Q: What kind of radio show is this?

A:
Some Assembly Required focuses exclusively on works of appropriation. Appropriation is a term which refers to the reuse of previously existing material. In this case, that material is audio, so I most often refer to the material I play on Some Assembly Required as "audio art."

This work is often described as sound collage, which is very similar to photo collage. Sound collage involves the creative reuse of fragments of recorded sound, just as photo collage creatively reuses portions of photographic imagery. Based on bits and pieces of previously existing work, these artists create new compositions from the compositions which came before their own.



Q: Is this music?

A:
Basically, while all music is audio art, not all audio art is music. That's a good rule of thumb to keep in mind, when listening to Some Assembly Required. I like to think of the program as a weekly art show. A lot of it IS quite musical, but that's not necessarily always the case.



Q: What are "tape-manipulations, digital deconstructions and turntable creations?"

A: Since the show is focused exclusively on works of appropriation, I use the catch-phrase, "tape-manipulations, digital deconstructions and turntable creations," because those are the three ways to manipulate audio. If you want to work with previously recorded sound, you have to use playback devices as your instruments, and those devices are tape-players, record players and a variety of digital equipment such as computers, CD players and samplers.

Since I focus exclusively on work composed primarily of previously existing audio, I can play music from a variety of genres, as long as the tracks in question are composed of bits and pieces of previously recorded sound. You'll hear everything from experimental sound collage compositions to scratch DJs on the show, because while they may fit more comfortably within other genres, they each fit into the theme of my show, by virtue of the fact that they rely on samples to compose.



Q: Who are you?

A: I'm a collage artist! I've actually created much of my own sound collage, as well as visual collage and assemblage. You can see some of my visual work at:
http://www.mnartists.org/jonathan_nelson
and for information about my sound collage work, go to:
http://www.escape-mechanism.com/



Q: How did you manage to interest so many stations in such specialized programming?

A: I used to get this question about once or twice a year from folks who were thinking about trying to syndicate their own radio shows. Here are some thoughts I put down recently on the history of my DIY attempt at syndication, for those who are interested...

I didn't give a lot of thought to markets or brands, initially. I just wanted to do something so that someone - anyone - would hear the show. At the time, KUOM was content for us to stay where we were on the internet-only schedule and I thought I might have more luck finding other stations than convincing them to give us a slot on their broadcast schedule. I don't know if that was a good assumption or not, but in the process of streamlining the program for syndication, I ended up with a show they could take more seriously and KUOM actually became one of our first syndicating stations.

The first step was to start pre-producing the show (I'd been doing it live in the studio for about a year or two prior). I had the idea to produce each hour-long episode into four segments which could either be played one after the other, seamlessly, or paused between segments for the board operator to make station announcements. I really had no idea what I was doing, and still don't know how close my approach came to being like professionally syndicated radio programs. I did talk to a guy at PRI at one point and got a good tip. My program was originally too long for a traditional hour-long slot. I'd been producing it at 58 minutes originally, then at 56, thinking there couldn't be more than 4 minutes of spots and station IDs to play in an hour. It turned out the standard for an hour-long show, at least at the time, was 53 minutes, so I shortened it.

For a couple of years I did things on my own, just pre-producing the show and sending it out to anyone who asked for it. I didn't know much about mp3 at the time and was sending each show on its own CD, a quarter at a time, in bundles of thirteen weekly episodes. That was fine when it was just those first few stations, but a couple of years later there were over 65 and that was a lot of CDs to burn one at a time (65 stations X 13 CDs each... I was mailing over 800 CDs every three months). Those first couple of years though, I just burned CDs and put announcements up on the internet. I also did a mailing, to stations I thought were cool. It was a short list, but I designed a mailer with info about the show and sent them out. I guess that was the extent of my market research - pitching just to stations I liked.

Eventually I found a business partner with much bigger ideas about how to get the show some attention. Fortunately, she was as big an idealist as I was about art-for-art's-sake, as neither of us ever came close to being able to quit our day jobs. I'd be surprised if that was news to anyone with aspirations in radio art, but I suppose I should probably make a note of it. I can think of very few accomplishments I'm more proud of, but it wasn't much of a success financially. I don't mean to be a wet blanket. Who knows, maybe your show has more commercial potential. That was never really my goal.

She'd heard the show locally and thought it could find an even larger audience. So, somewhat nervously, I allowed her to take control of the business side of things. I've had advice from quite a few people over the years on how I might increase the marketability of the show by reducing the more experimental aspects of the programming, and I am proud to say that I never veered off course in that regard. I don't remember her making those kinds of suggestions though. Her biggest challenge was trying to convince me that we had to run more underwriting. While that turned out to be the key to our search for a larger audience, I was afraid to sound too commercial and fought absurdly with her on the subject on more than one occasion. Of course, she was right. There is no other way that I know of to make money in radio. You either have to sell underwriting announcements or get a grant. So, with her help, we started to get some local underwriters and from there she went to work finding more syndicating stations.

Our first two underwriters were a CD pressing plant and a music promotion company, both local. The promotion company was in the business of putting together mailings for new music releases, sending them out and then staying in touch with hundreds of contacts in radio and the press. The first thing we did was pick out a favorite episode of the show and have it pressed to CD (thanks to the pressing plant underwriter), and then we worked with the promotion people to put together a package which would include the CD and some information about the show. Once we'd assembled a nice promotional package, it was mailed out to hundreds of college, community and public radio stations all over the US and Canada.

Now, that part was hard enough and I never would have had the gumption to do it on my own, but really the hardest part was what came next. Their staff was then tasked with the responsibility of making weekly (and/or daily) phone calls, like they did for their record company clients, to each and every radio station that had received our package. They were calling to see if they had gotten it, to remind them to look for it, to kindly ask them to consider it and ultimately to decide whether or not they might be interested in finding a spot for the show on their weekly schedule. After several weeks of this we started to get some very encouraging feedback and eventually ended up with over 65 stations that were willing to give it a try. After about a year, that number had been reduced to just over two dozen and we stayed at least 24 strong for the rest of the run of the show. Some Assembly Required aired on over two dozen stations for at least seven of its ten years in syndication.

I'm sure one of the reasons we had so much luck with such an underground music/art format is the fact that we were offering the show for free. The idea was that we would sell national underwriting spots and produce them into the episodes that went out across the country. The fact is, while we did have a fair amount of success selling the show to local businesses, we never really got the swing of things nationally, and we struggled a bit financially as a result. Still, we were both very proud to have gotten the show on the air in so many places. We somehow managed to develop an audience for sound collage in areas where there were undoubtedly only a small number of people who had even been aware of it prior to hearing Some Assembly Required.

Hopefully this will answer some of the questions I get about how we managed to syndicate such an unusual show. It was a good experience and one of the most interesting chapters of my life. Nowadays, the easiest approach might be just to do a podcast and have stations download each week's program straight from your website. We had quite a few stations doing that towards the end. I'm sure there are even better ideas out there... This may function better as an illustration of DIY in action, circa 1999, but maybe there will be something useful in there somewhere. Good luck!