values that people associate with our name and exploit those throughout the day.

We know that the Radio Scotland name carries all sorts of positive associations. When people talk about Radio Scotland, they have a certain perception. The station's been here a long time, since 1978. So it has a great heritage built up around it. Certainly, in some advertising, we may want to change people's perception towards the station. But on air, we want to draw on all the positive perceptions of the station and associate those with the programs, so that when you listen to Radio Scotland, you are aware you are listening to Radio Scotland and associate that pleasure of listening to the station with the name. That strengthens the name. It's more than just identification because it's drawing on the strengths and associations of the name. And it's also strengthening the name for the future because it's using the experience of listening to the station now and investing in the Radio Scotland name for the future. It's two way. That's the key to our branding project.

R.A.P.: What's Radio Scotland's most popular show?
Steve: Our biggest audience winner is "Good Morning Scotland," the nation's morning news program. This is where Scotland's news agenda is set every morning and where politicians, public figures, and those who want to be, jostle for Radio Scotland air-time. So often, it's not just reporting the news, but news in the making with quality BBC journalism at pace and with authority.

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R.A.P.: What kind of special weekend programming do you do?
Steve: We respond to the Scottish weekend by relaxing a little, living it up with plenty of fun for an articulate and intelligent audience. In particular, Radio Scotland's sport on a Saturday afternoon and long-established evening program of traditional Scottish dance music attract massive audiences. It's not uncommon for one in three radios to be tuned to Radio Scotland on a Saturday evening! The sports audience is heavily male-dominated, and the Scottish dancing appeals to an older and less upmarket demographic.

Clearly, Radio Scotland is far more mixed than any formatted station. Our schedule is stuffed full of "spice" programming and entry points for a specialist listener. This provides a high weekly cume but remains our greatest challenge in creating a unified, unmistakable identity for the station. That's why our on-air promotional activity is all about building station identity and increasing listener hours.

R.A.P.: How much time do you spend at work on an average day?
Steve: I tend to work quite a long day because I care quite a lot about the output, and I'm the only producer working the heart of the station whereas every other producer is working on individual programming. What tends to happen in the BBC is that production teams, teams of producers and researchers and the presenters, are built up around the various programs rather than the station itself. And I'm the only producer that works on the cement, really, rather than the content of the individual programs.

R.A.P.: Most radio production people we interview have to deal with some frustrations at work, if not the sales department, then maybe it's the poor equipment. What frustrates you at your job?
Steve: The biggest frustration, I suppose, is the on-air deadline. There are no sales guys here, so your deadlines are quite often self-imposed. But it's extremely frustrating when you miss them. Because production departments are centered on programs, it is quite often difficult for them to think of the promotion of their programs and register that a deadline for promoting a program could well be seven days in advance of the program transmission date. And if you're making a program, then you would quite often have that transmission date fixed in your mind as your target. I think I annoy a lot of people by phoning them and badgering them for material well in advance of the time they may have perceived as their deadline. I think I can probably irritate people a lot that way. But you do need that material. If I'm to think of a creative angle on something, then I'll want to know what material I have to work with before I start. And if material isn't forthcoming, then I need to change the creative idea and think of another one.

Quite often our programming doesn't happen until it's on air. So, if that's the case, I would need to make a promotion not using program material. Those tend to be the spots of the best creative ideas, those which really become memorable, because if you don't use program material, I find that increases your creative freedom. If you're using a section from an interview in a program trail, then clearly you can't misrepresent the interviewee or edit it in such a way that supports your creative ideas, even though it wasn't really the intention of the interviewer. Sometimes you might get away with it, but it's extremely cheeky. We might have some fun with it, but quite often the subject matter will not lend itself to that. So often it's the power of the content of the material which would be the reason for listening. That would be what makes the program memorable and what makes Radio Scotland memorable.

If we don't have material and we're building a promotion from scratch, then I can think far more freely and think about the values of the station and how they are associated with the values of the program. I can think more about the environments in which the program exists, and when you start doing that, then the creative ideas really start flowing. I find that's when you get the greatest number of creative ideas to choose from, and I try, if I've got time, not to be satisfied with the first one. I'll think of two or three, then choose what I believe to be the best. If you do that and something falls down, then you've got a couple of ideas to go back on. You don't get halfway through the production, realize something's broken, and then have to start from scratch all over again. It's a good investment in time to spend just a little bit of extra time thinking out some alternative concepts, some alternative ideas.

R.A.P.: What do you like most about your job?
Steve: I probably like getting a reaction from my work, and that's a typical ego thing, really. It's true success, I suppose, because you know you've succeeded when you provoke a reaction from someone. Whether it's a positive or negative reaction, at least you know the promotion has had an impact and that the promotion has become memorable. And that's the key, to make the station memorable. So that's the greatest buzz I get. There's also the people I work with. I'm quite lucky to be working with such a great bunch of people.

In many ways I'm quite glad to be freed of salespeople. I read your magazine, and I get an extremely poor impression of salespeople around the world. I'm sure they're not such a bad bunch altogether. The first station I worked at when I was still at school was a commercial station, but at that time I wasn't involved in advertising promotion. I was just doing leg work. I can appreciate the pressures of salesmen and that they are quite often the go between with the client and getting the commercial on air. I suppose the client here is the radio station itself, and it's a very good client. I can recommend it to you.

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