Merlin In The Mix


I think most radio people would agree: We seldom, if ever, have the conversation about the innate power of radio and how it unquestionably impacts the minds and emotions of listeners. That radio, in spite of its worst efforts, still maintains a mid-90s-percent penetration speaks directly to this innate power of the medium.

We don’t have the conversation because most people in radio would hear the comment and say, “Huh? What innate power!?” Radio cannot make any claims to generating these high penetration numbers because of anything the industry has done of its own volition and with purpose. To the contrary, radio has been consistently sabotaging itself – draining the blood and cutting away at the marrow and bone that support the broadcasting body. Plus, it seems to me, they do all this hacking and bashing with absolutely no consideration of any consequences.

The industry management and the line staff, to my knowledge, have never made “radio’s innate power” a topic of serious discussion, never mind research and development. One result of that is the ongoing presumption by programmers that radio presentations, particularly commercials, as they are produced today, are acceptable products that are arrived at by generating copy that is consistent with the “newspaper of the air” variety. By that, I mean those spots that are all content, loaded with information, demands for behaviors, and drastically failed attempts at connecting with audiences on a one-to-one basis.

I agree there is no argument that these newspapers of the air, or, more commonly referenced as “direct response” ads, do function to a somewhat satisfactory degree. Did they not, we wouldn’t have an industry about which I could bitch and complain. Nevertheless, we can all be accused of taking the medium for granted. The further debasing of radio, over time, to a cheapest, lowest common denominator of broadcasting has not received anywhere near the challenges and criticisms ownership and leadership have coming.

It’s not as if, over the decades, we have not had every opportunity to study, learn, and exploit any newly discovered or (sometimes) past, effective approaches that will enhance audience participation and advertiser results. Nor has any other broadcaster of my acquaintance ever made or accepted the most basic of distinctions that come from an audience member accessing the medium. That distinction: Radio has a greater impact as an emotional medium than it does as a content medium. In terms of delivering radio, this is not an either/or circumstance. It is about the priority of employing the most powerful of approaches while maintaining only the necessary content.

When I say “emotion,” I mean a great deal more than a giggle – perhaps some pathos, or an irritated snort. I am referring to all those elements of communicating which engage and enhance the participation of audience members and the generation of feelings, of so many kinds. Only one example is the use of “sensory-based” language patterns. Radio’s presenters (on-air and ad production) are in the practice of applying only the most base of communications – failing (almost) pervasively to apply the sensory predicates of taste, touch, sight, hearing, and olfactory elements that every member of the audience can experience.

Providing just sensory descriptives alone fires off all kinds of neural-synaptic processes in an audience member. Great stuff. “Majic.” Radio, however, survives on “hard, basic content” – delivered poorly. And that’s not near enough to move a station or an advertiser toward more prosperity. I am afraid that any “aha” moments that might have gone on in the minds of ownership and leadership along the way have been either ignored or repressed into the basements of unconsciousness.

I might hope that broadcasters will consider these aspects of electronic (not print) communications – even at an intuitive level – as concepts worthy of immediate consideration and, possibly, application. My position is one on which the industry requires that these materials be implemented immediately. The evidence that supports these premises I have been presenting is already available. Some of the material is neurologically based. Some of it has roots in psychology. All of it has been tested, and all of it can be demonstrated. Perhaps most importantly, all of it can be learned and replicated by local. Line staffs.

Instead, and over decades, we got caught up in depending on the tunes while debilitating the talkers and the writers, never realizing the extraordinary results that are possible by accessing the mammoth communications and influence tools to which we all have had access.

I was monitoring Saga’s new, so-called “radio” format called “The Outlaw.” This one is of the Classic Country variety. One of the splitters provided the following: “…and with no DJs to get in the way.” Yes, really! I insist that some factions of the business have completely lost their direction – that is, if they ever had one. This droning and toxic example of a real radio station is an embarrassment. It’s not radio. It’s Muzak. (I confess, the voice talent doing the promos and splitters had a nifty drawl, a fine attitude, and an overall terrific delivery.)

Meanwhile and after all these articles have been presented, the need for radio to address its own models of communication has yet to be addressed. Put in a more ironic fashion: Radio is a communications industry that refuses to readdress its methods of communication. Shown this scenario, I expect leadership from other industries would be frozen in their tracks – aghast, stymied, and stupefied at the lack of attention paid to the most important element of the radio world.

Still, radio’s innate power remains unexploited because ownership and management have no idea of its existence, never mind how to take advantage of it. So powerful is this innate property, it could be likened to “The Merlin In The Mix.”


  1. Why would that little scamp, Shelly, be offended for a terse and pointed retort following a slander?
    She is, after all, just another anonymous, internet troll who, by the way, has offered no understanding of any of the communicative aspects of radio.
    Maybe she is in sales – which probably makes it appropriate to barge in to knock over the lamps and soil the furniture.

  2. The pomposity of some commentators is staggering.
    They never challenge the premises and strategies I have been presenting.
    But, they are quick to point out what I don’t know – as if they were expert mind-readers.
    I can only enthusiastically speculate this is one of those “they don’t know that they don’t know that they don’t know” situations. The on-air presentations lean heavily to my position.
    The really good mind-readers are already working – in Vegas.
    After monitoring “The Outlaw”, I was aghast to read how Saga’s boss was touting how they were going to “knock the cover of the ball etc etc.”
    Is this, I wonder, just an anomaly or is it the harbinger of the future….

  3. Jerry. You are also so uniformed of my education and practiced expertise as to render your comments irrelevant.
    “Production and writing”? “…a very small part of the industry”..? Seriously? Those are the only elements over which radio has complete control.
    So, what do they do? Suppress everything.
    That’s a fast-slipping, but not unexpected position, Jerry.
    But, relax. Yours is the typical position of almost all the leadership and management.
    My expertise encompasses all of the spoken-word elements foisted on radio audiences – construction and delivery of on-air, commercial writing and positioning.
    Meanwhile, audiences are being under-served and advertisers are being exploited. For those who insist otherwise, there is always hope and help available.
    Neither is assured.

  4. Robinson, if your goal is to escalate each ridiculous remark of yours over the one previous in order to gain attention and discourse, you’ve failed.
    Your narrow slice of the broadcasting business, production and writing, is a small part, a very small part of the industry. Your incessant harping on the same alleged shortcomings gains few amens, I’ve noticed. It’s a pity your editors don’t. The business is blessed that you are not employed in it, and likely will never be. No one is listening-a failed prophet.

  5. I would expect an NAB member-in-good-standing to be on the front line of cheerleaders for radio.
    If those members are comfortable with the wreckage they have made of radio in the last 20 years, they are free to do so.
    Admonishing me for being critical, while I am one who is also supplying educated, tested alternatives, is neither impressive or credible.
    Meanwhile, some of my aquaintances have described the convention as no more than a circle-jerk.
    While debt-loads remain staggering, staffs are cowering in the corners and advertisers are being provided with uncommonly shoddy product, ownership parties?
    Shame on the whole, disengaged cabal.

  6. Note to Mr. Nelson, and with respect:
    That you have not been exposed to my Radio Ink articles (160 of them) is apparent.
    I have, indeed, laid out the alternatives – in more detail that I had originally planned.
    I urge commentators to be wary of their own presuppositions – all based on a lack of information. These, while somewhat forgivable under the circumstances, are still inaccurate.

    • You’re going to “somewhat forgive” me for an observation? I’ve read several of your blogs here in 2016. They are all similar-a blatant dislike for what we broadcasters own and offer the marketplace and- a rather shallow interpretation of what drives the industry today. I’ve employed your type. That’s the bad news. The good news is-I no longer do. It’s a great convention. If you can stand the slumming, take it in sometime.

  7. Indeed and agreed, mike.
    Now, let’s start improving on those legitimate and useful points.
    I understand that educating an advertiser only adds to the burden. Educating colleagues can be tougher still. 🙂
    But, as you already know – it can be a very useful and satisfactory approach.
    Most of us, most of the time are being saved/rescued by that “innate power” that radio still enjoys.
    There is lots o’ room to exploit that even further.

  8. Just have to chime in on that Outlaw no DJ bit. That signal had best hope they have a REALLY loyal, dedicated classic country following. Even SiriusXM, which launched on the premise of no annoying DJs, realized that they couldn’t win ears with a 6 hour playlist repeat and no personalities. The playlist repeat hasn’t improved much, but at least they’ve found a few talents that people want to hear in between songs.

    Self-marginalization … a great marketing strategy.

  9. Mr. Robinson,
    It seems that the regular bad-mouthing of radio that you and a few others here engage in regularly are your opinions only. I’m at the NAB. The marketplace likes, loves radio. No one is going to take you seriously when all you do is criticize and offer no alternatives. You suggestions are of the banal “you need to sound better” variety which seems to be in your brain yet you cannot articulate any definitive description, and offer no on-air examples to consider. It’s like having a teen-ager who daily says “I’m bored.” Radio-Ink has other bloggers who offer usable advice and tips. Your writings do not.

  10. I have been telling my clients about making sure of two things with their advertising: Firstly, to connect with their listeners and potential customers on an emotional level! Otherwise, their ads are just informational blurbs! Why should anyone care? Secondly, to always come to the table with the viewpoint: What is in it for the listener? Why should I, the customer, deal with you, the advertiser? Portray that effectively and you will get response! Don’t just assume that the phrase ” Call or Stop in today! will get any response. Why should it if you don’t give a good reason to respond to the ad? Ron, sometimes an ad can be written to utilize the Prod person’s strongest points in delivery, if you know your Prod person.

  11. I have little alternative, then, but to mark Shelly down as: Someone who has not been, and refuses to – pay attention.
    Meanwhile, I have to wonder: How is it that the poobahs gather every once in a while over the years; come back home after learning so much and still, nothing improves.
    Radio has, I remind, been flatter than pee-on-a-plate for a couple of decades.

  12. You, up there in the pine trees may not be aware, but the largest convention in the USA, the National Association of Broadcasters convention is going on right now…..and these fine people traveled to learn all they can. More than you’ve ever done. You sit in the cheap seats and criticize..and looking at your resume, you haven’t really accomplished much. The broadcast management whom you badmouth every week don’t respond to you because they know what you are-zero.

  13. “Ordered”?
    To clarify: I love radio – as a medium with great potential.
    It’s what corporate thuggery has done to it over the last 20 years that gets my indignation.
    Plus, an almost pervasive unwillingness from the leadership to learn anything new.
    Very much a “biggie”.
    For that, among others, I have as my poster-person, the anonymous, but ever ready troll, Shelly.
    The invitation, however, does remain to be specific in challenging the premises in the articles.

  14. More tortured sentences (saying) nothing. Take Ronnie’s parenthesis key away from him. He must have been ordered to say a few nice things about radio. Sort of like “I like your dress. It keeps the BO contained.”


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