#Current10: Derrick Stevens breaks down the best radio promos of the past ten years

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Derrick Stevens in the studio
The Current's Production Manager Derrick Stevens in the production studio. (MPR photo/Nate Ryan)
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September 2009 - What is HD Radio?
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  • September 2009 - What is HD Radio? 00:40
  • November 2009 - Thanksgiving Programming 00:56
  • January 2010 - The Current looks back at the '00s. 00:38
  • October 2010 - Gorillaz sound-check party and concert 00:36
  • August 2011 - Adele Day at The Current 00:52
  • November 2011 - Your Halloween Soundtrack 00:50
  • July 2012 - Coldplay tickets and prize pack 00:52
  • November 2013 - You Make The Current Possible, Thank You 00:31
  • January 2014 - Super Cold Monday 00:58
  • January 2015 - The Local Show, "The Future" 00:57

The Current's Production Manager Derrick Stevens has been with the station since it began. In addition to producing The Current's in-studio sessions and live broadcast events, Derrick spends a lot of time making promos — those messages you hear between songs and hosts' conversation.

In this special feature for #Current10, Derrick takes us behind the scenes to explain what a promo is and what elements help make a promo memorable. He also shares some of his favorite promos from his vast archive.

First of all, what is a promo?

A promo is a pre-recorded audio piece created specifically to get to the point of a message you're trying to convey to the audience. A promo allows you to be a little more specific with your message and to put things in there that might pop to the ear or might catch someone's attention to get them focused on that message.

What kinds of messages are often communicated in a promo?

It varies — it could be anything: an upcoming program, a concert that we're sponsoring, a station event that we're promoting. Specific examples are a Coffee Break or a Policy and a Pint or an upcoming in-studio session.

What are the typical timings for promos?

Usually our promos are right around 40 to 45 seconds. We can go up to 60, but I try not to make a promo that's more than 60 seconds. The way Lindsay Kimball and I write the promos, we definitely want to be specific in the messaging that we get out so we can focus those promos to be 35, 45 seconds and know that that message is still going to be conveyed to the listener within that time period.

Some promos might take a little bit longer to get the message; some promos we write to be a little bit more funny, so you might have some humor on the front side and then the message eventually gets told, so you have 10 seconds of something else that's not really dedicated specifically to that promo, but it gets you to where we want to go within that promo.

What, besides the script, are elements of a good promo?

Music beds, sound effects and actualities. An example of an actuality is a scene from a movie, especially a specific line from a movie that people can identify with. I love working with actualities, whether it be from a popular movie or from a television show or anything pop-culture that when you hear it, you can automatically identify with it. I think those are always fun. And it's a way to make transitions from music beds. For instance, if I've got one music bed going, I can use an actuality to break up the text of the promo and then the music bed to something totally different, so that actuality helps maneuver from Point A to Point B.

Let's say the actuality is Fred Flintstone saying, "Yabba Dabba Doo!" I start with one music bed, then hit that "Yabba Dabba Doo," stop the vocals on the promo and then come in with another music bed — that's a transition that's going to be catchy to the ear. People are going to recognize that "Yabba Dabba Doo," and just from that, it's going to make them want to listen even more.

So using actualities brings some familiarity to the listener and also breaks up the monotony. A promo can get boring after 45 seconds if it's just the a person talking over a music bed. So if you have something where you can break it up and get the listeners' ears to hear different elements within that promo, it's going to be helpful.

How did you get started in radio production?

I've been in radio since I was 15 years old. I got my first job in radio at 15 at a cable radio station, and I was doing on-air work and I did on-air work for probably eight or nine years consistently. Then I was working over at B96 and I was doing on-air work and after a while, the program director and I just weren't on the same page. Being on the air stopped being fun for me. But I still loved radio and I wanted to be able to do something within radio, just not necessarily to be on the air. As I said, I was an on-air announcer at 15, and by that time I was like 26, 27, so I'd been on the air for over 10 years, and I was just kind of ready to do something different. Production was just kind of a no-brainer: I love production, I love doing it, so I decided to concentrate on this.

What eventually led you to The Current?

I started doing production independently from a radio station: I was a consultant and I was working with different clients, producing commercials and promos for people. During that time, a friend of mine called me up and said, "Hey, MPR has a new station that's getting ready to go on the air — it's called The Current. They're looking for a production manager, and I think your stuff is as good as anybody's stuff out there, so why don't you send it in?"

And I ended up sending it in and 10 years later, here I am, still loving my job. So that's a good thing!

Some favorite promos from The Current

Here are a number of promos created by Derrick Stevens. Do you remember hearing these on The Current?

As you listen, keep your ear tuned for the various elements: script, voiceover, music beds, sound effects and actualities.

  1. September 2009 - What is HD Radio?
    November 2009 - Thanksgiving Programming
    January 2010 - The Current looks back at the '00s.
    October 2010 - Gorillaz sound-check party and concert
    August 2011 - Adele Day at The Current
    November 2011 - Your Halloween Soundtrack
    July 2012 - Coldplay tickets and prize pack
    November 2013 - You Make The Current Possible, Thank You
    January 2014 - Super Cold Monday
    January 2015 - The Local Show

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  • Derrick Stevens
    Derrick Stevens, Production Manager at The Current (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

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