by Dennis Daniel
"I need to talk to you, Den."
It was one of my best radio buddies on the phone. Andy by name. Production Director of one of the market's largest AOR stations. A sweet guy, a talented buy.
"What's up, Andy? You wanna talk now?"
"Nah. I can't talk here. You wanna meet at some bar later?"
Hmmm. Couldn't "talk now." Wants to "meet at some bar." It's got to be a work-related problem. Strange. Andy always talks about how great his job is. In fact I gibe him all the time about how crappy the station's song rotation is! They had just recently fired their Program Director (who was a great guy!) and hired some new guy who's made, as far as I can tell, ZERO CHANGES. I guess it's one of those deals where the consultant programs the station and the PD is just there for "show."
"There's a local yokel bar near me. You can meet me at my house, and we'll head over there tonight after work."
Let me tell you all a little bit about Andy before we get to our conversation. The guy is good behind the mike. Real good. His production brims with the kind of enthusiasm and sparkle that shows he's having a good time and loves what he does. He's a multi-voiced maniac who really knows how to pull off wacky, heavy character-laden spots. His promo production carries that same enthusiasm. He's also no slouch in all the other various genre of commercial creation. Many is the time Andy will call me at my production company, excitement in his voice, to share with me his latest creation. He's the most laid back Production Director I've ever met. Nothing phases this guy. Always smiling. Always pumped. Always thinking. He never has a nasty word to say about anybody (except old girlfriends). In short, he reminds me of...well...me...during my golden years at WBAB, when the sky was the limit. To be honest, I'm jealous of the lucky bastard!
Andy has known of me and my work for years, when he was just an intern at WBAB. He has often been more than kind in his praise for what I do and have done (thus endearing me to him all the more). When he became the Production Director at this station, he called me immediately and established a friendship that I truly treasure.
And now...we "need to talk."
"It's your time, Den, so the drinks are on me. What'll it be?"
Tough question. You see, I don't drink. Not that I'm a teetotaler or anything, it's just that alcohol has always given me a stomach ache.
"Rum and Coke." Faggy...but basically safe.
The bar is truly a "local yokel" deal. The bartender is this tall, chunky, bespectacled girl (who has no right to be wearing that tanktop) of average looks. Across from us is a group of high haired, long finger-nailed, cigarette smoking Long Island quintessential bimbettes and middle-aged housewives, playing game after game of QuickDraw, a New York lottery bingo oriented addictive waste of time and money (Andy called it "Video Crack") that makes this dark, danky, paneled albatross of a watering hole a kind of mini-Vegas for the unloved. They're keeping that bartender more than busy with their betting and change requesting (a time-consuming enterprise that I'm sure is the crowning highlight of her job duties). It is in this smoky atmosphere of Bukowskian low budget depravity that Andy blurts out a sentence I was not expecting to hear....
"Things at work really suck."
"But,, Andy...you the man, bro! You're banging out great stuff off the top of your head! It's Production heaven! Those song parodies kick ass! Your spots have never been better. The promos crank. Best of all, they all leave you alone, right? I mean, they've always let you do your thing with no strings. You do realize how amazing that is? The airwaves are yours to command. There are no PDs or GMs riding up your butt. The owner digs you more than any other employee. You're golden!"
"That's just it," says Andy. "They give me nothing. No direction. Zero."
"This is a bad thing?"
"Den, nobody there has any fire in their belly. It's all routine. The music is routine. The jocks just come in, play their playlist, read their liners and go home. It's like a morgue. No one is psyched about anything. I always feel so alone about my creative. Am I really doing the right thing? Who's to say? I'd like a little input. A little sense of teamwork and goal reaching."
It was beginning to make sense to me. All during my radio career, I was always lucky enough to work with PDs who guided me, asked me my opinion and got me involved. Both Bob Buchmann at WBAB and Tom Calderone at WDRE took me under their wing and directed my flow of madness to help achieve their overall programming goals. They never held me back, but they did tell me where they wanted to go. That kind of give and take makes all the difference in how you feel about your work. Although Andy has total free reign, he has no guidance. On the surface this may look appealing--hey, anything goes--but after a while, it can lead to confusion and a lonely feeling of noninvolvement in the true goals and fate of the station. Imagine! Here this station has a powerhouse producer (a rare, precious commodity) just grazing in a tremendous field, not knowing from day to day if he's following the right herd to a place with greener grass. What a sin!
"You've got to wake these SOBs up! Obviously they dig what you do. Get them to tell you how to make what you do better for them! Ask them to really listen to Production on other stations, just so they can see the gold mine that is you! Try to talk to the consultant. Try to show them how much you want to help get the TSL up!"
Andy stared at me and shook his head knowingly as he took a long drag from his cigarette. As I looked back at him, I saw a truly creative, caring individual who wants his art to grow. I saw a man who cares enough about what he does, about his work, that it troubles him to think that it's being wasted. I saw someone...kinda like me.
And I learned something, too. I learned that "freedom" does not necessarily lead to "satisfaction."