(By Ronald Robinson) There are many small- and medium-market radio stations that are doing quite well. They are, I presume, thoroughly engaged in their communities while maintaining worthwhile relationships with local advertisers. Genuine human beings manage many of these organizations. Some have staffs that proudly fly the station’s colors. And yet, they have not begun to realize their own potentials.
They, too, hit their “snooze buttons” many decades ago. Staggering about and broadcasting in a semi-somnambulistic state has become the norm — just one step shy of zombie behavior. (Although, come to think of it, radio has been eating its own for quite some time.)
While major-market stations are operating in similar, limiting situations of their own making, the strategies the smaller-market stations apply to communicate to their audiences also remain the same as those of over 50 years ago. Further, today there is a greater dearth of legitimate “personalities” on the air (and in the creative departments). Smaller-market on-air presenters who are still “live & local” continue to unknowingly suffer from their own debilitating approaches to their listeners.
Considering that every mechanic in every auto dealership in town is better trained in their field than all the presenters at all the local radio stations, any bleating, contrary assertions are difficult to consider or accept. Plus, the number of years someone has spent on the air supplies no evidence or assurances of quality, appeal, or the abilities to generate desired results. “Sincerity” hardly addresses audience and advertiser requirements.
Smaller-market copywriters are still tagged with the same responsibilities as are the hype-typers working the majors. Their duty is, as well, to influence members of the audience. Smaller-market practitioners do not get a “pass.” Nor do they have better excuses for producing shabby, third-rate copy. That the writer is a part-timer, a salesperson, or the janitor is no justification for producing low-quality goods.
Meanwhile, I have been asked to supply other examples of communication points. Most traditional copy is produced using this approach: “When you need a used car, visit ‘Wacked-Out Wally’s Used Cars for a great deal!”
Readers will be forgiven if they consider that copy and ask, “So, what the hell is wrong with that!?” Here, then, is what is going on with that communicative strategy:
– An assumption is being made by the writer/speaker that a connection already exists between an unidentified, individual audience member and the speaker.
– The still unidentified listener is actually being told to do something.
– The sentence is common and unappealing.
– An assumption is made that the listener has already come to a conclusion about their “need.” Some have. Some haven’t.
– The assumption is also made that the assumed need for a car is cause enough to head on over to Wally’s.
Here instead, is an alternate, subtle, yet powerful and more appealing example: “When people realize they are driving clunkers and need a great deal, it’s time for an extremely satisfying visit to ‘Wacked-Out Wally’s Used Cars.”
The alternate script does the following:
– The (unknown) listener can (by implication) identify with the need for another vehicle.
– They can (and do) assume a visit to Wally’s is now an option and not a demanded behavior.
– There is an implication that suggests thinking in terms of a “need.”
– A motivating emotional element is added.
– The sentences are more intricate and more interesting.
– The connection between the need and a trip to Wally’s is only implied.
When people are processing and generating language, we do so at an unconscious level. When guided, we will start considering the matter somewhat differently. Plus, when language is received through an electronic medium (radio) the exercise becomes even more complex. This, indeed, is more than “talkin’ on the sidewalk.”
Sometimes this material might seem to be banal, trifling – of little consequence. I assure readers that the last 35 years of applying the material to broadcast – on air and copywriting – along with the last 25 years as a personal counselor, has resulted in astounding, cumulative results for my employers and clients. Applying the many other techniques, therefore, can result in a new, exciting, and enormously influential era for radio.
Please note another “implied causative” in the following:
Because major ownership groups demonstrate a certain arrogance about how they operate, the first outfits likely to take action will be those that are mostly in the small-medium markets.
Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. Email him at [email protected]