The seventh interview in my on-going series with people I think you need to know is actually with two friends and mentors, Dick Orkin and Christine Coyle. Dick and Christine are business partners and key players in “The Famous Radio Ranch,” the legendary home of some of the most brilliant radio advertising of the last 30 plus years.
Dick and Christine and the rest of the Radio Ranch team have just moved to a new headquarters, and took time from their hectic schedules to answer several questions. My thanks to both of them for their time and help, not only answering these questions; but also the literally hundreds of questions I’ve peppered them with in the last 10 years that I’ve known and studied with the two of them. As you read below, I’ll let you know who is speaking at the various points along the way. I think it should be fairly clear.
So, on to the interview.
Question 1: Is the story about the two of you meeting on the street in Chicago while Chris worked as a Kelly Girl, handing out sticks of gum true? What happened that this encounter became more than just 5 seconds of passing on the street?
Dick and Christine both answer: That’s not exactly the truth — it was Dick who was a Kelly Girl and I was a big mucky muck with a recording studio.
Question 2: Chris, what were your dreams back in your Kelly Girl days? Was that just something to do? Did you have any acting or career goals?
Christine answers: While I was “Kelly-ing”, I helped establish a theatre company called “The Imitation of Life Theatrical Company”, mostly composed of theatre friends from my Southern Illinois days. It also included a few actors I’d met while acting in a Jean Paul Sartre play (the name of which I no longer remember). One of the actors, Chuck Busch (now known as Charles Busch) was also a playwrite. He had written a very fun, campy send up of those Joan Crawford (my life is chaos) movies. I came on board as director. We staged it all over town, gay bars, movie theatres, punk rock clubs — had a great time. Chuck wrote a few more pieces, but unfortunately, he wanted to play all the female parts. This didn’t go down very well with the women in the group who wanted an opportunity to “star” in a roll. So the group disbanded. Chuck has gone on to write some very well received plays (including one on Broadway)
Question 3: Both of you are known, among other things, for doing character voices. I know from studying with you that these characters are based on real people, family members, for example. How did you develop that approach to characters? Can anyone find similar inspiration? What if someone has a really boring family, do we need to sometimes go to other relationships like childhood friends, teachers, clergy and the like?
Both answer: We don’t think boring families exist. If you dig underneath what you feel is boring, you more than likely will find a pretty interesting person masquerading as a drone. You can absolutely though, go to other relationships — but you need to know something about their “emotional” life for it to sound like more than a funny voice or simply an imitation. Both of us have theatre backgrounds and we believe in building a character from the inside out.
Question 4: Dick, through the years you’ve been involved in many collaborative efforts. The staff at WCFL in the years when Chickenman and The Tooth Fairy were developed. The Dick and Bert years. And certainly the team there at the Radio Ranch today. Has this collaborative environment been the “magic” ingredient? That is, could you or would you have experienced a similar kind of success if you just “did a single?”
Dick answers: No
Christine adds: I believe that he may not have experienced the same kind of success, but he would still have been very successful — and remember, every town needs a good dog catcher.
Dick adds: But even if you’re working alone or prefer to work alone, you are collaborating with the people who constitute your past experiences.
Christine responds: I agree. I believe if you are willing to “accept” success (because some people fight against it) you will ultimately find success. At the same time Dick asked me to join him I had two other opportunities. One was to handle PR for a Feminist Theatre Company in Minneapolis, the other was to join CBS publications — I believe I would have been successful in either of those jobs and parlayed them into meaningful work. It just so happens the little voice in my head told me to jump on the Orkin bandwagon — and I’m a big believer in paying attention to intuition.
Question 5: In the numerous times that I’ve heard you both speak, you have sometimes made certain key points more than once; but I’ve always been impressed that your supporting research is fresh each time. What drives your desire to find new research?
Both answer: It’s not that we necessarily search it out it’s more like it just appears and confirms what we believe. Lately, especially, we have come across more and more support on the power of story telling in advertising.
Question 6: A number of times on my blog I’ve written posts about how learning to write more powerfully, more effectively has also improved my voiceover work. Do you see a similar connection?
Both answer: When you’re writing powerfully, you’re writing from the heart. It has an emotional aspect to it — when you voice that copy, and choose to tap into that same emotion vs. “just read it” – your performance reflects that connection.
Question 7: How do you handle rejection?
Dick answers: I don’t take it personally. After all, I’m not rejecting myself, somebody else is.
Christine adds: Maybe we’re just thick skinned, but we don’t gnash our teeth and tear our clothes over rejection. From a creative standpoint we send out several spot solutions to a client’s problem. Most of the time one (if not 2 or more) solve his or her problem.
Question 8: Do either of you take voiceover jobs outside of the Radio Ranch? No. What about other acting or directing opportunities?
Both answer: Usually we’re so busy with work here, traveling for ad clubs and family life that there isn’t time.
Christine adds: Years ago, I did direct the West Coast premiere of a play and it was great fun, but took up sooo much time. I do have another writing partner, Julie Roux, and she and I are trying our hands at screenwriting. Julie’s background is also advertising. So we want to see if we can write something interesting that lasts longer than sixty seconds.
Question 9: No doubt people ask you all the time for your suggestions about how to get into voiceover work. What are a few key things to concentrate on first?
Both answer: Most people have the belief that doing voice over work is incredibly easy. They’ve been told time and time again that they have a great voice, funny voice, interesting voice, whatever. It’s akin to saying to someone, you have long fingers, you must play the piano really good. So first you need to train — take an improv class, take a beginning acting class, get away from listening to your voice. Second, observe life — listen to how people talk. Eavesdrop on a conversation when you’re at Starbucks or in line at the movie theatre. Try to find what’s unique about you — so that it doesn’t sound like you’re parroting what you’ve heard before (a huge problem in radio where so many DJs sound interchangeable).
Question 10: How has technology changed your work in the last 5 years?
Both answer: Research on demographics and competition and target consumer are readily available on the Internet. And there’s more info on the details of products and services — why people buy. Every new version of Pro-tools enhances the work that we do and the options that we have.
Again my thanks to Dick Orkin and Christine Coyle for taking time for their hectic schedule dealing with everything involved with moving to a new office, to answer these questions. There is no doubt in my mind that my first training session with Dick Orkin, 10 years ago, was one of the most significant turning points in my voiceover career. He it was who taught me to tell a story rather than be a generic announcer. And Christine and Dick have both taught me so much about writing more powerfully and effectively. If you’d like to learn more, visit their web site, here.