Thinking about “creativity”

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Today’s blog comes from a daily writing prompt asking “What does a typical brainstorming session for you entail? How do you get creative?” As I thought about this, it is a bit disappointing. I feel as though my creativity is lacking more than I care to admit.

When I was doing radio full time, I prepped a show every day. I was always on top of the news, I watched (or at least read about) the “hot” TV shows that people were talking about, I was tuned into local happenings, and was always writing. I carried a notebook with me to jot down observations, and things to talk about on the air. I also wrote down ideas for future shows, jokes, or bits. Today, my life basically consists of waking up, driving to work, working, driving home, sleeping – then repeat. When you don’t observe or create on a daily basis…it becomes difficult to do.

As I prepared to write this, I found some great quotes on creativity….

Creativity Quotes:

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Earl Nightingale says, “Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.”

Edward de Bono says, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”

Ken Robinson says, “Creativity is putting your imagination to work, and it’s produced the most extraordinary results in human culture.”

And, Julia Cameron says, “Creativity is always a leap of faith. You’re faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage.”

CREATIVE LADY

Why is being creative and creativity important?

On the website for the Topeka, Kansas public library, Betsy Roe says, “It is because it makes life infinitely interesting and fulfilling. Creativity is a way of living life that embraces originality and makes unique connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Creativity is about living life as a journey into seeing and communicating the extra-ordinariness of the simplest, most every day acts.”

She continues, “We often think about creativity as making something, but in fact the root meaning of the word means ‘to grow’. When we are creative we feel as if the world and all that is in it is vibrantly alive. Creativity’s by-products are some of the major achievements of civilization–from the invention of the wheel to Mozart’s sonatas. Human beings are essentially born creative–from infancy on we find innovative ways to negotiate life. The most creative people find ways around obstacles because they see them not just as roadblocks but also as opportunities. Creativity expands our perceptions and along with expanded perceptions come new ways of problem solving.”

Pretty powerful stuff, huh? The quotes and paragraphs above have prompted and encouraged me to once again be creative! They also have caused me to look back at a time when I was a bit more creative, and to people who I admire for their creativity.

Creative influences

With 30+ years in radio, I have worked with some very creative people. Each was creative in their own way. Many of them were morning show personalities and had quick wit. Two morning guys come to mind immediately…

Two Jims – Bosh and Biggins.

I worked with Bosh in Detroit and in Saginaw. I would compare him to Robin Williams. He was always “on”. Give him a random topic and he could do a 10 minute bit on it and be hilarious. He is also a voice actor and can do many voices, bouncing from voice to voice, which he would obviously incorporate into his show. When given free reign to ad-lib, he always made me laugh and left me wondering “how the hell does he do that?!”

I worked with Biggins in Flint and Saginaw. He is one of the fastest wits, I have ever met. There is never a shortage of punch lines, some of which you could never tell on the air! The way he can come up with a pun or an association to create a punch line with little or no prep just amazes me. Sometimes I can read a story and try to come up with a punch line and just struggle, not Jim. He’s often got two or three. I’ve always wished I could be as quick witted as he is.

Mr. Molson

I have mentioned Johnny Molson in past blogs, and he certainly needs a spot here in a blog about creativity. When we worked together at WKSG, Kiss-FM in Detroit, he did the evening show. He also wrote and produced copy for our voice guy (the great Stu Bowers). We really had a lot of fun on that station, and that fun was also conveyed in the sweepers that played between records.

I always looked forward to when new pieces of imaging showed up in the studio. Stu had a wonderful delivery to the lines that Johnny wrote. He could be very serious or very playful. Two pieces of imaging that I remember are examples of both.

His serious delivery was perfect for a sweeper that talked about how every station in Detroit, except ours, emitted harmful waves that were dangerous to wild life. It talked about how important it was to listen to us and not those other stations. In that serious voice, he says, “The choice is yours. You can listen to WKSG Kiss-FM and know you are doing your part for the environment or you can listen to those other stations and watch innocent penguins in the Antarctic barbecue!”

His playful read was perfect for another sweeper I remember. His read was perfect. It started serious – “WKSG, Kiss-FM. Listening to us is better than sex!” Then, he loosens up and says, “Well, maybe not … but it did give me a chance to say ‘sex’ on the radio. Whoops I said it again! I’ll say it again, sex, sex, sex….” he giggles and laughs as the thing faded out. It was funny and probably a bit controversial for 1989, but it got people talking and listening – and that is what you wanted.

Those things that Johnny created were just brilliant. His evening show was like a morning show – it had bits, sound effects, regulars, and a lot of laughter. LONG before Whose Line Is It Anyway came to TV, Johnny and some other guys used to perform at coffee shops and on stage doing improve comedy. I had the pleasure of watching this group many times and it was hilarious! No matter what suggestion was made by the audience, he and the group were able to ad-lib and create the scenes. I still think back to those shows and remember realizing just how talented he was – and still is. He still occasionally gets together with the group and performs. No surprise that he is the creative services guy at his current station. He is consistently writing and producing award winning commercials for clients. He has also written a book and speaks about advertising.

They say the right side of the brain is what controls the creative and artistic aspects of a person. I always loved that he named his business Right Brain Visions.

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Jeff “from Burton”

Jeff Michaels isn’t in radio anymore, and that’s a shame. He’s a very funny guy. He and his buddy Tim (who I will talk about more in a minute) both started in radio at about the same time. He was just an intern when I met him. He started working at a small AM station and eventually teamed up with Tim to have the top rated shows in markets in Arkansas and Ohio.

I remember he would occasionally call my show as some character and ad-lib some ridiculous story or joke. Eventually, that character became “Jeff from Burton.” I asked him to cut a bunch of lines for me that I could play over song intros. I think I wrote some, but many of them he ad-libbed. One I remember went something like “Hi, I’m Jeff in Burton. You’re listening to Keith Allen on B-95. He eats crayons (breaks into huge laughter and abruptly stops) … wait, that’s me.”

His warped sense of humor stemmed from some great creativity!

Tim Timmerman

While all of the people I have mentioned are all very creative, this guy is one of the most creative – Tim Timmerman. As I stated, he worked with Jeff Michaels and they dominated the markets they were in when they were doing their morning show. They understood how to drive listeners to their website with video content, and how to connect with their audience. Separately, they are both very talented. Together, they were dynamite!

Before they worked together, Tim had a show in Port Huron. Once a month, he’d drive over to Flint and after my show, we’d go into the production room and brainstorm. If I had to pick a time when I was most creative – this would be it. We’d look ahead at what was going on and jot down possible ideas. Some ideas came from bouncing thoughts about topics off each other. Some ideas took longer to emerge than others.

I think that first get together, we wanted to create some phoney commercials for each other. I voiced his stuff and he voiced mine. One of the first ideas was a fan club. What if we both had fan club? We wrote and created a very convincing spot inviting people to become a member of the Keith or Tim Fan Club. “You’ll get a membership card made out of high quality construction paper that gets you free water at area restaurants and an autographed Post-It note.” I used to play it once a show. I remember a gal came up and wanted her membership card! So I went out and made one for her!

Before Christmas, we were talking about whatever the “hot” toy was that year (probably a Playstation or something like that). We made a fake commercial for “Keith Allen” and “Tim Timmerman” Action Figures! “Get your kids what they REALLY want this Christmas! Collect all 42!” Shameless self promotion and funny stuff.

Also before Christmas, I thought it would be funny to say I shopped at a non-existent store every year. I said that our engineer ran a patch into their PA system for me, so I could listen any time I wanted – so I wouldn’t “miss any deals”. I found this extremely cheesy version of Jingle Bell Rock (played on strings – you know, your typical bad music that plays in department stores), and used that as the background music. I put on a voice that made me sound drunk and I would talk about what was going on in various departments of the store. I had a punch line for each bit and as the PA announcer, I was about as incompetent as I could make him. Every time I “checked in” after every punch line, I would usually say something like “Thousands of people are out of work – and this guy still has a gig!” or something like that. That bit stemmed from a creative brainstorm session with Tim.

At election time, as you know, there are countless ads for politicians. So Tim and I created spots promoting us. “Keith Allen for DJ”. You know how at the end of the ads it will say something about being “paid for by Joe Crawley for Congress” or “paid for by Democrats who want your vote committee”? I wish I still had a copy of my phoney ad – I actually called my mom and had her say, “Paid for by Keith Allen’s mother.”

One of the things Tim and I would look at when we brainstormed was what month it was. There is no shortage of “May is ____________ month” months. Some of the months that we found were just crazy. One of my all time favorite bits was one we did for June. June, in case you didn’t know, is National Accordion Awareness Month! I would think you’d be aware of an accordion if it was nearby! Tim and I produced a simple sweeper that would play between songs. It stood out like a sore thumb, because it was so ridiculous. Here is that sweeper in a nutshell:

“B-95’s Keith Allen reminds you that June is National Accordion Awareness Month. Here’s an Accordion Awareness Month update: (Insert some silly 10 second clip of accordion music). Listen all month long for more Accordion Awareness Month Updates!”

The idea was to make the listener wonder “What the hell was that?” Mission accomplished!

Time to get back in the creative saddle

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu says, “The creative process is mysterious; a conversation, a ride in the car, or a melody can trigger something.”

The great Miles Davis says, “I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

With all of the positive changes that have happened in my life over the past couple years, it is time for me to be more creative. I used to write songs. I used to write jokes. I used to write stories. I used to create. I have decided to once again grab my little notepad and begin observing. Once again, I will look for things that might otherwise go unnoticed. I will take note of things that can spawn an idea for a bit or joke. I will be inspired by those who have had some creative influence on me and use my “right brain”.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun!” – Albert Einstein.

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Go! Be Creative!

“World Radio Day” Thank You

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I guess it never ceases to amaze me that there is pretty much a day for everything.  While everyone knows that it is “Fat Tuesday” (the day to eat those huge overstuffed donuts), I was reminded that today is World Radio Day.  I was thinking about one of my deceased radio colleagues last night as I watched a movie and was going to blog about him today.  In thinking a bit more on this, I figured “Why not give props to those who played a significant role in my former full time career?”

WKSG

Jim McKenzie: I guess I start with Jimmy – after all, he is the reason I decided to get into radio in the first place.  I spent many hours working in a boat marina as a 17 year old kid.  Music on the radio, the contesting on the radio, and the radio personalities are what helped me pass the time on both busy and slow days.

Jim did the midday show and he always sounded like he was talking to you as a friend.  He was loaded with music facts and stories.  I never felt like I had his talent, but I certainly felt with the proper direction, I could do what he did.

Paul Christy:  He was the program director and morning show host.  He is the man responsible for giving me a chance – and ultimately my big break.  I started off interning (yes, working for nothing) while I was in high school.  I worked in the news room and then eventually helped out with the morning show.  Eventually, Paul had me run his Saturday morning show – a show which was recorded on reel to reel on Fridays (kinda like today’s voice tracking).  I would interject the live weather report, sports information, and lottery numbers.

Paul was in a pinch one night and asked me to do the overnight show.  I was scared to death.  I told him I hadn’t done a whole who before and asked for direction.  Bluntly, Paul said, “Don’t worry about it.  Answer the phones.  Play the songs.  Be yourself and have fun!”  That was it.  I must have done ok, because they ended up letting the overnight guy go and I was asked to fill in “until further notice”, which ended up being a good year or two before big changes came to the station.

Johnny Molson: John did the evening shift when I got to Kiss-FM.  He was funny.  He could ad-lib.  He was one of the most creative writers I have ever known.  He knew how to use radio to create the “Theater of the mind”.  He was instrumental in my learning to think out of the box, engaging the listener with words and sounds, and how to use a good “drop” (more on this later).

In the 30’s and 40’s, The Golden Age of Radio was full of shows that allowed listeners to use their imaginations.  They pictured what Amos and Andy, The Lone Ranger, and Superman looked like.  Each person imagine what Jack Benny’s old Maxwell car looked like and what fell out of Fibber McGee’s closet because of the use of “sound effects”.  John knew how to incorporate things like this into his show.  One example I will never forget is when he would “hit” one of our staff members on the head with something.  Chaz was often the target.  John would simply throw something at a cookie sheet hung on the wall, which made it sound like he was being hit.

Today, John remains a good friend who is working in the creative services department of his current station.  He produces some of the most creative and powerful commercials and gets results for the sponsors.  Our friendship is one that has lasted nearly 30 years.

WHND – Honey Radio

Before I say any more, let me say that working at WHND was not work at all.  It was like play.  We had so much fun.  Anyone who tuned in and listened to this station could tell that the DJ’s were having as much fun as the listeners.  Honey was the first “Oldies” station in America.  I was honored to work here and honored to work with everyone here.

Richard D. Haase: Richard D. remains to this day one of the guys who offered me some of the most amazing advice.  I was probably a big pain in his ass.  I was always asking him something.  I had this want and need to be better.  I wanted to be the best.  I was forever asking him to listen to my show tapes and offer criticism and advice, which he did always.

One of the things I learned from him, was the importance of talking to one person.  To create the illusion that it is just me and you listening to our favorite songs and hanging out together.  I understood what he meant, and began to drop phrases like “everyone”, “all of you”, and “out there”.  He also connected me with a mentor who would take that premise and continue to grow into a better personality, the late Jay Trachman.

Richard’s show was full of “benchmarks”.  Poor Richard D’s Almanac (This Day In History), The Off The Wall Record (a rare song that he played each day), and “The Top 12 at 12” (His countdown of the top 12 local songs from a specific year).  He also featured many characters on the show that were sometimes referred to and never heard (another gimmick of old time radio).

His show was also filled with insanely bad jokes.  I often kidded him that even Milton Berle (who was known for stealing others jokes) wouldn’t touch his stuff.    He often poked fun of the other DJ’s on the station, which I found to be a unique way of cross promotion.

There were many days that we’d sit in his office and talk about radio, computers, and life in general and we’d laugh until tears rolled down our faces and our sides hurt.  Richard was a legend who had been on the air for many years, a far cry from being young!  Yet, when we worked together, we were like a bunch of elementary kids laughing and hooping it up.

Rob Main: This is the guy who I mentioned as the beginning of this blog.  Rob was a guy who used to work with Bill Stewart, Ron Tavernit, and Jon Ray doing the morning show.  He was a master of voices.  He did, in my honest opinion, the best Elvis “speaking” voice of anyone I have every heard.  He also did a spot on Charles Bronson and Mohammad Ali.  What was great about him was that he also did other original voices, which became characters on the show as well.

Shortly before Honey Radio left the airwaves, Richard gave us the opportunity to work together on the air so that we could create a good demo tape for a morning show.  Those final weeks were some of the best memories I have in the business.  While there was always a “roadmap” of what we wanted to do….he would often break in as a character and I would just follow along for the ride.  It was some of the most insane moments of radio ever.

He was SO good, that he would often talk to himself as two or three different characters!  I was often the referee who had to come in and break up the squabble that the characters were having!  We were two guys in the studio – but if you listened, you’d swear that there were 10-15 guys!  It was amazing.

Rob was the one who took “drops” one step further.  No show had a shortage of them.  A drop is a clip from a movie or TV show that is played mid-conversation, in a sweeper, or as a way of trying to crack up the other person.  He had stacks of drops.  Many from popular movies like Shane, Robin Hood, The Wild One and others.  Some of the drops were from other sources.   Today, I can watch a serious movie and if a “drop” line comes up, I will start laughing because of an instance when it was used on the show.

Health issues led to an early death for my friend and I miss him a lot.  I can hear him laughing with me though, whenever I hear a “drop” from Van Helfin, Alan Ladd, or Jeff Chandler.

WWWW (W4 Country)

Tim Roberts: There is a reason that Tim is one of the most respected men in Country Radio – because he is one of the best programmers in the country and he knows his stuff!  Tim helped me to understand the importance of preparation.  I can still recall the “Bit Prep Sheet” that he gave me.  I remember him stressing to always have a “Feel Good” or a “heart” story to talk about.  His direction expanded on the things I had learned about editing and creating a bit.

I was only a part time air personality for Tim.  Yet, he coached me as if I were a full time talent.  He respected my thoughts, and often asked me to think a bit more broadly.  Create.  Edit.  Make it better.  He got me to think about things that I could bring to the show that I may not ever have thought about.  He helped me hone my delivery.

There is a reason Tim, and so many of the talented people who work under him have won awards – THEY DESERVE IT!

WFBE (B95)

Brian Cleary:  I’ll never forget my first coaching session with Brian.  We submitted a show to him a week before.  He wrote a critique and suggestions that were discussed at the actual session.  I remember her handed me a piece of paper that had one of my bits typed out word for word.  It was long.  He even typed out the “uhs” and “ums”.  He then asked if I had planned the break ahead of time.  I said I had.  He asked if I wrote it out, I said no – I had an outline.  He then handed me a piece of paper with that same bit written out with red lines through various sentences, “uhs” and “ums” crossed out, etc.  It was like getting a rough draft of a paper back from your English Teacher.

I remember thinking “Dude, you have way too much time on your hands”.  However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized that it was a lesson in time.  “Don’t waste your listener’s time” was what he told me.  “Know what you are going to say”, “Know how the bit will end”, “Edit.  Edit. Edit.”  He was building on things that I really already knew, BUT he took it to a whole new level.

I remember after the first day we did our radiothon for St. Jude, he pulled me aside and told me “I’m so used to hearing the jokey Keith on the air, I wasn’t sure what to expect today.  However, you did an amazing job and you really know how to get the importance of what we are doing to the listener”.  I’ll never forget that.

WCEN (The Moose)

Joby Phillips: Whenever a new program director comes into the building, everyone freaks out.  You never know what the plans are.  It is not uncommon for the PD to come in and fire everyone and bring in their own people.  Joby came in and taught me a lesson that I took with me as I went into management.  “You are all here to do a job.  I trust that you can do it.  If I think we need to correct something or address something, I will.  Do what you do best”.

In today’s society, we see micromanaging in almost every occupation.  I truly admired Joby for this attitude.  When I programmed my station, I had good DJ’s who knew what they were doing.  I let them do their job.  If there was an issue – it was addressed.  Other wise, I left them alone.

In critiquing, both Joby and Brian always started out by pointing out your strengths or something good about the show they were going over with you.  Then you went on to work on the thing that needed improvement.  Positive reinforcement.  Discipline when you have to and praise often.

A few others

Jay Trachman: What an amazing guy.  He was the authority on One to One communication.  His weekly tips were always something I took to heart and brought into the studio.  He helped many personalities and sadly passed away before I could get him to do a critique session with me.

Jaye Albright: One of the reasons I loved working with Jaye, is that she believed much of what Jay Trachman believed.  Her coaching sessions when I first began at WFBE were loaded with information.

Joel Raab: Joel is right up their with Tim Roberts.  He knows country music.  He knows the audience.  He is respected in the business and is a class act.  As a Music Director, I often found our weekly music calls frustrating.  Music can be a passion.  When you hear something that you think is amazing, its important to remember that not everyone feels the same way.  Joel always was on the side of caution.  He looked a music a bit different and it helped me to really think about songs more objectively.

Brian Wright: Brian was the last real consultant/coach I was able to work with before going in to the management end of the business.  Brian’s laid back demeanor and wise observations and suggestions were of great help to me as I began to critique my own staff.

….in closing:

I have met some of the most amazing people throughout my radio career.  I have had the chance to work with some of the best.  Maybe we worked together, but didn’t mention you in this blog.  Please do not be offended.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked so many talented people.  Maybe you worked in Sales, maybe you worked in Production, or maybe you were a member of the on air staff with me. Maybe you are someone who started as a listener, and are now a friend.  If radio was the connection that brought us together – I am truly thankful for it…and you.

I miss doing radio full time, but I still enjoy the time I get to do it once a week.

Happy World Radio Day!