When I grew up on Rabbit Hill, not only could I never have imagined that I’d still be in touch with some of the kids I knew then, but I would never have guessed how they would turn out as adults. One neighborhood boy, my brother’s best friend since 1972, grew up to write copy. We kids on the Hill had no idea that they paid grown-ups to do such things.

Mike’s a wizard of the tagline, those pithy marketing slogans that make you remember the product. (His tagline for the movie 102 Dalmatians: “This summer, Cruella’s pulling out all the spots.”) But no matter how a thing is advertised, he can write copy for it. Recently he’s been writing radio commercials – spots, they call them in the biz – for books their publisher hopes become bestsellers.

I’ve written a few radio spots in my time, too. Compared to Mike’s spots, the writing is good for a laugh. But I can say one thing he can’t: I got to voice my spots myself. Neener neener, Mike! But while Mike gets to write for the likes of Ben Stein, I got to write for the likes of motorcycle dealerships. And I had to live in Terre Haute to do it. So I guess it all balances out.

Here’s the spot I wrote for the motorcycle dealership.

The hardest thing about writing spot copy is getting it to fit within 30 or 60 seconds, the two most common spot lengths (in that order). Because I voiced this myself, I wrote it to fit the way I wanted to read it, which made it a little easier. It was often harder to read somebody else’s copy because either there were too many or too few words to fill the time. I would either have to speed up or slow down to hit the time target. Here’s a spot for tire dealer that somebody else wrote. It took me a dozen takes to make it work, but I’m sure a more experienced pro could have pegged it in one read. (The client chose the wacky music bed – I certainly wouldn’t have used it voluntarily.)

Truth be told, most of my production work was reading a brief tag at the end of national spots sent to us by ad agencies. I read somebody else’s words at the end of this Taco Bell spot.

I have plenty of radio stories. Like this one. And this one. And this one.


8 responses to “In a heck of a spot”

  1. Mike Roe Avatar

    Can’t wait to listen to these later, Jim. Oh, and they pay people to write copy? What?! You mean they buy us lunch, right?

    Man, I loved that shirt.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I made the princely sum of minimum wage at the radio station, which was $4 and change at the time. I know you’re paid better than that, if nothing else because minimum wage has gone up several times since then!

  2. Darin Batten Avatar
    Darin Batten

    Wow, those were my sandy-brown haired days! It is now much darker brown peppered with gray… YOUTH!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Mine started out black and stayed that way, though a few stray grays have crept in. Guess that happens when you’re in your 40s.

  3. Mike Roe Avatar

    These are great! What was the client thinking with that wacky music?! Normally, when listening to an ad or proofing one, I’m very good at filtering and listening to or looking at just the words. Not this time. Stick to tires and mufflers, Jake! Anyway, it was fun listening to these. Thanks for the link!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I guess sales tried to guide the clients on music beds but at the end of the day it was the client’s spot. What was even more fun was when a client would have a spot created elsewhere and ask us to run it. Sometimes they sounded like they were recorded at home on a cassette recorder. This is where I first heard the phrase, “You can’t polish a turd.”

  4. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Wow, Jim, you’re a natural… on the typewriter and on the mic. :) They’re fun to listen to because it’s someone whose blog I’ve been following for years. You don’t even have an accent! :) But I knew that from your DJ work.

    I had a buddy in high school who was working as an engineer at a radio station up in Orangeville. He had some of the guys come up and to voice a spot for him and it just got funnier and funnier as they tried to one-up each other. Eventually it got way past anything that could have been broadcast, but they all had a blast. I have a copy of the tape; runs for a little over half an hour and every so often I take it out and have a laugh. I wish I could have been in on something like that. I bet you’ve got some stories. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks, man. It was fun.

      Someday I’ll tell the story of how our station owner got arrested and went to prison and it ended all the fun. Someday.

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