Radio Ads: Shotgun Fishing


Q: How easy is it for owners and managers of radio stations to completely disregard how truly shabby their locally produced commercials are? A: Nuthin’ to it, at all. Accepting this shoddy circumstance is, apparently, natural and easy. Every local station – few exceptions – produces lousy spots. Advertisers accept them. Audiences hate them.

Even worse is the reality that a lot of radio management won’t or can’t even recognize the situation as being completely accurate. Here is a circumstance completely deserving of derision and criticism, targeted directly at ownership and management. Not only are these spots irritating and insulting to audiences, they are fraudulently represented to clients as being first-rate advertising content. Clients agree. Radio lucks out again.

“But wait! There’s more!” This ongoing practice of radio foisting garbage on advertisers and audiences alike does nothing to improve the fortunes of the very clients who look to us to help them improve the returns on their advertising investments. Fortunately for radio, almost all radio users have no idea about how wildly they are being bilked. I tenuously assume that some managers are painfully aware of the spot situation and of how their audiences are being similarly abused. (But, if they are, they ain’t sayin’.)

With much of the industry described as being precariously on tenterhooks – most outfits continue to operate as if all is well on the western front. Guards are let down and supplies are not being brought up. Gathering intelligence or sending out re-con units is no longer even considered. Situational awareness is not held as necessary or even a somewhat useful state.

Still, some might claim that since radio continues as a multi-billion dollar enterprise, all must be well and peachy keen. Seems like extreme and suspiciously weak posturing to me. However, if there is, indeed, a Gott in Himmel, She is a forgiving frau as She has been cutting radio a lot of slack for decades. But, even the gods, I am told, lose their patience. Radio insiders are reluctant to help themselves. Outsiders are indifferent.

Meanwhile, as to locally produced commercials: They do sucketh large! They are ridiculously insulting and irritating and juvenile and off-putting – generally. That they get aired with other equally innocuous spots in bloated clusters is beyond goofy. This practice is obviously self-destructive. Does anybody else care to step up and cogently defend these strategies and the bilge we have been producing for decades? Anybody at all? Not so far. (“The clock is running,” sez Jim Lovell of Apollo 13.)

There are pundits and leadership in other (sometimes related) industries with a great deal more credibility than this humble blogger who have also noticed the degree to which radio has succumbed to taking the easy, lazy, and ineffective way out of any programming/commercial challenges. That includes the obliteration of on-air talent, producers, writers, and the commercials they, otherwise, might have generated.

However, even with an immediate influx of talent (the ol’ “live & local” chestnut), the future does not bode well for radio – not so long as the standard, traditional approaches to programming and spot-generation continue to be applied. Radio is neither a direct or an authoritative medium. Rather, it is an indirect medium with no authority to tell anybody to do anything. Yet 95% of the spots we produce, especially locally, are no more than presumptuous, demanding, and annoying “direct response” ads. The implications of such dodgy practices are staggering.

Weirdness lies in the fact that these same banal and brutal ads seem to be producing at least some results. This is spectacularly amazing! In spite of our least and worst efforts, radio can still deliver. The explanation of that is more about neurology than it is philosophy, but it becomes a long and somewhat dreary story, especially when I tell it to people who couldn’t care a whit. It is an important tale, to be sure. But, still and for most it’s a snoozer. We ought to consider ourselves as just downright lucky that some results are still being delivered – despite our absolute, worst and horribly uninformed attempts.

By the way, I am not delivering these plaintive wails from the rarefied air of my plush and secure, mountaintop compound. I am also a V/O ho’. I am regularly reading the very crap against which I am railing. I voice the stuff; I summon my worst French-Canadian accent, me. I spend two minutes in da penalty box. I feel shame, and den, I am free – to cash da check. I still do the “yell & sell” spots. Sometimes I painfully shred my voice in the process. I am a hypocrite, too. But, again, there are those checks. Yes, sometimes one’s personal integrity can be purchased – or leased.

There are more effective and more listenable alternatives readily available. The spots we are airing now are akin to fishing with a shotgun. We can only target those fish that are near the very top of the water. The shot is effective no more than a few inches below the surface. Blasting scares away the rest of the catch we might otherwise enjoy taking in with better strategies. Plus, the noise annoys the hell out of the neighbors. The fish we do get are all torn up and full of buckshot. Ammo isn’t getting any cheaper. But, we do boat a few and the industry survives.

Indeed, it is so easy to criticize, rant against, and challenge modern radio. But, neither is it like cruelly kicking puppies. I write for radio professionals – grownups whose bones are hard and who have had every opportunity to improve their own fortunes by making significant improvements to their products and services. These are the same folks who have participated in the destruction of every functional dynamic of radio, or have colluded with those doing the damage directly. Instead, they all ignore or reject those opportunities – and chamber more shotgun shells.

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 counsellor. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed. Check out his website at


  1. Thank you, Bob, for the comment. Actually I did mention the phustercluck phenomena in the piece – and described it as beyond “goofy”. So, your point is well-taken.
    The premise, as we all know, is in the attempt to keep listeners around for a while – at least until the garbage truck rolls in and starts clankin’ and bangin’ for, like, forever – driving even the more tolerant of listeners away.
    Indeed, there are no justifications for the practice.
    Meanwhile, Bob, here is an even more frightening prospect:
    If the spots were strewn across the broadcast hour – say, 2 minutes per island – audiences would become ever more aware and more often of the crap to which they were being exposed – and, often, hightail it for higher ground.
    And yes, the clusters could be done away with through the issuance of a memo. Drastically improving spot quality? Well, that’s another real project that requires a serious decision and outside expertise.

  2. Ron you are 100% correct…but you omitted the biggest negative to radio by far. Cluster breaks. …Running 6, 8, 10 or more commercials (of any length) is absolutely stupid, unprofessional, and demonstrates a complete and total disregard for the success of the advertiser. This gross over-commercialization of radio was started by Mel Karmazin when he ruled CBS Radio, and continues to this day. No one-no one- listens to 10 commercials in a row. Some radio people say ” well TV has long breaks.”…First, that doesn’t justify radio doing it, and secondly, no TV station ever runs 10 commercials in a row, like many radio stations do. And these cluster breaks are the reason why there is such a huge failure and churn, with local radio advertisers…And some day, radio stations will run out of replacement sucker advertisers..


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here