They Can’t Help It


 A startling revelation for me during the last few years of providing these articles has been the intensity of so many radio people who come barging in outraged, spitting cobra-venom, and hurling flaming defenses for music-radio’s status quo. One apologist even went so far as to insist that audiences “liked” locally produced commercials. Sure. As most of us also like being continuously poked in the forehead with a fork.

Uniformed and gullible keeners show up like cheerleading squads for a school team that is 0 and 16 for the season, as if there were some nobility or benefit in propping up or being “loyal” to a loser. Radio is not about demonstrating some twisted form of high school spirit. It is about providing high-quality services to audiences and advertisers and being rewarded for those accomplishments. Given radio’s current condition, I am only speculating about responsibilities and potentials, neither of which radio is even attempting to address, never mind realize.

I have some suspicions that are based on the behaviors of the majority of radio enterprises. Well-known and spectacularly successful stations aside, there is so much delusional thinking foisted on station staffs by managers who would be certainly unaware of their own crippled positions. They are delusional, however, and because of that lack of awareness also sleep well most nights. Further, these same folks are completely congruent in their sincerity when they deliver whatever toxic and/or useless instructions they supply to the troops.

Those in management who are slightly less secure about passing along whatever decisions are being handed down get only a little help from deodorants. A few of their colleagues still catch the telltale olfactory evidence. Distributing half-baked crusts like they were manna from Gott in Himmel can be a spirit-crushing exercise.

It is the desperate, however, who are generating those acidic aromas that come from living in a constant state of fear. It is they who suffer most. The truly terrified are producing a stench that could knock a buzzard off a honey-diver’s wagon at 50 paces. This current business of corporate music-radio is making them sick to their minds, sick to their faces, sick to their guts, and sick to their pants. It is an ugly scene. Children are made to turn their heads and are gently led away.

As I sit here beside the kitty-litter box in my mom’s dank and pungent basement, clutching my second-last bag of Tostitos and passing gas, I am reminded of the greatest of my revelations of the past years. It has to do with radio’s solid refusal to consider any approaches to the issues at hand. That is, unless deck chair frenzies constitute “addressing the issues.” Consultants won’t do it either. (I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge those solid consultants who can work with talent, to some degree, and who are brought in to extinguish bushfires. Water bombing a single campfire, however, is still a little extreme.)

As a brief review and for the benefit of those who have come into the business in the last 20 years or so: Since consolidation, the new, corporate owners have spent these last decades applying their version of a “scorched earth” policy. Not realizing they had just bought into “show business” or “the communications business,” they began to burn off the talent, on air and in the creative departments. After all, they figured, it’s about the music anyway. Plus, the janitors can write spawts. “Research” was produced that demonstrated how audiences had no preferences for the talkers. It was all about the tunes. That remains the pervasive position. They were mistaken at the time and they are mistaken now, particularly given the number of sources of music that are available today.

Meanwhile, Cumulus has been a recent target-of-opportunity for massive criticisms – all of it earned. Although unfortunate, would Mary Berner even recognize an alternate and useful strategy for improvement, even if it were lavishly laid out on a fine linen tablecloth, with a fancy set of dishware, sparkling cutlery, and an interpreter standing by? More importantly, and in fairness to Mary: Who in the organization has those absolutely required-right-freakin’-now strategies? I suspect there are also gatekeepers on both sides of Ms. Berner’s office doors. (Not much gets in – not much gets out.) “Deck chair frenzies” do nothing for results or morale. Philosophically, it can be argued, radio is already bankrupt. Still, there is some hope – for some organizations – maybe – I guess. But not before a whole new communications model is understood, learned, and applied – pervasively.

If it ever seems I am insisting that on-air and creative “talent” be brought back in droves, making everything alright again, I would be dangerously wrong and/or misunderstood. My position: Unless existing on-air and creative talent is thoroughly retrained to be proficient communicators, first, any attempt at bussing in another crop of potential writers, announcers, presenters, or “personalities” would be more disastrous than doing nothing.

One of my more strident detractors put a sniffy, rhetorical question to me by asking: If none of the 13,000 radio stations were doing it “my way” were they all doing it wrong!? The short answer is: That’s exactly what I have been saying all along! Granted, if I didn’t know otherwise, I might also wonder about the arrogance of someone making such a statement. But, I do, so I don’t.

I am, of course, aware of many wildly successful radio stations around the country, and good on ‘em. My contentions have always been about the magnificent, but unrealized potential for improvements and greater prosperity that are available to radio – including the biggies. While some nests continue to be feathered quite nicely, the industry is still holding down the number-five spot on the list of preferred media. Many outfits don’t even get into the mix. But that’s what happens when alligator hunters are brought in to run a stable of thoroughbred racehorses. They just can’t help themselves. They shoot the stock anyway.


  1. And here’s our friend Shelly again…once again hostile, and attacking Ron again. Shelly please tell us that you are not a manager! You always come across miserable, hostile, and attacking, on these threads. ..If you are a manager, wow do we feel sorry for your people, having to face such an unhappy person like you every day! … Did you have a bad childhood?? …We CAN get you help!…It’s never too late you know!!

  2. Settle down, anonymous Shelly. Enjoy your cornflakes in peace.
    Cumulus is only one organization that is not too big to collapse under its own mass.
    Besides, in such a situation, I would have to answer to Mr. McVay.
    I might last 20 minutes.
    Either that, or I would be shuffled off to some basement in Atlanta. Maybe Dog Fart, Montana.


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