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QUESTION: I've heard many different ways to set up a phony spot, what's the best way?

DAN REPLIES: A phony commercial should sound as real as possible. The impact of the comedy comes from the contrast between the apparently straight delivery and the warped message it contains. That means the production values should match those of a real spot, as should the presentation.

So....How do you "set up" a real spot? You just play it, no introduction needed.

This approach should strongly suggest that you neither "introduce" a phony spot nor add zany sound effects or laughter (either canned or live, as the spot plays).

Jocks who laugh in the background as a phony spot plays will tell you they do so to make sure the audience knows it's supposed to be comedy. I've always figured, however, that the best way to make sure the audience knows something is comedy is to make it funny.

Just how far should you go to make it seem "real"? Should you play it in a real stopset? That's really not such a bad idea...unless the lengths of your commercial breaks already are stretching the limits of your audience's patience.

I used to put my phony spots at the end of fairly short stopsets. The listeners came to realize that sometimes the last commercial in a break was fake (and, hopefully, funny)...which helped keep them through the stopset.

Your sales manager might object, saying it someone cheapens the rest of the real spots. This, of course, is dumb. Anything that causes people to sit through paid commercials is good, not bad. But it's not worth arguing over. If the sales folks protest, put it between songs.

(Note, however, that I am not suggesting that you ASK the sales manager if it's okay. This is a programming issue. Wait for a complaint before confronting the issue.)

And your PD might object, concerned about the length of time before returning to music. Again, this ain't worth fighting over.

"But," I've actually heard a jock say, "if you make a phony spot sound as real as possible and you don't tip the gag in advance, won't the listener at first think it's real?"

Yes. That's the idea. Understand that it's perfectly okay for the listener to miss part of it the first (and second) time around, not realizing it's a gag until the spot is underway. This decreases the bit's burn factor, allowing it to be played more than if the listener understood from the very first moment that it was a joke.

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