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How to Produce Radio You Don’t Hate.

How to Produce Radio You Don’t Hate.

How to Produce Radio You Don’t Hate.

Until the advent of 40k static banners, radio was the undisputed ginger stepchild of advertising. And, shit, since static banners are technically “digital,” and therefore “the future,” radio probably still holds the throne.

Which is sad. Because if you don’t like radio, it’s your own fault.

WHY RADIO IS AWESOME AND AWFUL
Radio gives writers more control than any other medium. No directors, designers or dev guys to meddle with your vision. And since radio is so cheap to produce, you’re on an even playing field with the biggest agencies and clients in the world.

The awful side of that coin: zero excuses. If you produce suck radio, you’ll be the only one with suck on your hands. Maybe that’s the real reason very few writers want to touch radio.

Here are some tricks we’ve learned to keep suck off your hands.

CONCEPT RADIO WITH AN ART DIRECTOR
You concept everything else with a partner because they call you on lazy clichés. They laugh at what’s funny and don’t at what isn’t. And they help you build on bits of ideas. Why should the no-pictures thing make radio any different?

Besides, weirder stuff happens when you sit around trying to make someone else crack up. Like this (Corn Cob Teeth), written with former WONGDOODY AD Tony Zimney.

STOP MAKING RADIO ADS

Radio has sounded the same for SO LONG because writers make what we think radio is supposed to sound like. It’s all quick back-and-forth banter. Cartoony easy-get characters. Call-in shows. Voicemails. Super-serious fake-PSA guys. Same shit, different URL at the end.

If an idea seems like a good, solid radio spot, kill it fast and move on.

DON’T PRESENT SCRIPTS

The easiest way to get a great idea killed is to read a script to the client. Sometimes there’s no way around that. But if at all possible, record the script with placeholder voices. This step also allows you a practice run at the spot to see what is and isn’t working.

LEAVE WHITE SPACE

Just because you have 60 seconds doesn’t mean you should fill all of them with words. Let things breathe. Time your scripts and make sure there’s a good 5 to 10 seconds of spare air to play with. Beautiful awkward silence around one joke is better than two tightly packed jokes.

Space allows for stammers, sighs, improvs and fuck-ups (how real people actually talk) that help radio not sound like radio. The power of this Dear Me spot is more in what isn’t said than what is.

CUT THE FAT BUT BRING THE GRAVY

Cut copy mercilessly to create white space in your script, but don’t you dare stop writing. Write way more jokes than you’ll need, and back-pocket them. You’ll never know what will be funny until it comes out of the talent’s mouth. For this spot (Formaldehyde), we recorded three times as many lines as we actually used, because performance dictated what made the final edit.

CAST WEIRDER

A great idea becomes pretty good really quick with traditional casting. The problem with 95 percent of voice actors is that 95 percent of the time, they’re rewarded for sounding like 95 percent of voice actors. Polished and perfect. We all put “real” and “non-announcery” in our casting specs, but how often do we follow through on that?

Look for talent where others don’t. Coworkers. The night janitor. Your half-wit neighbor. This spot (Hide the Truth) features the British bartender at the account guy’s corner pub, who had zero acting experience.

WORK ‘EM LIKE RENTED MULES

Once talent leaves the booth, you’ve got what you’ve got. Push their performances to uncomfortable places — if they’re good, they like getting their hands dirty with you. If they can improv, let them.

Have talent turn the script around and deliver lines without reading them. You’ll magically get hesitations and glitches that make it sound like they’re not reading a script. Because they’re not.

If you have something in your head, or are working with non-actors, try delivering a line and having the talent parrot it back to you. That method helped us win a Gold Pencil for this spot (Playground), featuring kids who never saw a script.

FUCK IT UP OR GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY

You’re not at the studio to jibber-jabber and eat snacks. Work. Experiment. Try things that don’t work to find new things that surprise you. Create something you’ve never heard before.

The middle ground is crowded. Get freaky with sound and voice (Sounds Like), or leave it as raw and exposed (Dr. Notrica: Nurse) as possible. Not every spot needs music or cartoony SFX, butmost use them.

Lastly, kick out the people in the studio who are just there to get out of the office.
Distractions kill experimentation. And cheap, no-risk experimentation is what sets radio apart.

Matt McCain

Creative Director, Seattle

Tags:
radio / thought leadership