Can Radio Get Better?

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(By Ronald Robinson) For the last while, I have been paying closer attention to the comments of younger, current PDs, and to those of well-seasoned programmers – the wily veterans. To a man/woman, literally all of them continue to cling to some extremely old concepts. I am reminded of the terrified, scrambling, shipwrecked sailors, grasping the top of the mast as the safety and security of their ship slowly slips into the salty depths, so to speak.

These programmers, I suspect, do not frame their positions as being anywhere near the “scrambling” or “grasping” positions to which I am alluding. To the contrary, they boldly stride into radio’s future absolutely certain about, and comfortable with, their positions being not only secure, but beneficial to the business of attracting and holding audiences. They also refuse to consider the efficacies of their positions as they relate to generating more influential, commercial copy.

They all continue to insist on the (still) wholly accepted “one-to-one” dynamic of radio. They are, however, required to do so by borrowing dynamics from every religion. That is to say, the one-to-one premise has to be akin to a faith-based position. This would be because there is absolutely no evidence to support, never mind prove the claim.

I wouldn’t know how many stations continue to take the one-to-one premise to the extreme by mounting a poster-sized representation of a single member of the “target audience” on the control room wall.

I was invited by a GM to do afternoon drive at a station that was (loosely) targeted at women 25-54. The station was a ratings-wreck and the brunt of nasty jokes among other radio aficionados in the market. I had been amazingly successful previously at another station in the same market by applying the techniques and strategies I have been mentioning consistently in this space, so I had a certainty that massive improvements could be made at this outfit as well. The station was owned by a major chain, and it was locked into the conditions as laid down by the corporate PD.

Walking into the control room for the first time, what to my wandering eyes should appear but a 30-something woman – sporting executive gear. The poster was of a size that was impossible to ignore, and below it was the message, “Our Audience.” Around the station, this fantasized individual was also touted as “She Who Must Be Uber-Served.”

Since I wasn’t about to try to take over the joint and had no intentions of making existential trouble or generating angst by touting the strategies and methodologies I was about to apply, I made no stink about this ridiculous caricature. In my previous position (also afternoon drive), I applied all the principles I have been offering here. I told no one. Nor did anybody at the station ever catch on to the fact that I was doing things somewhat differently. They wrote it off to my being a “unique personality” and left it at that. And why would they not? All I did was dominate the market.

So, I began my association with this station. A month into it, one PD left and another one arrived – never a good sign, since my deal with the GM might be (conveniently) overlooked. It was. Still, I continued applying the techniques and my own stellar, marvelous personality to the business of getting the day-part back on track.

Three months into the exercise, the PD invited me out for a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs on a Friday – just before my shift. He said I seemed to be doing a few things differently, but he couldn’t put his finger on any specifics. He seemed pleasant enough, so I thought I would, for the very first time, share just one of the elements. It was the warning of the one-to-one premise. This counter-productive condition, I explained, was subdued by the simple elimination of the “you” factor, while providing only third-person references.

I was called into the station early on Monday and given my pink slip. Monday night, The Book was released. Afternoon drive had gone from #8-women to #1. Men had gone from #12 to #1. No lessons were learned. Improvement was successfully avoided.

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. E-mail him at [email protected]

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Ron Robinson
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. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed.

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