Last year started off a little shaky for Tristan Prettyman. On Christmas of 2010, it was announced that she was engaged to San Diego singer/songwriter Jason Mraz. Early in 2011, Mraz said the marriage was off, announcing that until gay marriage was legal, he wouldn’t tie the knot with anyone.
“We had already broken up,” says Prettyman. “Our friends already knew that we both decided we weren’t ready. That gay marriage thing really wasn’t the reason.” Prettyman says she was surprised how Mraz chose to explain why the wedding was off.
Then things started looking up for Prettyman. She recorded her third CD for Virgin Records in August (release date not yet set) and was picked to appear in a four-episode TV commercial for KPRI, which started running in October.
Although she isn’t identified by name in the 15- and 30-second spots, the ad appears to have done the job: KPRI just showed its best ratings in its 15 years as an adult-alternative station. KPRI’s February ratings were up almost 50 percent from just four months earlier.
“I think it’s great that KPRI went with TV commercials,” says Prettyman. “Everyone else seems so focused on Facebook, the internet, and Twitter. They went old-school and it totally worked.” Prettyman says she was asked to make the spots in part because of her friendship with KPRI co-owner and nighttime DJ Robert Hughes. “We both live in Del Mar,” says Prettyman, who has performed at several KPRI-sponsored events over the years.
“TV used to be the preferred method of marketing [radio] in the ’80s,” says Hughes. “There is a belief that radio and TV are passé, but our research shows that even for people who consume a lot of digital media, radio is still at the center of America’s media habits.”
Hughes said he was inspired to use a solo actress by the “lips” series of commercials that the original KPRI (106.5 FM) used in the late ’70s. Those spots showed nothing but a closeup of Bree Walker’s mouth as she lip-synced male KPRI DJs talking up their rock playlists.
Walker, who joined Channel 10 as a newsperson in 1980, was a DJ at KPRI.
“That commercial was part of KPRI’s DNA,” says Hughes, who says he and his staff at the time created the spot without using an ad agency.
Hughes says he had a real actress in mind for the current ads. “We started thinking about what woman was in the right age range and had the right personality. I remember seeing Zooey Deschanel in a movie called 500 Days of Summer. We were about to call her when we found that she landed the leading role in the [TV series] New Girl for Fox.”
Prettyman says she had never acted before. “They first asked me to do a test run, just so they could see how it looked. Then, a few weeks later, they called and asked me if I wanted to do the commercial. I was happy to do it. In the midst of our corporate world, they are the only real mom-and-pop radio station.”
That’s a touchy subject for Hughes, who notes that 91X touts itself as “local” and “independent” but is owned by a four-billion-dollar investment firm called Thoma Bravo based in Chicago.
And then there’re those Mexican public service announcements that warn listeners against trading a pound of beans for a vote in the upcoming Mexican presidential election. Stations with Mexico-based transmitters, including 91X, have to run those ads throughout the day.
“It’s obvious the station is designed to serve the population of another country,” says Hughes.
Prettyman leaves soon to play an event at Virgin Records owner Richard Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Islands. “He’s hosting other CEOs who will talk about ways to improve the environment.... I was the only one invited to play. It’s just me and my guitar.”