Well, about three years ago, after some 13 years of radio engineering and production, he got his lewd wish. As the name suggests, Lerner, 38, specializes in comedy spots, and since he made his naked launch in '91 he's produced and even written more than a few, for HHCC/Boston, Pagano, Schenck & Kay, Fallon McElligott and others-though wacky as the name may be, his comedy is far more thoughtful-Woody Allen than, say, moronic-Howie Mandel. Consider the Charlesbank Bookshop script seen here (written by Lerner and produced directly for the client), which, read with an earnest deliberateness, sounds a bit like a passage from Dostoyevsky.
Announcer: It was Saturday. She sat in the Charlesbank Bookshop over in Kenmore Square, reading and drinking coffee. There was movement all around her, people browsing books, people gathered around tables in conversation. Indeed, amid the activity, it was her lack of motion that drew the gaze of a young man seated likewise across the room. She looks contented, the young man thought, and immediately he began guessing at why this was so. Was she in a warm, secure relationship? Had she found true love, that nirvana that had always eluded him? He ruminated on these things. Perhaps, he hoped, she had found fulfillment by herself for now; was living life on her own terms. Ready to meet someone like him. And then he felt foolish for speculating in such a way, as he realized that the smile on her face was so clearly the smile of a woman with two hours validated free parking.
On the company's zanier side, there's an ingenious spot from the pen of HHCC's Mark Nardi that celebrates the pig races at Massachusetts' Brockton Fair: as an announcer runs through all the fun things to do at the fair, we hear a bunch of people making oinking sounds in the background, with gradually increasing brio. By the time the announcer reaches the culminating event, the pig race, the human oink chorus has become a full-throttle assault of porcine engine revs, mimicking the sounds of a car race.
While Lerner is but one of many guys doing regional comedy radio, he may be the only one with no agency or writing background of any sort. The Pittsburgh native took an engineering job in Columbus, Ohio, shortly after getting a radio/TV degree from Ohio University, and two years later he moved to Boston for more of the same. He opened a freelance audio engineering and production company in 1986, developed working relationships with several local agencies, and a process of what Lerner calls "a perfect evolution" was by then well underway: he engineered, he produced, he casted, then he wrote. "Call it osmosis," he says."I was working on radio commercials since '77, after all; I was involved in so many different types of commercials, people started asking me to help them out more and more." As far as the writing goes, "it started as simply copy editing-changing a word here and there-making the best of what they had. And it grew from there." It's grown to the point where Lerner may be moving his company out of his suburban Brookline house and into Boston's Back Bay section, where he expects to hire an assistant.
Lerner, who hires freelance help and books studio time on a project basis, doesn't do much engineering anymore, preferring to concentrate on creative, production and casting, nor does he do many voices, but he's writing about 40 percent of his projects, he estimates. Not bad for an engineer: "Being an engineer is a lot more creative than people think," he says. "I felt I always had a good instinct as to what's funny, what works and what doesn't."
"I'm sure a lot of people think you can't make a jump like that," says HHCC's Nardi of Lerner's creative leap, "but a lot of good radio depends on the execution; knowing what kinds of things you can bring to the spot. It's a definite advantage to not be at the mercy of the guy at the board."
Other Radio in the Nude-written spots include a funny series for Bugaboo Creek Steak House, formerly at Pagano (where one spot was a Mercury Awards finalist), now handled direct; Samuel Adams beer, through Boston's Gearon Hoffman Conlon & Nye; and the local People's Bank, also direct. Agency-written kneeslappers are led by HHCC work for the Mass Lottery, PS&K for Stratton Mountain and Blue Cross/Rhode Island and Fallon's Minneapolis Star Tribune account.
Many Nude spots are notable also for their unclad execution; Lerner's work boasts a number of effective monologues with little or no sound effects. "It's not a conscious effort to do underproduced spots," he says, but "a compelling story can break through radio's dialogue clutter. Anyway, people like Berdis and Orkin have done a great job with the smart guy/dumb guy brand of humor; there are other ways to be funny."
Indeed, but comic minimalism from an ex-engineer? "It just reached a point where I wanted to do good advertising, not just good-sounding advertising," he explains.