New York Festivals Radio Awards Grand Jury includes some of the most recognizable voices, captivating programming producers, and thought-leaders in the radio industry today. NYF’s international Radio Awards Grand Jury members will judge 2016′s entries online and select the World’s Best Radio Programs℠.
In this Grand Jury Confidential, New York Festivals chats with Mark Travis, 2016 Grand Jury member and Associate Director of Media Production, New York Philharmonic.
Mark is an award-winning 18-year music industry veteran, who joined the New York Philharmonic as its full-time in-house producer in August 2011. For the previous 12 years he worked for Chicago’s WFMT Radio Network. He has written and produced The New York Philharmonic This Week since its inaugural season in 2004–05.
Other broadcast credits include the Lyric Opera of Chicago Broadcasts as well as broadcasts by the Berlin Philharmonic, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Bavarian Staatsoper, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Travis has an extensive discography as a music producer that ranges from recordings by the New York Philharmonic to those by William Warfield, Jenny Lin, Jeffrey Siegel, the Lyrebird Ensemble, and the Chicago Chorale.
Keep reading to learn more about Mark’s broadcast career, his early years in radio, his thoughts on leadership, his favorite radio programs and more.
New York Festivals: Who or what were your early influences in your career?
Mark Travis: My family was of very modest means, but my parents made whatever sacrifices necessary to make sure that two things were always available to me: books and music. The record-player was on constantly in my early childhood and I was exposed to everything from the Beatles and the Moody Blues, to Abba, The Osmonds and Dvorak’s New World Symphony. By third grade, I had my own radio and cassette player and it’s probably worthy of note that I would “score” my playtime with my Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures with select moments from things like Respighi’s The Pines of Rome, and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite to accompany and influence whatever story I was enacting. The Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast, which my uncle had on LP, also blew my mind and remains a major influence to this day. As I got older, the energy and spectacle of rock concerts and live sporting events also became increasingly attractive to me. I can remember seeing Ozzy Osbourne with Anthrax at the old Rosemont Horizon outside Chicago and being overwhelmed not only by the music, but by the virtuosic showmanship, the 20,000 fists in the air and the fireworks. I wanted to be a part of the production every bit–if not more–than I wanted to be onstage. In some small way, I like to think I’ve managed to bring a little “rock and roll” to my work in the arts.
New York Festivals: What’s the most important thing you learned from your first job?
Mark Travis: My four years as a part-time announcer and board operator for the Northern Public Radio Network in Illinois not only exposed me to a wide variety of repertoire and gave me a treasure-trove of on-the-job training, but I also really learned the importance of flexibility. Our staff wasn’t large, so there were days when I might host four hours of classical music during the morning, serve as the local anchor for All Things Considered on our sister station in the afternoon, and spin jazz for a couple of hours in the evening. During my time there, the station flooded twice, our signal was scrambled for several days due to solar flares and satellite issues, and we did a major frequency swap between our news and classical services. We all had to think fast and adapt quickly. I won’t say everything has been easy since then, but I certainly don’t think much fazes me now, 20 years later.
New York Festivals: What leadership qualities are the most important to have?
Mark Travis: Being an effective leader calls on many of the same qualities that make for a good musician. First, you have to have the desire to lead—and not everyone does. You have to be flexible. Timing is essential. You also have to think like a team, communicate well, and trust your charges and fellow mangers to do the right thing. It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But I feel a lot of young mangers fall into one of two traps: 1) being afraid to pull rank when necessary or 2) being too laser-focused to see the big picture. I haven’t always liked my best managers, but my best managers have always commanded my professional respect.
New York Festivals: Tell us a bit about your evolution in the radio industry.
Mark Travis: The biggest change came when I made the decision to shift from the role of program host/DJ and go full-tilt to the production side of things. That was in 1999 and while I loved having a regular air-shift, I felt that I should take any reasonable job offer that would give me major-market experience. So I accepted a position as a production assistant for the WFMT Radio Network in Chicago. I was fortunate to join the staff there where I did, as I had the privilege of learning from some really amazing people. Lois Baum, John McGrody, and Kerry Frumkin put me through a sort of “radio finishing school.” Through their efforts, in particular, I honed my editing chops and really learned how to listen. Since my job focused primarily on the Network side of things, it was relatively easy to be in the right place at the right time when special opportunities would arise. I landed my first series—an English-language version of the Berlin Philharmonic’s broadcasts–largely by overhearing a conversation between two network executives and offering my talents as a resource. This propelled my career forward in a major way and led to several more engagements with top producers, artists, and ensembles. By the time I left in 2011, I had over 850 national broadcasts to my credit. Most of those were as a writer and producer, but it also wasn’t uncommon for me to be brought onto a project solely as an editor or technical producer. Here again is a situation where it paid to be flexible. My willingness to be whatever my clients or employer needed me to be wasn’t a concession; it diversified my body of work and furthered my growth in the profession.
New York Festivals: What was a defining moment in your career?
Mark Travis: I was assigned to cover the 2002 International Keyboard Institute & Festival at Mannes College in the summer of 2002. My job was to evaluate the quality of the music-making to see if we could capture enough material to produce a full 13-week series of 2-hour episodes. Had it not been for the experience of those three weeks in New York, I think my career could have gone in a much different direction. Many of my most important musical relationships were forged during that short time and it was then that I really fell in love with New York City hook, line, and sinker. The amount of high-level work I received after that also gave my career another major boost forward and just a year later, I was assigned to line-produce the Philharmonic’s monthly live broadcast series. I was still in my late 20s at the time.
New York Festivals: Will you share how the culture of your company encourages creativity?
Mark Travis: One of the best things about working for the New York Philharmonic is that it is a performance-based institution. As such, the desire to be the best you can be is understood, encouraged, and expected. The orchestra doesn’t settle for “decent” players and staging “good” concerts. No, it selects the best musicians in the world via audition and expects them to bring their “A-game” night after night performing the very best music. So with that mentality in place, I don’t have to ever argue about getting the necessary tools and resources to produce the best piece possible, whether that’s a promotional video, a radio broadcast, or a commercial release. I realize I’m very blessed in this regard and I am indeed very thankful.
New York Festivals: What’s your favorite radio program that you created?
Mark Travis: Well, the correct answer is, “all of them,” of course. After all, we should always respect our audience and our subjects enough to make quality our only product. That said, there are obviously a few of my radio “children” that still stand out to me. I’m very proud of the profiles I’ve done on pianist Rosalyn Tureck and conductor Lorin Maazel
and I don’t know that either would have been possible, but for the experience of working with Stephen Paley on the four-hour audio documentary, Callas In Her Own Words. All three of these projects painted very complete pictures of great artists and their work. In the case of the Maazel piece, I’m really pleased that I was able to showcase his charm and terrific sense of humor.
New York Festivals: What are the hallmarks of award-winning radio programs?
Mark Travis: Good radio always has a strong sense of time and place. It’s sonically diverse, but never unbalanced. It has a distinct and original voice and it is crafted with the expectation that it is eternal.
For more information on the 2016 New York Festivals Radio Program Awards visit:http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/radio/