There are certain kinds of research that are extremely useful. Radio asking audiences what they want is not one of them. Accepting those surveys as meaningful has only done radio massive damage. Ownership jumped all over the research that suggested audiences wanted “more tunes, less talk” and, by deeming that research as significant, radio drove off the cliff.
Further, by the time radio had been consolidated, it then got bogged down in the exercise of limiting or eliminating multiple stables of high-strung on-air staffs and burnt-out spot-cobblers. The industry-wide exercise did result in a slight whittling down of corporate frustrations. Timely, convenient, destructive, and self-serving, that!
Meanwhile, there is the more recent phenomena of “on-demand everything.” Platforms are available where audiences can pick and choose their favorite tunes, design lists, separate them by genres, color them by category, order pizza, and buy cut-rate car insurance. This is, supposedly, very exciting stuff. And I suppose it could be – for those whose interests are only “about the music” and who are also retentive enough to take the time and make the effort to go through the exercises.
We have dozens of music channels on our cable TV services and uncountable more online from which I can choose any number of uber-genres, sub-genres, particular favorites, and transformational, hypnotic, Tibetan chants – all commercial- and announcer-free. They, however, serve me as no more than a background din. And frankly, I find I get bored fairly easily. A steady stream of “The Greatest Hits Of The ‘80s” or some other iconic era just tuckers me out. I have a fairly low annoyance threshold that cranks up surprisingly quickly. I am not a better human being because of any of it.
Radio – at one time – would have been close to the antithesis of relief from any ongoing, creeping banality. Non-stop music is nowhere near what it is cracked up to be. “Muzak” would cover it nicely. Radio, however, continues to behave as if it really is “all about the music.” What an incredibly lazy and unacceptable approach! There is a reason that bars hire bands. Ownership still has to sell some booze to make budget. The band is only a demographic-targeting device. Big distinctions, too, in audience appeals, are obvious for both “The Skull Krushers” and “The Velvetones.”
Recently, a radio commentator suggested that stations begin approaching their audiences with “FOMA” (Fear Of Missing Out) elements in mind. I agree that’s worthy advice. Big-league morning show performers are attempting that. The single presenters who are working other day parts at almost every other radio station have no time, no opportunity, and no permission to even make the attempt. (Whether they have the skills, and are even able to piece together and deliver a few of these gems, is another matter.)
The ongoing, working reality for the vast majority of on-air presenters is one of “FOFA” (Fear Of Falling Asleep). They won’t be found scribbling down bits, gag lines or generating shtick – certainly not while Facebook, the station website, and V/T’ing duties are on their plates, or when toilet paper rolls have to be replaced.
Elsewhere, I enjoyed a video a while back of a large flock of sheep moving from one pasture to another. Capturing the scene was accomplished through the use of a drone at around 300 feet or so. What was remarkable was how, like massive flocks of birds, the sheep were able to move gracefully and in unison and to do so through – unbeknownst to me – a form of communication among the group that kept the whole process from becoming a video of sheep carnage.
It is also unlikely the sheep had any awareness of how each of them was receiving and responding to these instructions to move this way or that. There was too much space between the camera and the flock for anyone to see or hear one sheep turning to his companion and saying, “Hey Gary. Did you get a message just before we all turned left?” It was during one of these viewings that I was struck by the similarity between this huge flock and the radio business.
Some pundit, years ago, made the comment: “Once you’ve heard 10 radio stations, you’ve heard them all.” Seems about right. When radio was consolidating into overwhelming, toxic swamps of robo-matic noise, clogging airwaves and blotching the media landscape, did anybody stand their ground or attempt alternative, programming strategies? Why, no. They did not. Nor could they.
Over the ensuing years, has any radio organization found the status quo to be limiting and unsatisfactory to the degree they would try different approaches? Why, no. They have not. (Format changes don’t account for anything other than the equivalent of flapping a white flag.)
Has any radio organization made any attempt to engage or invest in what the rest of the world calls “R&D”? No. They have not.
Has any radio organization ever pondered why it is that they and their peers all respond to the same set of stimuli in exactly the same way? Not to my knowledge.
These then, I realized, are the behaviors of obedient, pre-programmed sheep. Sheep, by the way, have limited futures. They will either be sheared or slaughtered. (There are also other, disturbing rumors.) Those who are allowed to live a little longer will still become mutton – old sheep meat.
Radio cannot satisfactorily claim the ignorance of the beasts. Nor can leadership justify the colossal blunders in programming and ad creation that are being artificially maintained on life support. I have to assume the concepts of “change” and “improvement” are being considered as horribly painful and expensive ideals – perhaps even unnecessary. Radio requires more well-trained, “live & local” presenters communicating far more effectively, and much more often.
The awful irony is that cures and relief have been available for years. I wonder if there are any among the flock who can make these distinctions. Or, perhaps all this is too deep for sheep.