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.