The advent of the Mercury Awards seven years ago helped give lowly radio an ego, for one night a year anyway, and there remains a small cast of fanatics out there who are devoted to making great radio -- which is to say, funny radio.
Here's a brief look at three places whose work is worth tuning in.
McHale Barone New York
When Chris McHale and Joe Barone worked for DDB Needham/New York as an assistant radio producer and radio engineer, respectively, they would get a script and produce a spot for the agency. Then they'd stay up all night rewriting the script to produce a spot for themselves -- a spot more crazed than the client had ever dreamed of, or bargained for. DDB CEO Keith Reinhard saw a method to this madness and made McHale and Barone into a radio creative team, something rare in the industry. Eventually the two took their talents on the road. Since its inception four years ago, McHale Barone has been producing radio spots that range from straight-up comedy to heavy metal. With McHale's background in music composition and Barone's ability to do hundreds of voices, the duo combine music and comedy in such a way that you may find yourself humming along while you laugh.
"We're radio directors, and we take our creative position from sound and then kind of back our way into the lines," says McHale. "But radio is naked," he cautions. "It has to be really honest, because there's nothing to look at to distract you, like with TV." Comedy is even more demanding. "It's one of the most effective ways of radio advertising, but it's also dangerous," according to McHale. "There's nothing worse than a funny ad that's not funny."
Fox Broadcasting On-Air Promotion
"My Building" Radio :60
GUY: This guy who lives in my building, he's like goin' out with my other neighbor. I don't get into their deal 'cause I'm waiting for the season premiere of Melrose Place on FOX. It hasn't been on in a while, but I was just kinda staring at the screen, even though the TV's off. You ever do that? Like, for a week? I could be on the premiere of Melrose 'cause I play soccer on occasion like Andrew Shue and also a lady across the hall has Taylor's mouth and she's pregnant. You know we don't have a pool in the middle of the building, but we do have a lot of free standing water out by the trash, and like in the Dominican Republic where Amanda is getting a divorce from Kyle so she can be with her new boy-toy, that's a coincidence, 'cause I had dolls as a kid, like a Ken doll, that's a boy-toy. Isn't it? I think they modeled the season premiere of Melrose after my life and I think I should get a writer credit.
ANNCR: Watch the season premier of Melrose Place followed by Ally McBeal on FOX TV. There's just one FOX.
Cliff Freeman & Partners New York
In a recent Freeman radio spot for Hollywood Video, writers Ian Reichenthal and Adam Chasnow make a comically absurd attempt to squeeze a feature-length movie into a :60. After about 50 seconds of condensed plot, the announcer suggests renting the video instead. "For a video chain, what else can you do except say, 'Come in, we've got the movie,' so we went one step beyond," says Freeman executive creative director Arthur Bijur, who also worked on the spots.
Produced at New York's Kamen Entertainment Group, a regular Freeman radio collaborator, the Hollywood Video radio campaign uses this unlikely medium to effectively promote video -- one of several examples of the clever radio work created at Freeman in recent years. Despite his lofty title, Bijur is the man behind a lot of that work. "I love radio and I enjoy passing it on to the next generation," he says. Weaned on radio at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in the Golden Age, Bijur respects the medium's stopping power. Unfortunately, in the glitzy age of MTV -- "Video Killed the Radio Star," indeed -- "radio is a craft that is not being taught terribly well these days," he adds. At Freeman, Bijur makes it a point to teach all his young creatives the tricks of the radio trade, and it shows. In the past three years, Freeman has won more than two dozen radio awards, ranging from Clios to Mercuries.
Clients include Little Caesars, Ameritech, Staples, Cherry Coke and most recently Hollywood Video, which is sure make a strong showing at next year's trophy fests.
Cliff Freeman & Partners
"Good Will Hunting" Radio :60
PROFESSOR LAMBEAU: Stellan Skarsgard
WILL HUNTING: Matt Damon
DR. SEAN McGUIRE: Robin Williams
SKYLAR: Minnie Driver
CHUCKIE: Ben Affleck
(ALL DIALOGUE AND SFX EXTREMELY FAST THROUGHOUT)
ANNCR: Hollywood Video presents . . . "Sixty Second Theater." Where we try, (unsuccessfully) to pack all the action and drama of a two-hour Hollywood production into 60 seconds. Today's presentation . . . "Good Will Hunting."
SFX: CHALK ON CHALKBOARD.
PROF: (SWEDISH ACCENT) Class, it took me and my colleagues two years to solve this math problem.
STUDENT: It only took the janitor ten minutes.
PROF: Where is this genius-janitor?
STUDENT: In jail.
STUDENT: He's an extremely violent genius-janitor.
SFX: JAIL DOORS OPENING.
PROF: I'll get you out of jail, genius-janitor, if you teach me math and see a shrink.
WILL: (THICK BOSTON ACCENT) No, thanks.
SFX: JAIL DOORS CLOSING.
CELLMATE: (DEEP VOICE) Hi cutie, I'm your cellmate.
WILL: (YELLS) Whoaaa! Math and shrink sounds good!
SFX: DOOR OPENING.
McGUIRE: Will, I'm Dr. McGuire.
WILL: You're a shrink? You're crazier than I am!
McGUIRE: (SCREAMING) Don't you ever call me crazy! You got that, chief?!
(CALMLY) I'll see you next Thursday at 4:30?
SFX: DOOR CLOSES.
SFX: CAR HORN.
CHUCKIE: (THICK BOSTON ACCENT -- YELLING) Hey Will, let's go to a Haavaahdd baahh and beat up some smaaahht kids.
WILL: Or I could humiliate them with my vast knowledge of pre-revolutionary economic modalities.
CHUCKIE: Nah, let's just beat 'em up.
SFX: CAR TIRES SCREECHING TO STOP.
WILL: Hey smaaahht kid, I'm smaahtaahh than you are.
PREPPY: You don't sound smart.
WILL: No one from Boston does.
SKYLAR: (FEMALE BRITISH ACCENT) Hi, I'm Skylar.
WILL: Hi, Skylaaaah.
SKYLAR: (BRITISH ACCENT) No, Sky-LER. Wanna go back to my dorm room?
SFX: KEY INTO DOOR. DOOR OPENS.
SFX: BARRY WHITE-STYLE MUSIC.
SKYLAR: (BRITISH ACCENT) I'm not going to shag you until I meet your friends.
SFX: NEEDLE-SCRATCH. BARRY WHITE-STYLE MUSIC STOPS.
WILL: Chuckie, Billy, Maahgan this is Skylaahh. Skylaahh: Chuckie, Billy, Maahgan.
SFX: BARRY WHITE-STYLE MUSIC.
SKYLAR: I love you, Will.
WILL: I love you, Skylaaahh.
SKYLAR: It's Sky-LER! SKYLER!
ANNCR: If this doesn't satisfy your urge to see "Good Will Hunting" (and we can't say we blame you), then rent it today at Hollywood Video. Where "Good Will Hunting" is guaranteed to be in stock, or next time it's free.
Welcome to Hollywood. Hollywood Video.
LEGAL: Celebrity voices impersonated.
Bert Berdis & Company Hollywood
Once there was Dick & Bert, then there was Bert & Barz. Now there's just Bert and a team of funny young whippersnappers, and you don't get a cassette of sample spots, you get a CD that even includes raunchy celebrity outtakes. Otherwise, nothing has changed. After 25 years in radio, 59-year-old Bert Berdis is still spinning out bad puns and funny commercials. Berdis & Co. produces about 1,000 ads a year, all geared to the principal's finely-focused philosophy: "If you couldn't pee, your doctor would send you to a specialist, like a urologist . . . so, if you really want funny radio, you need a specialist, and Bert and his people are the urologists of really funny radio comedy!"
In other words, it pays not to be stingy. "Bad radio usually happens when someone is ill-advising the client," Berdis explains. "A radio station will call someone up and they say they'll get their morning DJ to put together a spot for $200, and it's terrible -- well, you get what you pay for. If the cheapies could just see that the money for radio is so small, and that for a few extra bucks they could have a really powerful spot, then there would be a lot more good radio ads out there." In true big-spender style, Bert & Co. plays up its Home of the Stars ambiance with a CD package titled, "Radio Confidential: Low-lifes and High-jinks in the Heart of Hollywood," but this kind of comedy plays just as well in Peoria. Just ask a urologist.
Bert Berdis & Company, Amoco/Ultimate
Leo Burnett, Radio :60
SFX: DING DONG, DOOR OPENS
DUDE: Hi, I'm Steve -- I'm here to pick up your daughter.
DAD: That your car, Steve?
DUDE: Uh, huh.
DAD: Nice color. What do you call that, muddy filth?
DUDE: Yeah, it's a little dirty . . .
DAD: You shower, Steve?
DUDE: Hey, man, I'm clean.
DAD: That's right, Steve, you're clean, I'm clean. And you know why we're clean? I'll tell you, Steve. We're clean because we care. You care about that car, Steve?
DUDE: Well, sure . . . I . . .
DAD: 'Cause right now it's just a nasty, friendless little pig with no self-esteem . . .
DUDE: . . . Wow . . .
DAD: I'm curious, Steve, what do you feed that little pig?
DAD: What kinda gas do you use?
DUDE: I don't know -- unleaded -DAD: Oh, that's good, Steve. "I don't know" unleaded. Where you get that -- down at the "I don't know" station?
DUDE: I . . .
DAD: You ever hear of Amoco Ultimate, Steve? I know that car needs premium gas. And a bath. They got a car wash at the Amoco station down the street, Steve. By the time you get back, Cindy'll be almost ready.
DUDE: Right. Well, OK, thanks, sir.
DAD: Just here to help, Steve. (SCREECH) And Steve, fill her up good, I know that 'ol run-out-of-gas trick.
ANNOUNCER: Crystal Clear Amoco Ultimate. For cars that can benefit from premium