Thursday, September 30, 2010

On writing DJ critiques and format memoes ...

 (Almost forgot about this...)

It's probably a lost art.  Over the years I wrote a lot of format memoes and talent critiques, and saved none of them. Never thought that those words were meant to last until the next memo superceded them.  Ron Jacobs, who was the driving force at KHJ saved his and made a book out of 'em.  Reading his history of the Los Angeles station brought to mind that those of us who worked in Top 40 from, say, the mid-1960's through the end of the 1970's all learned our memo skills and language use in the same "begats," and all of us could trace our style back to Jacobs and, presumably, his programming consultant, Bill Drake.
In the beginning, Drake would pronounce to the RKO PD's and they would move the message on to their airstaffs via the typed and Xeroxed Word, by Postal Mail.  My lessons came through the Bill Drake-to-Paul-Drew-to Jerry Del Colliano pipeline.  All three were perfectionists and all three wrote memoes that were decisive in intent and clear in the manner of their expected execution.  My skills in memo writing were further developed by my exposure to Paul Drew in a seminar.
Needless to say, my programming memoes were very detailed and exactly on point for any given element-to-element execution.  Truth be told, maybe just a little too much on point.
Over the years, DJ's would come to me, their critiques in hand, shaking the three or four pages at me and asking, "What the hell is this?" This was not an uncommon occurrence.  They just wanted to hear "Don't say booger anymore," and I gave them 400 words on how to say the word, when to say it and what kind of inflection to use when they said it.  You could never accuse me of being unclear about what I wanted them to do.
I remember writing a full-page explanation on how to use a legal station ID jingle into a cold-start song in 1974, years before I learned that KHJ Production Wizard Bill Mouzis had actually created a word to describe the immeasureable timing segments that occurred between programming elements, a timing element you just had to feel. 
Another memo explained in great detail when to start any of the various kinds of transitions from one song to another.  If it was from a song to a jingle to another song, 400 words.  If it was from one song fading to another, I'd explain how to make the segue and when to begin a voiceover.  Another 400 words.  A cold end or cold fade song ending to, well, whatever, another 400 words. 

I burned up a bunch of copiers and ran through reams of paper, as you can well imagine.
But if you followed the rules, the station sounded great.  Oh, yeah...then there were the various permutations of music rotation...another story, another time.

Got some great programming memoes to share?  Include them below!

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