Talent: Care And Feeding


Recent articles were provided by a number of well-known coaches and consultants – guys who enjoy some serious credibility. A number of principles and suggestions were offered on how to approach and treat radio’s talent – those who are slaving over hot microphones at local stations. The hyperbole-hacks in the creative departments, glaring out from their 10-year-old iMacs, were also included. “Kid gloves” and “tough love” elements were among those mentioned.

Now, I do hope it is understood that the efforts of these experienced and knowledgeable practitioners are useful and necessary, sometimes to advance improvements in a station’s on-air staff’s performance, and sometimes as an intervention to quell impending mutinies. Under whatever circumstances, these professionals know they will likely be meeting with, at least some, shall I say, “mild resistance.”

For those of us who have been at this radio dodge for a number of decades, the standard-issue “do’s & don’ts” are part of the traditions that have been formed over a very long time. Although many of the missives have been around for quite a while, this does not presume that all of them have been introduced to the talent  corps, or that they have been applied, either by senior presenters or a newer generation of on-air folks.

Indeed, the majority of on-air people already know that immersing the Neumann in a bucket of water will not produce that cool “gurgly” sound, That’s one that would, then, be in the “don’t” category. Calling an audience vile names in the hallways would be another.

I do not envy those coaches and consultants who are obliged to work with an already-surly group of performers. A lot of those staffs are pre-primed and suspicious, bobbing, weaving, and undulating to avoid predators like a flock of American Goldfinches.

Our friend Randy Lane, in order to avoid most situations where “tough love” may be required, urges management to consider the following: “Establish and nurture a relationship (with talent) based on trust, safety in taking risks, and fun.” While a noble and worthwhile undertaking, reality geeks can appreciate the odds of that taking place – the rare and glorious radio environments notwithstanding.

Practically, most stations have, over the last 25 years, been gutted of a talent base and are running on what would, some years ago, be considered a skeleton crew. Those presenters that do remain have also been subjugated by a different set of priorities, none of which have much to do with trust, safety in taking risks, or fun. For the most part, the folks are manacled and dragging around ankle cuffs. They could be instantly typecast as extras for a B-movie called Jocks In Chains.

As most astute, regular readers are already aware, my position is that on-air people have yet to be trained in the fundamentals of broadcast communications! They are not yet “tactical.” Although many are, certainly, talented, they enter the radio arena without swords, lances, or shields. Instead, their chains are staked to the ground; they are denied any free movement and are armed only with a McStraw and tiny, damp, rolled-up balls of toilet paper. “Thrust and parry” is not in the on-air, behavioral lexicon. (It might, however, be a terrific name for a morning show.) Other gladiators from different media, meanwhile, roll around in the sand, snorting and wheezing from laughter, and gloating over their own good fortune.

In my last article, I explained in some detail how applying the “you” factor is a disastrous strategy – tuning out almost every single listener at almost all times – to some degree. One can only speculate how the cumulative effect of that practice generates the exact opposite of the intentions of the speaker, the copywriter, and management.

I can add another wrinkle to the concept in the form of a very important distinction. For our culture, being exposed to a multitude of radio signals is ongoing and as normal as breathing. But, and this is the distinction, it isn’t natural! A person-to-person conversation with each person being in close proximity to the other – that’s natural. There is nothing natural about generating or hearing sounds that come out of an electronic device. That is a non-organic experience – unnatural.

Humans are processing electronic signals through different aspects of our neurology compared to when we speak to each other in real time. Indeed, the language we use on the street or with other individuals has a different impact than the language we apply on the radio.

Now, I appreciate how making these and many more distinctions about language on the radio is a very difficult chore, especially when one is not versed in those distinctions in the first place. We (radio people) have gone about the business of communicating on the air as if there were no particular, and different, elements of any consequence about which to become aware.

The realization of the significance of the “you” factor came like a bolt out of the blue for me in the early ‘80s. It was, indeed, an epiphany, an “aha” experience or, as Randy Lane describes it, my “Come to Jesus” moment. Everything else – all the other broadcast communication materials – were compiled through long research and testing over the next many years. My task was to collate these important elements into a form that could be taught, learned, delivered, and replicated.

Of late, our friend Bob McCurdy has been delivering exceptionally valuable materials for assisting sales people in presenting radio. Solid information about the continued, real efficacy of radio advertising has also been included. But nothing similar has been prepared for, or presented to, the on-air and creative people. Certainly not beyond the standard-issue clichés and required radio dogma. This represents an incredibly fantastic loss of opportunities.

Radio can be far more influential and prosper to an even greater degree by addressing the fundamentals of broadcast communications. Talent everywhere needs immediate care and feeding. Talent needs to be re-educated. They may not be open to new information. Still, instead of spitballs, cornmeal, and cardboard, talent needs meat!

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. He can be contacted at [email protected]






  1. The distinction that is not being understood, Ted, has already been covered. But, it’s just not sinking in because of an (apparently) desperate need to justify that which cannot be justified.
    (I get a lot of that.)
    Note: The McD slogan “You deserve a break to day.” was not spoken – it was SUNG! As such, the line is once removed from any single audience member. Very sneaky. Very effective.
    Further, trying to advance a weak point with what might have been an exception doesn’t work in this space.

  2. People experience everything subjectively, Ted, including songs.
    If someone is touched or moved by a song, it is because of more than a “you” reference.
    Clinging to that as an example of where “you” works does not advance the debate.
    Radio people, both on air and in ad copy attempt to connect (and make demands) directly, whereas the songs are INdirect elements.
    Most of us, through our radio histories and as listeners, have been emotionally charged by the music.
    How is it, then, that we find announcers and ad copy to be so annoying?
    Again, it is about Process before Content.
    There are no rational justifications for the position that radio has been taking. It’s all been tradition and dogma. People tend to reject the challenges and dig in – dead stop – as if any of that position showed any promise.
    Besides, “semantics” is not another code-word that means: To be ignored as a trifling matter.
    For radio, the semantics and linguistic approaches are the last hope for better communicating.

    • Not so, Ron.

      The correlation between what songwriters do and great commercial writers attempt to do is indisputable-communicate thoughts, feelings and commonality between the writer and the single listener.
      The last McDonald’s slogan that many remember is “You Deserve a Break Today”.
      This powerful statement told each single listener that McDonald’s understood their predicament and was taking action on their behalf-giving them change after their purchase.
      What a pity that, as a commercial voice, you don’t comprehend this.

  3. One main reason that Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend” is his most beloved hit is that we all have days when we need that sort of encouragement. The singer reassures us, each of us individually, that we are not alone and This, Too Shall Pass.
    Radio commercials attempt this bond all the time by using the singular pronoun in an intimate fashion. After all these years, Ron, you still don’t get it.

  4. Ted’s reply is typical – a quick, knee-jerk reaction with personally satisfying but still uninformed justifications.
    Once again, that most rare of human potentials is missing. That being: Thinking something through.
    On top of that, he speculates on my psychological makeup. Now, that’s more than a non sequitur. It’s a tad weird.
    If the material is temporarily over Ted’s head – he might consider saying so.
    For the sake of other readers and to continue with the “you” factors in the tunes: Do we know to whom, specifically, James Taylor was singing, “You’ve got a friend”.
    Of course not. We can reasonably presume it was not to some unspecified, unidentified member of a radio audience.
    Meanwhile, I invite other challenges.

  5. Ron,

    I’d say that your concern for these semantics lies in a latent dislike of yours surrounding being “told what to do.” It’s origin, only you and your psychotherapist understand.
    The internet gives license to all sorts of previously hidden quirks among our fellow men. Exposure to these oddities can be amusing or, just a waste of time. One of Ron’s readers recently commented that after devoting a segment of his day to Ron’s article, 3 minutes were wasted.

  6. Pretty semi-snide retort, Ted…. but still with legitimate elements. 🙂
    I’ll address the latter, first.
    Any “you” references in the tunes are more than acceptable because… they are so far removed from any attempt to reach a single audience member – directly.
    As to the alternative for on-air and ad copy that attempts to communicate to single audience members: The Secret lies in the use of third person references (person, place or thing).
    Example: At dusk, I could go on the air and say “Time for you to turn your headlights on.” Or, I could say “Drivers could check their headlights….”
    Advantage: Those for whom the content applies – will get it. (And they will get it without being told to do something specifically – directly.
    Those for whom the content does not apply – will get it. But they won’t be tuned out by what, for them, is a reference that does not apply to them.
    Another distinction: There is (essentially) one second-person reference – “you”.
    There are, literally, an unlimited number of third-person elements. (This is where “astute” kicks in.) 🙂
    The rule: Effective Process before Content.
    Hope these distinctions have some pertinent value.

  7. If you think that “You” doesn’t belong in radio ad copy because listeners subconsciously know that the radio announcer isn’t speaking to them individually, thus a turn-off results- what, specifically, would replace “You”? And, please, don’t give me your usual “I’m sure that the astute minds can come up with something” blarney that you so readily pass out here.
    Now, I’ll go hum James Taylor’s “All The People Listening To This Recording Have A Friend.”


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