Years after meeting John Kerber via skype I finally got to know the man behind Howard Stern’s Imaging in person while being in NYC some weeks ago. John has hold that gig for more than 10 years and has created this gigantic Howard Stern sound we all know and love! I wanted to dig a bit deeper and learn more on how the sound of Howard evolved over the ten years, what was the strategic goal, how is it to work with the man himself and and and…So many questions, so much things to explore and a massive new task waiting for him! Guys, Meet John Kerber!
John, give me a bit background on yourself, what is your carrer path, where did you start in radio and how?
Started as an on-air jock in 1998. Worked in Elmira, NY WNKI, Wilkes-Barre, PA WKRZ and WBHT, and Philadelphia, PA WMWX. In 2003 I reinvented myself as an Imager. I then moved to New York City to take a position with MTV where I oversaw sound design and production for various Viacom properties in the MTV Music division most notably MTV Satellite Radio on XM. In 2006, I took the position as Imaging Director for Howard Stern’s new channels on Sirius.
How is it to get the job offer for the most prestigious radio gig on the planet?
I owe it all to my colleague Dave LeClaire, a Producer whom I worked with at MTV, for recommending me for the position and to former SVP Programming Tim Sabean for taking a chance on an unknown talent and giving me the opportunity to grow creatively. I had lunch with Tim on a Thursday and after a rigorous 4 day interview process, had the job offer on a Tuesday!
What makes Howard sound special? What techniques and Imaging tricks do you use the most?
You can never have enough fart sounds. Can I interest you in syndicating a fart library with Benztown? My approach is to present Howard’s brand as if it were a movie trailer or TV show. Larger than life. For example- The most trivial contest “The Craptacular” where the show weighed people’s bowel movements for prizes was accompanied with an epic promo worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. It adds to the humor and gives the channels a unique sonic identity.
VO Treatment, how does your regular VO chain look?
Every artist has his secrets. I wouldn’t say my chain is the recipe for Coke or the KFC’s 21 herbs and spices, but it’s not something I share freely. I will say however I am a fan of RChannel, Req, and T-Racks.
What production system do you use and why?
Pro Tools. It’s what I learned at Ithaca College in 1996. Old habits die hard. Every studio I walk into in NYC and LA has Protools. Knowing this DAW makes me very versatile and valuable in the sound design field. I love it.
What is your most favorite plugINs?
Waves anything. They just make great stuff. Specifically- L series, RChannel, Req, Rcomp, H-Delay. I love samplers and virtual instruments. Structure and Omnisphere find their way into my production many times.
What elements do you sue the most in terms of beds, sound effects, etc..?
I love anything cinematic. Give me some wipes, hits, drones, risers, signals and I’m a happy producer. Nothing too electronic. I love organic sounding FX. For beds- Rob Zombie meets America’s Got Talent (AGT), it’s a recipe for disaster.
How did the sound of Howard evolve?
When I started, the channels were very associated with Howard’s big industry move- moving to an uncensored platform. All of the branding was positioned “Welcome to the Revolution”. His image was synonymous with a Rob Zombie post-apocalyptic texture. Trent Reznor meets Private Parts. At that time the movie was only 9 years old and he was fresh off of 92.3 K Rock in New York. People hung on to both of those images of Howard.
Howard shocked the world again when he took a role as judge on AGT. The channels were going through an evolution at that time as well. We hooked onto the momentum of that transition and ushered in a new mainstream AGT Edgy type of sound that is present on the channels today. I would say the sound of the channels is closer to a CHR from hell meets movie trailer than a rock station.
How is it to work with THE radio legend?
It’s an honor and a privilege. Howard has done so much for me and my career. I can’t thank him enough. As anyone would think it would be, it is also very challenging and demanding. That which does not kill you makes you stronger.
What is your suggestion for the young guns, who dream about landing a gig like that?
Be an obsessive imaging nerd. Know everything about the craft and then go and learn some more. Pay your Visa with your Mastercard when you’re unemployed. Work at getting better every day. 99% of this job is just showing up and being reliable. Always be present. Always be ready. Always be professional. Being a jerk pays off in the short term, but has long term negative consequences. Instead, be kind and giving, it’s a long term investment but the dividends are huge in the end.
What does your next mission look like, personal goals, ideas, thoughts?
Soon, I will be starting my new role as Creative Director SXM Music Channels. I’ve always dreamed of working with Mitch Todd, Rob Cross, and Steve Blatter, and music imaging was my first love. I’ve made my mark on Radio History with 10 years at Howard Stern and am ready for a new challenge. This will give me the opportunity to exercise my creativity in a different way, and I’m looking forward to attacking everything I touch. North America, get ready!