Behind Radio’s Zany Commercials
by Dee McVicker
Widely acclaimed for their sharp sense of humor, the team is nationally recognized as the creative genius behind a number of radio spots promoting the seasonal lineup of shows for TV networks.
Their client list includes King World, Warner Brothers Television, 20th Century Television and CBS Television Network.
“If a commercial is boring and doesn’t hold their attention, we can’t blame them if they reach up and hit the button on the car radio,” said Paul Fey, founding partner of Paul & Walt Worldwide. “We want to stop them in their tracks.”
Fey and Jaschek have been on the laugh track since high school, winning some 400 awards for excellence in commercial production, including three Clios and two regional Emmys. The team walked award with the five Ollies in one evening, setting a record for the most awards won by one company in the Hollywood Radio & Television Society’s annual presentation.
One Ollie was presented for a Paul & Walt commercial, “Auditions,” in which Patrick Stewart is among the voices trying out for the part of Jean Luc Picard in “Star Trek.”
Of all the awards (which stream in at a rate of 50 a year), Fey is most partial to the team’s first Clio. Fey aspired to win a Clio since his high school years, and recalls vividly the magic feeling of creating the spot.
It was a radio ad featuring a “catalog” of types of laughter. “The whole spot was kind of invented on Walt’s front porch. It just sort of came out… It wrote itself,” he said.
What keeps this team on the leading edge? “We never want to get satisfied with doing the same thing,” Fey said, pointing out that too many comedy teams rely on formulaic humor.
“Once upon a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, funny dialogue radio spots were what broke through the clutter. Now, I feel that funny dialogue spots are becoming the clutter, because there is so much of it out there,” Fey said.
Radio in particular lends itself to production-oriented spots, where a hybrid of audio effects, humor and dialogue work together. “It’s much easier to do a gigantic-scale production on radio because a lot of it is letting people’s minds fill it in,” he said.
A recent Paul & Walt commercial for a cellular telephone carrier, for example, camped up the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” with a polka beat accompanied by amusing dialogue, delivered in a deadpan voice:
“I get around, so I signed up for voice mail. I used to leery about sending voice mail. I wasn’t sure if I was putting enough stamps on it.”
As the music cut in and out abruptly, the deadpan voice again speaks up:
“Voice mail is easy. Think of it as rolling up a yellow sticky-note, jamming it into your cellular phone, and having it pop out somewhere else.”
Life begins for a Paul & Walt spot with an idea, either dreamed up by Fey, the production genius of the team, or Jaschek, the primary writer. Fey works from the Paul & Walt Worldwide office in Los Angeles, while Jaschek works from his office in St. Louis, the city where they both grew up.
They communicate through faxes and computer modems to tighten ideas, copy and production of radio ads.
The spot takes life in the imagination long before it is committed to tape. “It’s no exaggeration for me to say that I know exactly what a spot sounds like before it’s recorded,” Fey said. “The key is trying to put on tape what’s in my head.”
Paul & Walt fleshes out the characters, relying on a pool of creative talent from an audio studio in the same building as its Los Angeles office.
“People get accustomed to thinking of radio in a certain way,” said Fey, who claims the company owes its success to breaking those conventions. The plan for the future is to continue carving out new niches in radio commercials.
Paul & Walt Worldwide is now working on a project that Fey hopes will set a new milestone in how people perceive radio. He was mum about who the client is and the product, saying only that he is not bound to the conventions of 30 or 60 seconds for the spots.
“We’ve barely scratched the surface of what we can do with radio,” he said.