Unlike so many corporate producers of packaged foods, radio is not knowingly attempting to make consumers fat, sick, and crazy. Radio, however, does depend on consumer gullibility and ignorance to maintain its position as the number-five major media provider. Consumers, meanwhile, are waking up to how they are being skewered by any number of corporate and government organizations. They don’t seem to like it, either.
Although many of us “insiders” have been aware for decades of the systematic, cynical, and intended destruction of the very elements that provide the products and services that we are expected to deliver, audiences and advertisers have only just begun to catch on.
What, to my mind, is even more sobering than the decline in appeal and effect that radio is experiencing, is the acceptance the latest generation of owners, managers, and line staff have for the status quo of radio. Many are operating as if the way things are is the way things are supposed to be! In other words, they have little appreciation for those useful values that were available in the past, and no expectations for, or awareness of, potential improvements for the future.
In a previous piece, I told of a question that reveals beliefs and values. As a reminder, that question is: “What would I have to believe about myself and/or my environment in order for these (insert any undesirable personal behaviors) to be there?” Let us put the premise against some ownership and management behavior and note what oozes out.
There are no arguments against the following, so let’s go with this one: Ownership and management spend the least they can on on-air and spot-production talent. That being the case, one can consider the underlying beliefs and values that would have to be there to support the behaviors. There are a number of possibilities.
1.) This is necessary to maintain viability, if not profitability.
2.) Headquarters mandates these behaviors – as much as we may disagree.
3.) There are no alternatives available to correct these issues – and continue to make money.
4.) We have been getting away with shafting audiences and advertisers for decades, and I’m okay with that.
And there they are in stark and ugly clarity – the beliefs and values that have been driving radio for decades. Further, these positions are advertised in the foyers and reception areas of stations all over the country by the obvious displays of the bleached, staked skulls of former jocks, program directors, and copywriters. They serve to remind all who enter to “abandon hope.”
This is an untenable situation, of course, especially with the hordes girding their loins and mustering just on the other side of the hill. The odd reconnaissance-in-force from other media has already shaken radio to its core. Ownership has not been made so aware or are so impressed as the REMs (rear echelon mothers) that they are. I appreciate the beliefs and values as represented (above) are real – pink slip, kicked-to-the-curb real. But, they are not necessarily true. They most certainly are not useful.
I had a marvelous visit and supper with an old radio buddy last week who was one of the last to finally cave in to realities and sell out his stand-alone medium market stations (AM/FM) to corporate radio interests. His was one of the last stations in the market to maintain a “live and local” stance with his 34 full-time employees.
To his credit, he openly admits he was, with respect to expenses, in way over his head when he went up against “minimalized, corporate slick.” Further, he was operating on a traditional model of “live” radio that was, in hindsight, locked in by already established formats, traditions, and accepted dogma. The unfortunate fact remains: Even though the station was managed by sincere, lifelong, broadcasting professionals, they still weren’t very good at it! That was reflected in a lack of audience and advertiser participation, and that effective advertising was not being produced. Corporate came in, blew out more than half the staff, and managed to get along quite nicely, anyway – at reduced costs. Who could blame such a strategy other than those being gored by the company’s oxen?
Corporate radio may be finding itself in another very current and desperate situation – that of being in a position where talent in the affected departments will become essential – necessary – again. The problems lie in that management demonstrates they are in no position to find, identify, train, or pay for these required individuals.
Nobody in music radio can argue that we are operating on minimal talent in all areas, particularly in on-air and advertising production departments. That we have been (more or less) getting away with it for decades may always be a mystery to me. I believe, however, that boat ride is coming to a close, especially as other media get our range and may be about to put a couple down our funnels.
- As to value/belief #1: Viability and profitability will increase only by generating superior programming and advertising content (see: “hordes”).
- As to value/belief #2: Ownership can either choose to reconsider their position on these matters or wait until circumstances demand they do so – a terrifying situation with no assured, satisfactory outcome. It is still a “choice point” and there is still time.
- As to value/belief #3: Of course there are alternatives – seminars, courses, trainings, and materials that will address these issues, the application of which will generate further, ongoing, and long-term success. These new techniques and strategies are also, quickly, becoming necessary components.
- As to value/belief #4: Those who hold this position may find themselves in line to be bleached, staked, and mounted in station foyers right beside the jocks, program directors, and copywriters who are “no longer with us” – much sooner than expected. And, oh boy! Will they be surprised?!