Thursday, April 11, 2013

Radio Daze

The radio spot is dying.

Many claim it has everything to do with the Internet and the fracturing of media spending. That couldn't be further from the truth. The reason no one listens to radio spots anymore is right in front of your nose. On the steering wheel of your car. It's that little button that allows you to jump to the next preset with the same cognitive effort it takes to breath in and breath out.

Detroit/Japan killed the radio commercial. And I, for one, am sad to see it go.

You see, unlike many copywriters who might be intimidated by the medium, I actually look forward to radio assignments.

Two years ago, we did a set of radio spots for the Acura dealers. We thought it'd be fun to record the spots during a test drive. So we loaded up the equipment, hopped in a TL, and strapped a microphone to the talent, who knew how to improvise. We recorded everything, flubs and all.

And recently I found out the spots won some local radio awards.

Of course, you don't come to roundseventeen to hear happy stories, you want misery. Fortunately, like the vault at the Olde-Time Mercury Radio theater, there's plenty in stock.

Back in 2005, as I was just beginning my life as a freelancer, I was hired by a now-defunct agency to write and produce some radio commercials for Chevy's Mexican restaurant. After submitting 5-6 full campaigns the client agreed to one approach I thought showed some promise.

After a week of casting and rewrites I found myself at a local recording studio ready to "lay down some tracks" as we used to say. But it would not be all that simple. The client, in their wisdom, decided to send a "Brand Manager", who had never witnessed a radio recording in her life, to "supervise" the production.

As you can imagine, bad went to worse very quickly.

"Can the talent read that with more energy?"

"The talent needs to have more smile in her voice."

"She still needs more energy."

That was before she saw me using the red intercom button to communicate with the voiceover artist in the booth.

Before long she had her thumb pressed on the button and was barking out line readings into the microphone.

This went on for a couple of hours until finally I had to excuse myself from the studio to go to the bathroom. When I returned, the client was actually in the booth coaching the talent.

The result was a hot mess. And a week later, after the Creative Director had successfully intervened, we were back in the studio for a complete do-over. This time, without the client.

Not a great spot by any means. But it's not embarrassing either.

By the way, that's me cackling at the very end. I also whispered some choice Spanish names for the ill-advised Brand Manager, but you'd need ultra-sensitive headphones to hear it. And that equipment is only available to the FBI and select members of the CIA.


Bob said...

"Can she hit the 'it' harder, say 'dealer' with more of a smile, and go up at the end of the line instead of down? Oh, and can I have some more M&Ms?"

And clients do that for every line of a spot. By the time they're done "directing," the talent is a sniveling ball of wreck.

My rule is, clients can come to the session, but they can't say a damn thing until we have something edited together.

Jeff said...

I'm with you. Oh, wait, you knew that.

Robert Moss said...

I've yet to hear of a good client-in-the-studio experience.

But I have had to nearly make the legal counsel of a client a writing partner. Car loan radio spots for a credit union. Very involved. But they did lead to $4.2 million in car loans.

Oh, one other thing, Mr. Siegel. Could you back off the difficulty on your captcha? Thanks!

dave trott said...

Orson Wells knows how to deal with that: