10 Questions with John

    10 Questions with ... John Willyard November 2, 2009


         Voice Overs/Owner -- John Willyard Productions, Inc. 1991-Present

         Voice/Producer -- Bill Young Productions, 1991-1995

         Image Voice/Creative Producer/Air Personality -- KEZR-FM San Jose, 1990-1991

         Image Voice/Creative Producer/Air Personality -- WSTR/WQXI Atlanta, 1987-1990

         Program Director/Air Personality/Image Voice -- KWIN Stockton, CA, 1979-1987 (PD 1984--87)

         Program Director/Creative Producer -- KCVR Lodi, CA, 1977-1979

         Network Program Announcer -- Family Radio Network, KEAR San Francisco, CA, 1970-197


         1) You started 'imaging' radio stations in 1991. How and why did you start using this talent of yours? First, we need to establish if you call that "talent." Okay, assuming that's my "condition," as early as college I was "imaging" radio stations in San Francisco at age 18. I still have reel-to-reel recordings to prove that I was doing "liners" back then. I can never throw 'em away. In every radio station setting I found great comfort in the fact that whatever I produced could be pre-recorded, massaged, re-voiced, remixed, and unlike live announcing (which I did too) one could create a perfect piece of production to convey exactly what you wanted it to. And in '91 I started with one Country station that grew to a dozen and more quickly. I'd get demo requests all the time and would ask who recommended me. The answer just about every time: "Rusty Walker!" It would be another 4 or 5 years until I'd actually meet him and his team. I've been very fortunate over the years to find that same favor from many other consultants.
2) Country KZLA/Los Angeles was your very first client. There are so many people doing this kind of work today, but back then what was the landscape like? That was before the Telecom Act of 1996, and stations hired their own 'imaging' people in lots of cases. Yes, I was one who was hired as in-house image voice to work at 94Q Atlanta. I was brought in by Don Benson, who is now President and CEO of Lincoln Financial Media. Looking back I felt one could jot down all the imaging voices in one column on a ruled piece of paper. Now that talent troop is fiercely competitive thanks to so many factors in place that weren't 15, 20 years ago and it seems those names could fill a phone book. I feel that voices back then were a fraternity of voices so well known and strongly recommended by a networking of programmers that they didn't give someone new a chance as is so commonplace now.
3) Congratulations on being the voice of the upcoming CMA Awards show! How many years have you been doing the show now, and how did you land the gig? I appreciate the congratulations! It never gets old. With only three weeks before the 30th Annual CMA Awards I had set up a dinner in Nashville with the show's long-time executive producer, Walter C. Miller. Before driving back to Atlanta I told him he'd be receiving a Fed Ex with a cassette of how I thought the CMA voice over should sound (yes, a CASSETTE!). In the next few days I even solicited some key people in the broadcast industry to help with a faxing campaign to tell Mr. Miller why I should be the new voice. In retrospect, it was pretty gutsy considering he's been producer/director of the Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, etc. With only six days before that show, I got the call for my first CMA show on October 2, 1996. That telecast opened with 13-year old LeAnn Rimes belting out "Blue" as then host Vince Gill then heralded her as the phenomenon that she obviously was. I've had so many wonderful memories of those many years, but one of the most unusual was during the show when, during a commercial break, I ran into the late actor Rod Steiger who was looking for the men's room. I showed him the way.
4) How did you start doing TV voiceovers? You do some work for CNN, correct? Curiously, I always wanted to work in live broadcasting and felt so strongly destined that when I was 7 or 8 years old, I drew a picture in class of a live television studio complete with boom mikes, cables, curtaining, lighting and TV cameras with the CBS logo on them. So because it was CBS-TV for the first 11 years doing the CMA's was quite a thrilling exclamation point to my boyhood "dream!" One of my first true television jobs was subbing for the main menu voice at TNT. What a session it was because Lucille Ball had just passed and the entire "movie menu" changed to feature her movie roles. The biggest early TV voice over role was that of WCW (for 6 1/2 years), Turner South followed after a 1998 sign on. In late 2000 I started voicing CNN promos and currently I am the back up guy to the daily topical promo main stay, as well as voicing certain show promos.
5) Have you ever done anything for Hollywood yet, voice-overs for movie 'trailers,' etc.? I have voiced movie soundtrack commercials but have not partaken yet in the holy grail of the voice over world -- The Movie Trailer! Just because it's elusive does not mean it's impossible!
6) How does it feel to be able to drive to virtually any city in the country and hear yourself on the radio? It's funny, I got used to it early on when I worked for a syndicated radio network and because they pre taped the network programming I would always hear myself played back when it was broadcast locally. So early on I got used to "me." But yeah, I've had friends tell me that on their road trips they could hit scan and listen to one of my stations virtually their entire trip. Personally I get to listen quite often online yet would prefer to take a "road trip" too. In fact was thinking about covering one part of the nation by car visiting as many stations as I could this summer. But I got too busy with everything (including being the voice of a hotly contested governor race this year! Political voiceovers are a whole new arena!)
7) Do you do other formats besides Country, and why do you think your voice lends itself so well to our format? Ironically, the first station I voiced in Nashville was a Triple A. I went on to voice both WSM-FM and later its legendary AM. But for several years I've only voiced the Country format. It gives me the most pleasure, really! It's the one I identify with first with the music and artists I admire most. I believe that if my voice lends itself to this format it's because I'm not one sound. Neither is Country. It covers a gamut of emotions and textures, and I get to reflect that in the studio. It can be kick up your heels fun and the next song real-life-grieving sadness. I like reflecting the realities of life. And because Country folk are so giving we can appeal directly to the listeners' heart through campaigns like St. Jude Children's Hospital, Make-A-Wish and many others. I also think that I began filling a niche back in the early 90's (many of my stations from '94 and '95 are still with me). I keep evolving and adapting with my stations and new ones all the time, giving multi-dimensional sessions as often as I can. I like to surprise the creative folks (and love when they surprise me back with stellar production from the pieces I've recorded). I also think one of my mantras has been: under-promise, over-deliver.
8) Consolidation has provided a boom for your kind of work, but as a person that loves radio, do you think radio stations are kind of 'over-imaged' at this point? If you mean just saying the same stuff over and over with perhaps waning focus, lack of genuinely compelling imaging, missing the ability to capture the excitement and imagination of the listener, then I'd have to agree that "over-imaged" is plaguing the airwaves. That may sound harsh (I don't mean it to be) but it sometimes feels like the work is just feeding the production machine, filling a quota of work. Thankfully for the industry there are the bright shining beacons on the hill whose radio production prowess is unmatched -- from the concept to writing to final production that gives me a warm feeling whenever I see their copy come across in an email because I know invariably that it's going to be fun -- AND that I KNOW I have the latitude, the license, the encouragement to go "off the page," to experiment, to be a real performer, not just a reader.
9) You also donate your voice for non-profit causes, especially churches. Are you attached to certain causes and why? I just voiced a TV project for Habitat for Humanity and think it's incumbent on us to give back. The verse "to whom much is given, much is required" rings truer all the time. I heard this in the 90's when Contemporary Christian music hit its stride -- "how come the devil has all the good music?" To me that angst has transferred into the churches pertaining now to media arts from video packages to internet platforms. It's now as good as anything you see anywhere else in electronic media.
10) Have you ever refused to do a liner because of inappropriate content? At first I racked my brain to think of one. Finally, yes, got one: one station wrote something pretty cute but in writing it said they'd bleep words that they actually wanted me to say. I couldn't do it. Too much risk to have certain words not spoken in polite company be possibly exploited. So I gave just enough so that the audio bleep would work for the effect of the liner. Incidentally I guess I was brought up in such a way that clients will notice if I muff a line. I'm not given to expressions I'd be sorry to have uttered in a moment of frustration. Another way to answer question 10: I've been much more tempted to not do liners that were poorly written that I couldn't get interested voicing.
Bonus Questions 1) How many times do you think you have said "Today's Best Country," since 1991? Hopefully not as many times as I'm going to continue to say it in my long future in this business. I don't foresee slowing down any time soon.
2) What's the goofiest liner you were ever asked to do? Wow! There are SO MANY! And I'm happy in making them even goofier! But one goes: "We're like a booger on the end of your date's nose. You can't ignore us and we ain't goin' away!"
3) What does John Willyard listen to in his spare time? I know a lot of people listen to iPods, but I just never have. When I'm out trail running or sitting in the backyard I like to listen to the birds sing. But when in the car I listen to the radio -- always Country first, Talk radio next and sometimes XM/Sirius - I camp out on the Country channels and Bluegrass Junction! I love the genuine honesty of bluegrass.