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The Backroads of Radio

Although we feature a few samples of our radio spots on the Radio page, for those of you who want to know what real fun is, you have to take a walk through the backroads of radio. About 10% of what the public hears on the radio is good, but they miss out on the 90% of fun we had in the studio, writing, producing, arguing and laughing with talent and clients. For every spot, there are tons of stories to go along with it. We thought we'd share a few here.

Early on, we did spots for the U.S. Forest Service, which most folks know as "Smokey the Bear." We did spots for white collar people. We did spots for the NASCAR crowd. But by far, the most fun was our response to "reach the kids" back in the eighties, when no less than mad rocker Ted Nugent strutted into the studio and laid the spot down in one take. Out of all the celebrities we've ever engaged, Ted was the kindest and most professional.

One local client was in the pay-to-play phone service, which essentially amounted to phone calls you had to make with one hand, if you get our drift. Most radio stations were leery of them and wouldn't allow them to buy air time. The first number was 976-CLUB, which we decided to promote by encouraging people -- notably men -- NOT to call. The line was "strictly for women to discuss their intimate issues with other women." Yeah, right. The second number was 976-SOUL. It was your basic hook-up line, but that wouldn't fly, either. So we turned it into a party line where you could find your soulmate. Just like in church.

Sure.

Not that playing the sexist card was evil. It wasn't. In fact, it was always a lot of fun and helped launch the success of Women Only, a single sex health club in an age where everyone was suing everyone else for "equal access." Speaking of health, the whole "pure water" category was always something that struck us funny, so we sold water in Arizona with dying desert cowboys and Southern California with talking body parts. Weird. Now bottled water has too heavy a carbon footprint, so people are back to drinking from the tap.

Of course, sometimes your clients are much straighter. Banks, for example. Some banks actually have a sense of humor, while others are so stiff that they don't crack jokes without their lawyers' approvals. Such was the case with the Arizona Bank, who were fun and friendly when we did their Mobil card promotion. AVCO Finance, on the other hand, was a different story. Writing spots to gouge servicemen with loans was tough enough, and the radio spots suffered from the client's heavy-handedness.

The smaller financial clients had the most to gain, so they would let us swing for the fences. One that comes to mind is the now-defunct Katersky Financial, whose name alone was tough enough to deal with. That didn't stop us or them. We put them right up there with Joseph and Pharaoh, Liberty Hall -- even the space program.

We've always had fun with retailers, because they know that if people don't show up today, they're out of business tomorrow. Years ago, stores like the Broadway, Carl's Furniture and Davis Lighting all benefited from a radio blitz during the week to drive traffic through the weekend. Real estate developers, like Heartland Village and Springland Village had the same issues. But none could hold a candle to the work we did for a client called The Factory Fashion Works.

The Factory was a clothing store that sold low-priced, disposable fashions for young men and women. What made The Factory so much fun was a combination of intense pressure and complete freedom. Every three weeks, we were charged with telling the same story we'd told three weeks ago -- and we did this for close to three years. We lampooned adventure films with The Adventures of Ten Dollar Bill. Pre-dated Al Gore by announcing Los Angeles had fallen to Ten or Below. Played beach blanket budget with Rock Bottom's Beach Party. Laid a guilt trip on an entire city with The Leftovers Sale. And out-cheesed the cheesiest lounge lizards at Gary's Sweater Club, which had to be created at the last minute when "15 Bucks to Buy a Sweater" was threatened by Paul Simon. There were more, but you get the idea.

The Factory's means of judging our success was simple: we ran radio on Thursdays and Fridays. If the line in front of the store on Saturday morning stretched past the block and across the street, we were a hit. If it only made to the corner, we were doomed.

Other clothiers sat up and took notice, and since they weren't a conflict, we introduced the world to Paul Jardin, the nutty Frenchman who popped up around the city to dress men tastefully. And for those who preferred the more casual western look, Circle TK transformed Murray from an accountant into a cowboy.

Ted Nugent is just one of the celebrities we were fortunate enough to work with. Others were early in their careers. Just try to get Harry Shearer to do a radio spot for scale today. But our favorite celebrity story concerns a legendary disc jockey named "The Real Don Steele."

Don Steele was the king of Boss Radio in Los Angeles during the sixties. Every fast-talking disc jockey in the world emulated his rhyming, timing and spitfire monologs on AM radio. Over time, however, the fast-talking tinny sound of AM gave way to the full sensuality of FM radio, and Don Steele was out of work. For a very long time .Years later, the folks at Sea World were promoting a sixties themed summer show. We immediately thought of The Real Don Steele and wrote the spot so that only he could perform it. Don ran down the spot in three takes. On the third take, the bass-booming baritone of announcer Ernie Anderson -- himself the most successful voiceover of his time -- barked out, "Hey, who is that guy? He's good" and bolted straight into the booth to meet Don and introduce him to his talent agent.

Within a month, Don was working the best shift at the top FM oldies station in Los Angeles. We like to think we helped make that possible.

Sea World was a strange experience, for sure. About as vanilla as you could get and determined to slug the humor out of every scenario we put in front of them. While predictable scenarios could lure families in to look at fish, we still think this last spot (that never aired) would have packed them in -- like sardines.

© 1986 through today, Rob Frankel/Frankel & Anderson