By Rich Van Slyke
Sure you can image a radio station, but what about imaging a nationally syndicated radio show? I talked to Tony Lorino, the creator, and host of Throwback Nation, about how he approaches imaging for his amazing new syndicated show. And what ideas can be applied to your station?
First off, Tony, tell me about your background, how did you get your start in radio?
I grew up in Milwaukee, WI, and listened to great radio stations as a kid like WKTI, WLUM in its “Hot 102” years, WMYX, and WXSS as it launched as KISS FM. When I started college, I knew I wanted to work in broadcasting, but thought my path would be in TV news. I quickly realized, however, that I loved the art and the creativity of radio – and the rest was history. My first internship was at WKTI in Milwaukee, and then I worked for KSTZ, KIOA, and Saga Communications’ Des Moines Radio Group through school. I worked my way through the Midwest in North Dakota, back to Iowa (doing classic hits at age 22 for KIOA, which was a total trip), back to Milwaukee at WMYX with Entercom, then to KZPT in Kansas City and WSTR in Atlanta. (I also do host afternoons at WKTK in Gainesville, FL and am filling in on mornings at KYMX in Sacramento via the magic of modern technology.)
I’ve been very lucky to work at some great places – and with some great people – and I’ve learned so much along the way. Although most of my time has been in AC and Hot AC, I always had an affinity for classic hits/oldies radio, and learning that format early in my career has taught me the tenets of great programming and how they apply to EVERY format.
Now, please tell me about Throwback Nation.
Throwback Nation Radio is an ‘80s-based night show for Classic Hits and AC that is all about bringing a sense of energy, companionship, and interactivity back to the audience that grew up with interactive night radio shows. We’re now nationally syndicated and have welcomed seven stations to the “Throwback Nation” in less than 45 days – which has been incredibly fulfilling. We’re working the phones (which people DO call when invited to do so), and building a strong social media base to extend the brand and interact. The concept was born out of a show my business partner, Dan Holiday, used to host in Kansas City that had MONSTROUS numbers. We’ve taken that formula, updated it for 2018, and made a unique, contemporary show that Classic Hits and AC can build upon for the next generation adults 25-54.
And what does your imaging for Throwback Nation consist of?
We have a mix of simple positioning sweepers, music sweepers, and a lot of SPECIALTY sweepers. Within just the first month of signing on, we launched a special “homecoming week” feature with different songs from a specific homecoming year for an hour, and had Halloween built in to the big picture calendar, so that allowed us for some creativity to image with drops, creative copywriting, and some featured songs. We also have a jingle package that fits the sound of the music we play – and it keeps the tempo and the energy of the show UP.
Who did you work with to create your imaging?
The four people at the core of our “sound” are me, Dan Holiday, my business partner and co-conspirator in Throwback Nation Radio, Brian Sieminski, who produces the pieces, and Frank Monroe, who is our voiceover artist. A lot of the writing comes from Dan and I brainstorming on song ideas and concepts we think to make sense, and then just taking the time to see them through. Brian is a fantastic producer whom I had the opportunity to work with at KZPT in Kansas City, and he has one of the most natural abilities to hear a piece and what it should sound like before he even sits down in front of Audition. And Frank, who is a Creative Services Director himself (at Good Karma’s WTMJ in Milwaukee) has a good sense of what we’re looking for with voiceover because he produces other people’s voices every day. (It also doesn’t hurt that he’s an ‘80s music aficionado and will BEAT YOU AND YOUR TEAM in a game of bar trivia, single-handed! So, he’s not afraid to chime in with ideas that make sense.)
What is the number one goal of radio imaging?
For me, it depends on your ratings system. This may seem very basic, but if you’re in a diary market, you want to make the imaging compelling enough – and memorable enough – that people write you down. Being a syndicated show, we know we’re going to have to work a little harder on that since we’re not necessarily the brand name of the radio station. We make sure we offer enough opportunities for the station to brand itself in the show so that doesn’t get lost.
For PPM, I think the goal changes slightly; it becomes more about bridging tempo and texture, branding the sound of your station (or show, in our case), and having enough forward momentum to keep people tuned in.
How does imaging vary from a local station to national show?
GREAT question – and honestly, Rich – it’s one we’re still learning about! As I mentioned, we worked with our first slate of affiliates to make sure we were bringing in enough local imaging that they felt comfortable with how many times we branded their station per hour. I believe there is a healthy balance of two components here: (1) make your imaging creative enough that it sticks out and helps people remember what you are, and what you’re all about… and (2) make sure your imaging is aligned well enough with your affiliates so that it helps reinforce what they’re doing the rest of the day (or, if you’re a weekend show, the rest of the week). We are lucky that all our programmers and operators make local decisions to run our show and are involved in their day-to-day programming. In some cases, where that doesn’t happen, people clear shows and they’re not exactly the right fit for the brand. (We’ve all heard it before.) So, keeping an open dialogue with our programmers on a local level keeps us plugged in with the feedback they get on the show, and the feedback that they get on the station overall so we can make ourselves work for their stations the best we possibly can.
If a Brand Manager called you up and said, “we want our station to sound like Throwback Nation and we are working on imaging” – what would you tell him?
I’d say (1) call us and let’s get Throwback Nation Radio on your station (we’re adding new members to the nation EVERY DAY), (2) “let me get you Brian Sieminski’s number – because he’ll knock the production out of the park for you,” and (3) just keep writing…and writing… and writing some more! Not every joke that Jimmy Fallon’s team cranks out makes it on the Tonight Show. Our imaging is the same way. We’ve tried pieces and music concepts and produced them all up – then sat back and listened and said, “welp… that clunked!” Having the self-discipline to create ideas into copy and production, then sometimes not using them, is one of the toughest things of all. Just like the writers for Fallon, they write a lot of material before it hits the air. We should be doing the same with our imaging.
What have you learned more about listening habits from PPM? And has this changed the way you approach imaging?
Absolutely. I think the biggest piece we can learn as programmers and imagers is that – UNFORTUNATELY – the vast majority of the general public doesn’t come to our stations for the imaging. (Tear… I know…I know. It’ll be okay!) If the music and the personalities of our shows and stations are the filet mignon at the fine steakhouse, the imaging is the seasoning. When it’s perfectly applied, it elevates the main course from an A to an A PLUS. When it’s overdone, we have a tendency to want to send it back. (That’s the sound of our listeners punching elsewhere.) We need to season lightly, add our own spices to the seasoning that make us stand out just a bit, and know when enough is enough.
Do listeners care about imaging at all?
I DO think it resonates. Testimonial imaging of people talking about the songs, the personalities, or the brand is a HUGE asset to a brand (and something we’ll be adding soon now that we have listeners calling into the show). The bridge the gap to show people that “other people JUST LIKE ME listen and like this brand too.” But, just like the seasoning at a steakhouse, we have to give them the right amount – never too much that gives them a bad taste in their mouth from what we are really trying to serve up, which is the personalities and music.
What is the worst kind of imaging?
Long pieces in the middle of music sweeps with no listener benefit or payoff. If you’re running for more than 7 seconds and not getting me to a song or something that I can relate to, I’m SO gone.
Are funny imagers effective?
They can be, in small doses. I’ve always been a fan of running humorous sweepers at a very high volume for a very SHORT amount of time (i.e. for a holiday like Halloween, or just for a weekend promotion.) You have to run them enough so that people will actually HEAR the humor in them, but know that once they’ve heard it two or three times, they got the punchline and they’re over it. So, for me, that means several days at most for a funny imaging piece – but as high as once an hour so it DOES cut through. I think it’s also important to know your target and what makes them laugh at the radio – and what does not.
What kind of imaging voice and production do you think is best?
That’s a pretty broad question because I think it is so format-dependent. But, for us on Throwback Nation Radio and the stations/shows I’ve worked with, it’s important to have someone that understands the brand’s mission (the target, the music, the listeners, etc). Most of the voiceover talents I’ve worked with today are very well versed in all that, many having worked in radio themselves. I think in terms of “style” of production that is best, forward momentum is probably the most important thing in production style today. If we can use small, bite-size pieces of our brand to build our image and enhance it, we have the best chance of retaining our audience and turning them into fans.
And finally, who is the #1 NBA team in the nation?
Rich Van Slyke does VO for KUFX San Francisco, WWSK Long Island, KSEG Sacramento, KXTG Portland, KZDC San Antonio, KCFX Kansas City, Production Vault Classic Rock, WONE Akron, WXMX Memphis, WGRD Grand Rapids, KKFM Colorado Springs, WZEW Mobile, WKQZ Saginaw, WKZQ Myrtle Beach, WTMM Albany, KZOZ San Luis Obispo, KOZZ Reno, KTUX Shreveport, WXKE Fort Wayne, WIXO Peoria, WRMR Wilmington, The Minnesota Timberwolves Radio Network, and more. www.richvanslyke.com 770.962.4788 firstname.lastname@example.org