Don Lawler, Memphis, TN: “AAA Termite Control”
By Craig Rogers
Producer’s VU goes retro this month. Don Lawler of Target Marketing in Memphis produced this featured production years ago when he was working at WHBQ/Memphis. (Among his colleagues was Rick Dees.) This was in the days when “Edit List” meant notes you’d made on where to cut the tape, a file was where you kept your old scripts, and having a mouse in the studio meant a trip to the hardware store for traps.
Don says, “This is a spot produced using older technology and is something those working without digital could still do.” (Don currently works with the FastEddie and SAW workstations.) This spot even won Don an Addy. So pay attention, tape heads. This one’s for you. Read here about how Don made the most of four tracks, and hear his work on The Cassette.
At the time, WHBQ was owned by RKO. Don says they believed in outfitting their stations right. In the production room was an Auditronics 4-buss console with 24 inputs, a Pacific Recorders 4-track, two Pacific Recorder 2-track machines, an early model Eventide Harmonizer, dbx compressor/limiter, Bi-Amp graphic EQ, Urei LA-4 compressor, Electro-Voice RE-20, and a Sennheiser MD421 microphone.
Don is the only voice on the spot. He used the Sennheiser MD421 mic through a Urei LA4 compressor at about a 4:1 ratio, which he says “was pretty much standard.” Since the character voices were high pitched, he ran the mic through the EQ to roll off the lows. He also added a slight boost at 2.5 kHz, another “standard” setting for his voice tracks on most of his productions.
The 4 track recorder ran at 7.5 ips, 15 ips and 30 ips. Don would usually use 15 ips. He used the vari-speed to slow down the tape deck. Then he began experimenting with different voices. He would record one, then play it back at higher varispeeds to raise the pitch until he found one that he felt sounded like a termite. And of course, since he’s running the tape back at a faster speed, he has to talk more slowly to keep things intelligible.
Once he’d found the right combination of voice and vari-speed, he began laying down the voice for the main character. He left appropriate length gaps where the audience would react. With the Head Termite’s part complete, it was time to build a crowd reacting to the Head Termite’s comments.
Now a crowd, by definition, is many individuals. But Don is only one guy, and he’s only got three tracks remaining. Not a problem. With slightly different voices and reactions for each of the termites and with creative bouncing, Don made the crowd large and diverse. First, he recued the tape and voiced two tracks worth of termite audience while listening to Head Termite on track 1. To monitor the Head Termite, he assigned track 1 to only the monitors, but not to any of the four busses that feed the 4-track. After getting two tracks of audience down, he would bounce these to track 4 while voicing a third termite audience member live on top of that. Then he went back to tracks 2 and 3 and erased them (a good practice in the analog domain when reusing tracks). He then assigned track 4 to track 2. He also assigned his mic to track 2, and while he bounced 4 to 2, he added another live audience reaction--bring the crowd to four termites. Track 3 is clean, so he adds audience member five there. Then on the final pass, he bounces tracks 2 and 3 to 4 while again adding audience member six.
These six bugs are reacting with gasps and moans to Head Termite’s comments. To keep the illusion of a larger crowd between these reactions, Don added the sound effects of a bar fight throughout the spot. This helps make the crowd sound even larger and denser. This was recorded onto track 3 and kept low in the mix. The final touch added was at the open. You’ll hear a bit of feedback to help establish that the Head Termite is stepping to the podium. Don simply defeated the monitor mute on the board and carefully moved his mic toward the monitors to get the effect he wanted.
Mixdown was simple with one track for the Head Termite, one of crowd noise, one of reactions, and the feedback at the open.
Thanks to Don for sharing his techniques. Now pop in The Cassette and check out his work for yourself. If you’d like to get more details on Don’s wanderings through the world of radio and related areas, look up the RAP interview with him in the February 1991 issue. If you’d like to catch up with him in the years since, he can be reached at Target Marketing at (901) 763-2497 or e-mail
In the October RAP, the retro theme continues as Rob Radencic of KRBE/Houston takes us on a journey inside a promo for a KRBE Retro Weekend.
During the first weekend in August, I had the opportunity to attend the International Voiceover and Creative Summit put on by Dick Orkin and Dan O’Day in Los Angeles. It was a terrific gathering of, primarily, production geeks, with some free-lancers and agency creative directors thrown in for fun. I hope all RAP members get a chance to attend the next one. Not only will you learn things that will help raise the level of our craft, you can’t help but have a great time! Dick and Dan, you’ve done a great service with this seminar!