Though unlikely she would be aware of her nifty, bonus position, Cumulus’ newly minted CEO, Mary Berner, has also been ordained a High Priestess of radio. Enter the fawning company zealots – packing embossed creeds and liturgies. (Granted, they could keep her in the dark.) But, if she is fully briefed and given she has not had to drink the ubiquitous Kool Aid, she might just identify the bull#*^# rolling in.
Many years and tears ago, “research” was generated that confirmed (essentially) the following: Audiences wanted less jock and more rock. And, of course: Audiences hated radio commercials. As to the former: That was not high-quality research. It was, instead, a series of polls run on people who could not consciously define or report on their own values and motivations. The responders were not dummies. Rather, they were simply unaware of their own unconscious processing – just like the rest of us, today. The really useful information was never acquired, collated, or applied.
As to the latter: Audiences were quite sincere in their derision of radio commercials. That hasn’t changed. Yet, obviously, millions are still willing to tolerate them. (Happy, joy-luck, good fortune for today’s radio!) Still, the programming decisions made from applying the implications of that so-called “research” have stuck and become dogma. Suppressing and chopping talent was instantly justified. Those decisions contributed to a now-drained industry, ill-equipped to become dominant among other media platforms.
As with other organizations chronically dependent on dogma, radio’s clergy entertain no challenges. Credos are chanted. Hymns are sung and the same sermons delivered, often by leaders who are sincerely in agreement with the drivel they are expounding. Chats that fail to include the “so it is written, so shall it be done” edicts are not tolerated.
People do have this often extremely dangerous propensity to ignore evidence. Organized religions are not the only outfits that are based on some form of “blind faith.” For those operating out of any given “faith” position, evidence is not required. Likewise, should anything even resembling contradictory evidence be lurking about, it is either ignored or squelched – without prejudice or remorse. “There shall be no thinking in this organization!” say senior clergy. Mindlessly dependent underlings – the mewling monks – become agents of harsh reminders or cruel punishments.
I have yet to receive a strong or credible argument that is contrary to any of the alternative strategies and methodologies I have been providing in this and other environments. Other pundits have also been issuing warnings and suggesting some alternatives to radio’s leadership for quite some time. Again, to the “faithful,” even considering a discussion (thought crime) on these matters carries severe implications.
The overriding programming philosophies – including those that pertain to the writing and production of local commercials – were emblazoned on marble some decades ago. There are rumors those engravings were slipped across the border to Canada and buried under the building that once housed “The Big 8” – CKLW. I rather doubt this as ’LW, in its glory, had nothing at all in common with the tight-assed, PC brand of missing-talent robo-radio foisted on audiences these last 25 years. I remember hearing, “Another hapless Woodward Avenue pedestrian, after being clubbed by an assailant wielding his Louisville Slugger, staggered into traffic and was strained through the grill of a speeding ’69 Mustang. I’m Bolt Upright – CKLW 20/20 News.” That took grit.
But, I digress. I agree that a return to local “personality radio” is essential. My first priority, however, is about applying the available training of on-air folk and copywriters in the powerful skills and strategies required to be a proficient broadcast communicator. Without that training, there can be no new “personality radio.” There is no one at any level of the radio-clergy who can successfully argue against the proposition that improvement of communications skills is necessary. They are compelled to take the same position as the faithful elsewhere and ignore everything. Publicly sacrificing untrained people on the air would be the root cause of horrific and costly train wrecks.
Equally strange – and this applies outside of radio, as well – is how people will keep on doing what they are doing even after they find out it isn’t working. What is more bizarre is how they keep repeating what they were doing – only harder. The behavior, on one hand, is defended as one that demonstrates “persistence”! On the other hand, it could be suggested how continuing such behaviors demonstrates foolishness. Where radio is considered, however, and given a whole industry is behaving the same while generating unacceptable results, the scales tip, I submit, to the side of foolishness.
“But, it’s okay!” say the bishops of broadcasting. “We shall be delivered by our persistence, our beliefs – by our faith!” Meanwhile, I rather doubt Ms. Berner has been apprised of her other title at Cumulus. As a high priestess, she is expected to both accept and pay fealty to the dogma of radio programming and, by applying the dogma, to deliver the company from the Philistines, wherever they might be embedded. She might, instead of accepting the faith-premises, retain her own critical thinking capacities.
The real enemies of radio – including the clerics of Cumulus – are all inside radio. They may not be sporting the flowing robes, hush puppies or funny hats of other clerics, but they are the carriers and defenders of the dogma. The messages, particularly to outside interests, are fuzzy and without substance. But, the priests and priestesses are still swift to deliver the harshest of disciplines – with righteous indignation and, perhaps, some twisted glee – to those who might question the edicts. Alas, even with Mary in the pulpit, radio’s deliverance is not likely nigh.
What is more likely: Mary will be kept unaware of these poisoned programming dynamics. The programming gatekeepers will see to that. Verily, another opportunity to implement necessary improvements will have been squandered and dogma prevails.
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.