In the hilarious movie, Young Frankenstein, Marty Feldman plays the part of “Igor” (pronounced: eye-gore). Hunched over because of a massive deformity on his back, Igor’s movements are severely limited. Dr. Frankenstein notices and says, “You know, I’m a rather brilliant surgeon. Perhaps I can help you with that hump.” Igor looks rather confused and says, “What hump?” Radio, I posit, is similarly afflicted.
Like Igor, radio seems to have no consciousness of its own debilitating deformity – its “hump.” Now, I understand this is a claim that might generate a few unforced snorts of righteous indignation. Yet, I maintain: Any shouts of outrage are, essentially, a representation of “hump denial.” (I don’t know if shrinks have this as a category in their diagnostic bible, the DSM-V. But, there might be something in it for them – another opportunity to strongly suggest therapeutic interventions, and bill them out by the hour.)
In competitive athletic environments – both amateur and pro – the concept of “playing hurt” is well known. In practice, the behavior of continuing to play when injured is held in very high esteem; taken as a demonstration of guts, integrity, willingness to sacrifice for a greater cause, and is considered a form of nobility. The athletes, however, are usually aware of their injuries and have some input into whether they can continue to participate or compete effectively. (In hockey, it’s: “Yeah, Coach! I can ‘go’!”)
Radio is injured. The difference is that radio leadership either does not feel the pain, or, for the few who might be somewhat aware, discounts the severity of the situation, and the consequences of continuing in a chronically busted-up state. To the contrary, station managers behave as if they have all the programming bases covered.
A block to radio “snapping out of it” is that the industry is extraordinarily insular. That is, radio compares itself only to other radio outfits. The whole industry runs on the same dogma and suffers the same “schema” – a process of organizing patterns of thought into a shared, but still arbitrary reality. Thus, there are no communications invitations from Houston that would allow for “We have a problem.”
I am cranking these articles out for a group of professionals who have significant, vested interests in radio. Some (even academic) curiosity from these folks is not an unreasonable expectation. The propositions, strategies, methodologies, techniques, and suggestions for a more useful philosophical position I have been proposing could be met with, at least, some polite inquisitiveness. I understand that is unlikely as the first prerequisite is for somebody in leadership to realize the situation, and then exclaim, “Hey! Is this our hump!?” (In the meantime, it has been either howls of juvenile slander and outrage or: SFX: Crickets chirping.)
Meanwhile, as I park my cousin’s turnip truck, I might be forgiven for repeating a few seemingly innocuous but, possibly, revealing questions. These have to do only with on-air talent – live or otherwise.
- Is there a useful reason to have talent on the air no more than a few times per hour?
- Is there a purpose to having them spend most of their on-air time promoting the station – the one that the audience is listening to already?
- Is there a justification to having on-air talent perform like non-sensory, unthinking robots?
- Is there value to having the talent perform in the one-speed, one-volume, one-tonality, and one-intensity mode?
- Does “light, tight, and bright” represent an actual, effective philosophy?
- How did “show prep” get usurped by Web maintenance and furniture dusting?
- Is “consistency” a weak synonym for “bland” or “sameness”?
- Does talent have any clear, verifiable idea of who in the audience is actually listening – never mind paying any attention?
- Does it not bother anyone in programming that all the technicians at the auto dealership down the street are better trained than any local, on-air talent?
- Are the talents also expected to be shills for “ET”? For what possible benefit?
- How has the abject suppression of talent developed any more audience interest, never mind loyalties?
Those questions do not even begin to address the major, even more serious matters of consequence that have been crippling radio programming for decades. Nor do they take into consideration the scattered wreckage that is the writing and production of local commercials. The (above) only makes up the, so to speak, “hair on the hump.” It really is no wonder that radio teeters; hobbling along, smashing dishes, knocking over the furniture, wildly swinging its cane and shattering mirrors while refusing and resenting all offers of help. “Uninformed, unwilling to learn, and cantankerous” are, generally, apt descriptions for the principal players in the business who demonstrate such behaviors.
I was reading the comments of a pundit recently. “There is no reason,” he said, “for radio to be worried about external aggression. Interested parties would rather exercise patience and wait for a substantial cave-in. They can then move in and pick up the pieces for significantly lower costs.” There were no suggestions new owners would do any better.
Indeed, radio’s leadership does not seem to realize it is participating in the ruination of an already hurtin’ medium. The condition is not even one in which they would visit a medical professional and say, “Doctor. Doctor. It hurts when I do this.” So, they won’t get to hear the expected answer. Plus, since other stations are, likewise, dragging their hobbled carcasses around, the situation seems – normal.
There are no bonuses for playing hurt and “hump denial” serves no one. But, how could things be any different since no station has one? A hump, I mean.