TALKIN' RADIO;AGENCY CREATIVES DISCUSS AURAL SPECS

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IT'S BECOME A TRUISM BORDERING ON A CLICHE that radio is the idiot bastard son of creative. When not farmed out to specialty shops, it's often handed off to juniors as an afterthought; juniors who may yank it rudely out of the TV work, extrude it painfully from the print, or just plain create something new and awful. Then there are agency creatives who've made radio a key part of their portfolios, whose comedy sometimes can cut through the boombox blah like Lenny Bruce at a Shriner's convention.

Mike Renfro

The Richards Group

"There's never been a trickle-down effect with radio here," says creative group head/writer Mike Renfro, who's won more radio awards than you could shake a whip antenna at. This comes as no surprise, since Dallas' The Richards Group is the home of Motel 6, Tom Bodett and the most familiar violin melody since "Fiddler on the Roof."

"We've got a small group of people here who enjoy doing radio, and we get a lot of assignments," says Renfro. "Actually, I enjoy doing it more than I do TV because you don't get a thousand people involved. Nor is it likely that we'll get the opportunity to do the same high level of comedy on TV that we can do on radio."

Renfro, 34, a native of Fort Worth, is so into radio, in fact, he appears on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" to read his own essays and short stories. He joined Richards in 1984 P.M. (that's pre-Motel 6), jumped to Chiat/Day in Los Angeles in '88 and was back at Richards a year later. It wasn't solely the radio that lured him back, but it sure didn't hurt. "I was here before Motel 6 started," he says, "and we had a pretty good radio product back then, though it was mainly for local clients." Then came the folksy deluge with free local calls. "Most of the people who stay at Motel 6 make the decision while looking through their windshield, so radio couldn't be more perfect," says Renfro. And who'd want to show that clean, comfortable room, where even the proverbial mice are hunchbacked, on TV anyway?

It turns out radio couldn't be better for American Spirit auto insurance, either. A very funny Renfro campaign, in which the kind of morons who drive rolling wrecks with the bumpers tied on with bungee cord and their back seats filled with beer cans talk to us about auto insurance, started as a radio campaign for budgetary reasons, was later adapted to print and this year was adapted cheaply to TV.

Renfro, who writes alone, has tried collaborating, and it hasn't worked out that well. "The best way for me to get going is not to sit around tossing thoughts back and forth, it's to just sit down and start writing," he explains. "You may generate a bunch of garbage, but sooner or later you're going to start hitting on something."

He's done some minor voice parts in his spots, and he's also done some voice work for other agencies, but you won't hear Renfro's ringing laughter too often in a drive around town. "It's not a hot comedy market down here," he says glumly. "There's a hell of a lot of really sorry stuff."

Client: G. Heileman Brewing

Title: Real Man :60 (excerpt)

VO: What kind of man drinks Weinhard's Blue Boar ale? I'll tell you what kind of man. He's a real man. A manly, sinewy kind of fella who finds it necessary to shave several times a day. And does so gladly. A robust, virile chunk of masculinity who would never take a cross-stitch class or ride a moped with another guy. No, this is a man with friends who have names like Red and Chuck. A stout, barrel-chested giant of a galoot who's comfortable enough with his self-image to try something new once in a while. Something different like Weinhard's ale. Our man knows it's a lighter, more drinkable ale. And besides, he likes the tough-sounding name, too. And the fact that Weinhard's ale is made from only the finest ingredients like barley, which, coincidentally, sounds a lot like burly. Yes sir, this man even likes the taste of the bottle cap as he bites it off and spits it at some wormy guy with a sweater tied around his neck.

Client: AlphaGraphics

Title: Loose Toupee :60

MAN (Dramatically over SFX): Elaine couldn't ever recall seeing her boss this angry. Actually, she couldn't recall ever seeing anyone this angry. His face was red and splotchy from rage, like color photos of Mars. As he yelled his glasses bounced like a motocross bike off the bridge of his nose, his mouth flapping wildly open and shut like those wind-up laughing teeth toys. Only he wasn't laughing. His brochures weren't printed right, and more and more it looked as if the bulging vein on his forehead would soon be large enough to apply for statehood. "You should've called AlphaGraphics," he shrieked. "They do brochures. They've got people who know what they're doing. They're business people like us. They do things right." As he kicked over the ficus tree, Elaine vowed to do just that. On the other hand, she opted not to tell him his toupee had come loose and was hanging limply over his left ear.

Sam Pond

Goodby Silverstein & Partners

San Francisco native Sam Pond, who's been at Goodby about a year, is in the unusual position of having had his career made, more or less, by a radio campaign. While creative director at a small San Francisco agency called Hoffman Lewis, Pond's tales of a classic Mediterranean idiot by the name of Paulo, for Prego, Italian restaurants found in San Francisco and San Diego, won Gold at the One Show (where it was also voted Best of Show), the San Francisco Show, the Clios and was a Mercury Awards finalist.

"Well, it sure didn't hurt my fortune," he says. "Prego is what basically got me to Goodby. They heard the campaign, and that was it, that's what got the introductions going. At the time they were looking for a creative director for the Sega account, and that's where I ended up."

Ironically, Sega does no radio, but Pond has produced a second round of Prego spots-which recently won Silver at the San Francisco Show, finishing behind another Goodby radio campaign, by Eric Moe, for Chevy's Mexican restaurants-as well as a very funny variously Euro-accented campaign for Kirkwood, a small Northern California ski resort.

So what's with all the foreign accents? "It's a recent thing," says Pond, "I'd never done accents before. I like to think it's conceptually significant and not just a cheap gag. People ask me, 'Sam, what do you have against Europeans?' I'm crapping on them all over the place. I hope I can move on from that."

Maybe it's his background in Shakespeare. Pond, who's 38, has been in the agency biz only seven years. He spent the previous seven acting in regional repertory theater, mostly the Bard, and he put in a couple of years in New York doing off-Broadway and summer stock. He did a lot of voiceover work in his acting days, he says, and he was always a writer, "so I figured advertising was a good place to put it all together." He doesn't do VOs now, though-his voices all belong to local actors. "I generally like to cast out."

Goodby, however, doesn't. Radio is not delegated mostly to juniors there, Pond says. "This is a pretty horizontal place. You're responsible for doing your thing, and if that thing includes radio, well, you do the radio. It doesn't really get passed off, but radio is, for some reason, very scary to people. Probably because it seems so solitary."

Pond, who indeed writes alone, first handled the Prego business at Hal Riney & Partners, then took it on to Hoffman, then on to Goodby. "I've done radio all over the place, I was always snapping up the radio that everyone else was trying to stay away from," he says. "I'm sort of regarded as a radio specialist now, but it's nothing too official. People will run radio ideas by me, and I'll tell them what I think, but we all have our responsibilities. If it's not my client, the radio sort of passes me by. But that's OK."

Beyond his own success, Pond is upbeat about the state of the radio art. "I think radio has been getting funnier recently," he says. "Comedy in general on radio and TV is getting a little funnier. People are stepping away from formulas like the interviewer and the wacky guest or the old dialogue bit and actually getting into clever, conceptual stuff like Chevy's or the Nynex Business to Business Yellow Pages from Goldsmith/Jeffrey. It's just smart thinking."

Any chance that Pond would want to parlay his winnings into a full-time operation? "Do I really want to become a radio production company?" he wonders. "I don't know. I'm approached a lot by prospective clients, and I really love the medium, but I'm not so sure about being 100 percent devoted to radio. All the years of theater and comedy probably give me an advantage over people who spend all their lives at a keyboard. I know how things are supposed to sound. But writing radio all the time? It's too hard."

Client: Kirkwood ski resort

Title: Constanza :60

CONSTANZA: Ah, si, buonjourno. I must tell you, I love to ski. Actually, I love to ride the gondola to the tops of big ski mountains with a fake cast on my leg and pout so that the men will stop and touch my cast and make the joke. I laugh beeg and blow smoke out of my nose while I throw my head back. Ha-ha! Then I peench their cheeks because they are my naughty leetle ski boys. Then I slap them. Because they are so naughty. And the men they lose themselves in my low-cut ski outfit and they gaze at my pushed-up-with-wires bosom. And I laugh more because I am chewing up and spitting out life in big, hot steaming chunks! Ha-ha!

VO: Not everybody's going to feel comfortable at Kirkwood. Nestled in a beautiful alpine valley off Highway 88, Kirkwood is the place with a great mountain, deep snow and real skiers like yourself.

CONSTANZA: Ha, ha, ha! Sign my cast, you leetle boys! Ha, ha, ha .... !

SFX: COUGH WHEEZE HACK

VO: Uh, Kirkwood. Worth finding.

Client: Prego

Title: Morse Code of Love :60 (excerpt)

PAULO: It is I, Paulo. At the fabulous Prego restaurant, I am Italian once again. I say grazie to the hostess. I say per favore. I say ciao. I say it again. I say ciao so many times, the manager asks me to stop. It is annoying the other customers. But I am home again with the smell of the Italian herbs and the heat of the brick ovens and the women. A brunette looks at her watch. She is wondering what is keeping me from her, perhaps? I am patient. I let her simmer, like my parmigiana di melanzane. Warm and wholesome inside, certain to bubble over if forgotten. I wink at her. Ah, no response. I wink again. She does not notice. I wink with my left eye and then my right eye. Then I double blink with both eyes and then alternate left to right .*.*. it is a wild Morse code of love! The manager approaches, he asks me if I require an ambulance. His concern is touching. Oh, Paulo!

Andrew Anthony

McCann-Erickson/Toronto

Andrew Anthony has been a copywriter at McCann for four years, and he's written funny dialogue campaigns for Sprite-a talk radio parody-and I Can't Believe it's Not Butter-a gumshoe parody-among others, but what's most remarkable about him is his voluble, not to mention valuable, TV/radio voice career. Anthony, 30, is a natural for the sounds of twentynothing cynicism or slacker sincerity-two variations on the same theme, actually. "As a general rule, I do youth-oriented, attitudinal stuff, more like Mark Fenske than Hal Riney," says Anthony. "Call it high sarcasm. I do all the ads up here for Coke and Sega, that kind of thing."

After only six months at McCann, "the VO thing started with a national Canadian campaign for Nissan," he recalls. "Marty Cooke at Chiat/Day in New York said to me, 'Hey, I like your voice. Want to do the Nissan campaign?' I said, 'What the hell are you talking about?' He said, 'We'll lay down a demo, see if the Japanese like it.' We did it, and they did. Then I had every agent in the country calling me for a piece of the action."

He's represented by Toronto's Edna Talent Management, and it's safe to assume he's said, "Edna, I'm glad I met ya." While he doesn't generally do VOs for McCann, he says, the client demanded his voice on the I Can't Believe it's Not Butter spots, even after auditioning others. A Toronto native, he's also done voice work for U.S. campaigns for Toyota, Geico, Fleet Bank and others, but no matter how big this sideline snowballs, he intends to keep his slot at McCann.

"Some people give up the sweat and toil of their day job for the fast bucks, but not me," he says in heartfelt announcerish tones with just a touch of Gen-X spunk. "I'm one of the few that do both, and I'm going to continue as long as they let me. I have a pretty good deal with my agency. I turn down a lot of work because it would have to be done at inappropriate times. I try to do my VO work either early mornings, on lunch hours or on weekends. And I won't work for any client that presents any kind of conflict, of course. I'm not about to do a Pepsi job. I have to police myself. Anyway, my first objective is copywriting. The other thing is just gravy."

Anthony does not cast a dim eye on the Canadian radio picture. "It's stronger here than it is down there," he says. "We have more-limited budgets and we have to work harder to get the reach and frequency and all that, and radio up here targets the demographics so well. While it's true it may be handed to juniors some of the time-they're not going to be handed the TV, after all-it's not an afterthought in Canada the same way it can be in the States. It's a viable part of the mix." Anthony takes a rough guess that 20 percent of McCann's total creative output is devoted to radio, and almost all of it is written in-house. "There is a lot of funny Canadian radio," he continues, "and, again, it's a function of having to work a little harder. I know that a lot of standup and sketch comedians come out of Canada, and I feel we're just leaning toward comedy as a group of people. True, it's hard to slip controversial stuff through-the industry polices itself pretty closely-but still, if you live in Canada you've got to have a sense of humor. We pay 52 percent in taxes and it snows all the time. People want to laugh. You cannot afford to bore people up here."

Client: Sprite

Title: Watermato :60 (excerpt)

JERRY: Hi, Jerry Weintraub here. You're on the air with Talk Back. Your name is?

JOE: Joe Mango.

JERRY: Oooh, that's a pretty unusual name you got there, Joe. What do you do for a living?

JOE: I'm a mango, Jerry.

JERRY: Yeah. I gotta tell you we don't get many food groups calling in on Talk Back. What's your beef, Joe?

JOE: Well, it's the whole Sprite thing, Jerry. I represent a group of fruit flavors who are angry they weren't chosen for the great taste of Sprite.

JERRY: You mean instead of Lymon?

JOE: That's right, Jerry. Why Lymon and not the great taste of watermelon and tomato?

JERRY: That would give us Sprite with .... TOGETHER: ........ the great taste of Watermato.

JERRY: Just doesn't have the same ring, does it, Joe?

JOE: No, it needs a little work.

JERRY: OK, next caller. Your name is?

ALAN: Alan Plum?

JERRY: Yeah!

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