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GAVIN Adds Willie Nelson, Tenacious D to Seminar Roster / Features / The Third “P”: Making Your Station Sizzle

The Third “P”: Making Your Station Sizzle
<June, 2001>

"Production" really can make your station shine, but unfortunately it’s the one that’s absolutely foreign to most of us.

You’ve probably heard about the three “P’s”: Promotion, Personality, and Production. (Which is altogether different from the three “M’s”: Music, Marketing, and Mornings.) The first two “P’s” get a lot of attention in the pages of Gavin and elsewhere. But that third P is the one that really can make your station shine, and unfortunately, it’s the one that’s absolutely foreign to most of us. I decided it was well past time to check in with some of our format’s production whizzes, and find out how they do that voodoo that they do.

First, let’s meet the panel:

Steve Stone, who has been Production/Creative Services Director at WXRK-New York since the beginning of 2000. Steve skipped college and got straight into production in his hometown of Santa Rosa, California. His career has taken him to Dayton, Greensboro, and Pittsburgh, where I first met him (while consulting WNRQ). Steve says working for PD Steve Kingston has been an amazing experience: “Being exposed to so many things including contributing to the Howard Stern Show has been a mind blower!” The fantasy sports enthusiast is happily married, with a 2 1/2-year-old son, Jacob.

Malcolm Ryker has been Creative Services Director at 91X for the past five years and you probably know his voice from coast-to-coast since he also does custom work for other company-owned stations, such as The Buzz-Houston, KTEG-Albuquerque, WXEG-Dayton, Channel 1031-Albany, and some rockers, too, like KSJO-San Jose, WMMS-Cleveland, and KBPI-Denver. “Yes working for Clear Channel keeps me busy,” he laughs. Before coming to 91X, Mal was with PD Bryan Schock at perhaps the very first Extreme-type station, 92X-Denver, where he did production and middays. “Before that I worked with Bryan as the last MD/production guy for the late-KNAC-Long Beach.” He’s a 1987 graduate of Arkansas State University where he majored in Radio/TV, with an emphasis on production.

Will Morgan, who has been at KROQ-Los Angeles for just over two months now, coming from LIVE 105-San Francisco (where I hired him—with an assist from Kevin Weatherly, who discovered Will toiling at WPLA-Jacksonville). A Florida native, with “many years of fast food experience,” Will got his start at the legendary WAPE-Jacksonville, then moved on to Little Rock and eventually Atlanta. “I did research at 99X for two weeks—anything to get my foot in the door,” he says, before adding, “It just took me a while to figure out that maybe I’m not supposed to be a DJ!” Now Morgan shares his time commuting between LA and the San Francisco Bay Area: “I couldn’t give up my home—so now sometimes when the flight attendants are too tired, I do the boarding announcements for them!”

Now that you’ve met our cast, let’s get the discussion started!

Richard Sands: I’m sure everyone will want to know your equipment—so tell me about your toys.

Steve Stone: I have a great studio here! I work on an Orban “Audicy” digital workstation. It’s great and it really takes a beating. I have a killer classic mic, a few effects boxes, vintage gear, and a ton of other stuff—essential gear that enables me to produce the distinctive K-Rock sound. There may even be a “magic box,” but telling you about it wouldn’t make it special anymore…would it?

Malcolm Ryker: I have my old fathful Mac-based Dawn Drive system which goes through a Pacific Recorders and Engineering board, stereo in-out, 8-tracks, automated faders, etc. Also Pro Tools with a Mackie set-up and your normal plug-ins. Eventide Ultra Harmonizer…DSP 4000...Evre 20 mics. My favorite freaky old mic is a D-104 that I picked up at an antique store and had the engineers rework.

Will Morgan: OK, so I’m “old-school”—I love the Audicy, it’s basic and simple, and helps me get through days where I have to crank out three promos for the weekend. There are so many other gadgets in my room that help me create eccentric sounds as well. But being the new baby here at KROQ, I’m still trying to figure out my way here in the studio.

How would you describe your style?

Stone: My style? It really fits my personality. At times it’s chaotic, subtle, edgy, or funny. It’s always polished and it cuts through. I like to think that I can adapt to any situation. Here at K-Rock everything moves faster, so I’ve become a fast editor! I’m a processing junkie. I like my audio to be as dense as possible. Start to finish, it’s got to stand out over everything else.

Ryker: Psychedelic hip-hop punk-rock shit. Or think of it as a ‘64 Impala with flames and hydraulics.

Morgan: Good question. As producers we all have our “bag of tricks” that we use most when working on promos: some comedy, some bigness, some cool edits, singing, etc. I feel like my style is always changing, especially being new here at KROQ. I guess you could say my style is eclectic and punchy, for the most part.

What inspired you to get into production?

Stone: I liked being on the air as a jock but I was mediocre at best. When I started cranking up the speakers to hear the sweepers and promos, you know, listening just to the stop-sets, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I would trade tapes with my buddies all the time. I got to hear great stuff from New York, LA, Dallas, San Diego, Philly, Minneapolis, Houston everywhere—that was a great inspiration to me.

Ryker: Way back in the day, I used to do concert spots for whatever station I was working at, and somehow or another, they started sounding OK. I had a radio production instructor at college that I smoked out with, and got motivated.

Morgan: I think I would be lying if I said [ex-KROQ production whiz] John [Frost] didn’t have some influence on me. After all, he and Kevin Weatherly both worked and guided me with advice and direction, from style to voicing, while I was at LIVE 105 in San Francisco. (And thank you, Richard, too!) But originally I was just thrown into imaging while working as a part-time DJ at Planet Radio in Jacksonville. There was no money in the budget for a voice-over guy so they said “you’re it.” I had never done a voice-over in my life, so you could imagine I was freaking! My boss gave me tapes of radio stations as a guide. I remember being blown away from what I heard, and just started “creating.” (And yes, KROQ was one of those tapes!)

Who is in your production “Hall of Fame,” and besides our esteemed panel, who do you admire today?

Stone: Growing up in the Bay Area I was exposed to a lot of great sound. Bobby Ocean’s promos on KFRC, Brian James on the old X-100, KMEL in the ‘80s, KSOL, The Quake, LIVE 105 from the beginning was always cool and different. When I got into radio, I really admired what Pat Martin did with Joe Kelly at KRXQ-Sacramento, Joel Moss at WEBN-Cincinnati, John Frost at KROQ, and Jim Pratt when he was at KOME made my jaw drop. I’d have to say that my biggest “hands-on” inspiration was Lester Temple. He’s at LIVE 105, but when I first met him he was in Santa Rosa. He really taught me the world of multi-track production—he was an amazing teacher. When I got to Pittsburgh, the work of Brian Price at WDVE really forced me to step it up. Today? Besides the names I mentioned, I also admire Ned Spindle at Q-101, Brian Kelsey, Randy Scope at WHFS, and Jude Corbett at WTMX.

Ryker: For me the list includes John Frost, Bryan Kelsey, Jim Pratt, and Zach (wherever he’s at).

Morgan: As far as what’s out there, there are a lot of great production guys (and girls). I love hearing other peoples’ work, because it allows you to step outside your own boundaries and hear things in a different way that maybe you wouldn’t of thought of. Eric Chase, and Brian Kelsey are a good example of this.

How do you come up with your ideas for promos/sweepers/imagers?

Stone: I watch a lot of TV, and I read a lot; newspapers and magazines. I’m on the net a lot with news sites, showbiz sites, gossip sites, anything that I think will give me good fodder to write about. Got to keep it topical and relative.

Ryker: I just live life—I’m open minded—I listen to all the killer people around me here at 91X and put it all in God’s hands.

Morgan: In addition to what Steve and Malcolm said, what people should always remember is that networking is such a useful tool—hearing other producers’ work helped me when I started imaging in 1997, and still is to this day.

Who writes your, the PD, someone else at the station, or is it a collaborative effort?

Stone: It’s very collaborative. I might come up with an idea or finished script, or [PD] Steve [Kingston] has something in mind and we’ll flesh it out together. There’s a lot of revising in our writing process—spending the time getting copy just right!

Ryker: I write, produce, voice, rap, sing on it all. But I’m always open to anyone’s ideas. Our interns sometimes have the best untainted shit.

Morgan: When it comes to writing promos, Kevin will help out a lot with ideas. Or sometimes I’ll go to our phone-ops just to get their opinion on what’s hot and not, funny or dull. It’s false to assume that just us production guys are the creators behind our magic. We need the connection with the outside world (and with other people) that help us with ideas. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Hey, someone should write a song.

How do you assess Alternative production in general today?

Stone: I like it, there’s no rules…almost. Like most formats, we’ve evolved and changed with time, but there is a wall there. We need to get past it. Everyday it’s a process of trying to figure out what’s next. What’s it going to sound like? You’ve got to be ahead of things and capitalize on opportunities when they present themselves. It’s not easy, but you’ve got to constantly try different stuff. Don’t be afraid of the unconventional. It may not feel right at first, but sometimes you hit a home run!

Ryker: It’s ripped off toooo much. Hell, the A/C stations are now filtered.

Morgan: I just got here, so I’ll pass on making any judgments.

What’s your biggest gripe about the promos/imaging you hear on other stations?

Stone: Lack of focus. Know your audience! A lot of effects for the sake of having effects. That’s probably the biggest crutch I hear. Lack of good copy. Not enough time spent on “sound crafting.” I spend a lot of time just with the mix. Mixing, tweaking, mixing, etc. This is a craft, labor on it! It’s easy enough to get a voice guy and a ton of effect CDs, the real trick is making it all work to bring your station to life.

Ryker: My biggest gripe is that a lot of them sound like John Frost wanna-bes.

What tips, if any, do you have for the aspiring production person?

Stone: Don’t listen to people who say you’re wasting your time. If I listened to the people who told me that, I’d still be living with my mom! Study all you can, listen to everyone’s work. Don’t be hung up on formats. Great production is great production anywhere it’s heard! Dedicate yourself to it. While your friends are out partying, you’re at the station working on promos. You have to be hungry, and respect the work. When the time comes and people ask your advice, take the time to talk. If someone calls me or sends me a tape to listen to, I always reply. Stay humble. My old friend Beau Rafferty once told me, “I refuse to be stifled by the limitations of others.” I always think of that. Surround yourself with good people, network with others, and above all, don’t waste your time on people who don’t share your passion, or who try and get in your way.

Ryker: Be patient...sweep floors, make good coffee...don’t expect the world in a few years.

Morgan: After hearing a promo, the important thing to remember is this: what is the message? And: is it getting across? That’s the function. Everything else is just fashion. It’s easy to get caught “overthinking” a promo—that’s when sometimes the message gets lost. How many times has your PD told you “that’s the best promo you’ve produced” and your thinking in the back of your head, “Wow, I hardly spent any time with that and it only took me an hour to produce?” Knowing when to apply comedy and coolness to a promo is very important—take into consideration what the prize or subject is (i.e. new bumper sticker campaign = funny. Seeing Tool in Paris = cool).

What does the future hold for you—you’ve made it to the apex of our business, so what’s next?

Stone: I’m having a lot of fun—I want to do this for as long as I can. Eventually one day, I’d like to just sit in my basement and work when I want to, not when I have to…ahhhhhh to dream.

Ryker: I’m up for anything—my contract is up in 905 days. I would like to do kids shows/ABC Schoolhouse Rock kinda shit.

Morgan: I’m two months in at KROQ, so I’m looking forward to a long future with these guys. I have a lot to learn, and that’s it, keep learning and trying new things!

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