Problem? No Problem.


One of my enthusiastic detractors wrote something in a comment following my last piece that might, possibly, represent the crux of contemporary radio’s position on its own communicative strategies. His missive included the following: “…wonderment on why you obsess over such small s***.”

From my perch, referring to radio’s entire set of weak, boorish, and banal communications output as “small s***” is akin to a bull crashing through an owner’s china shop and having them calling that an “annoyance.” Further, since herds are being driven through town on a regular basis, the trashing of stores happens with some regularity. It’s as if, while those events add to the cost of doing business, merchants ought to expect little else.

I am often accused of being obsessive about these matters of radio communication. No more obsessive, I suggest, than any GSM who is constantly trying to find better ways to increase sales. Are professional sales trainers and consultants as equally obsessive? Maybe. Sometimes. They are, however, extremely focused.

Now, it is not that this individual is expressing anything either unique or groundbreaking. I have been satisfied for over 30 years that his is the prevalent opinion. I have yet to meet anyone in radio management who has the slightest interest in – never mind an appreciation of – the debilitating communicative burdens under which radio is operating.

Questions of my own intellectual, emotional, and psychological wellbeing notwithstanding, there has been no argument that the ways in which radio speaks to its audiences, and produces commercial content for its advertisers, has made the idea of a “lowest common denominator” a benchmark of excellence.

I remind interested readers that no contradictory arguments have ever been provided that are well formed, reasoned, or cogent. That is spectacularly amazing! Many are quick to be dismissive of the materials and to address me personally as a flawed individual. Still, they have yet to successfully combat the principles. They just know they don’t like them!

From time to time, I try to make sense of this phenomenon – radio’s refusal to address the only elements over which we have the most influence – the “talkie” bits. Part of the reason could be because of the influence that programmers have lost over the decades. “Sales” has become something it wasn’t always – the only driving force of radio that deserves and gets the greatest attention. Programming responsibilities have been shuffled off into a closet and programmers are being told to keep the door shut, and to feel their way in the dark.

“Everything – every station problem or challenge – can be addressed by increasing sales!” could be served up as the overriding position. I can’t argue that such a strategy is, at least, partially functional. But, I also appreciate when no other options and alternatives have been brought forward, increased sales becomes more than the default position, it is the only position

For a number of years – in this space – I have been weaving in and out of the subject matter of radio communications – on air and in the delivery of commercial messages. I have made the case that radio is not a direct medium, but an indirect medium. I have postulated and demonstrated how radio cannot be an authoritarian or demanding medium, but that the opportunities lie, instead, in being more influential. I have demonstrated how sensory references are more powerful than just (alleged or otherwise) “facts.

Now, given these blogs are delivered through the Internet – with ample opportunities for others to comment – I accept how some sincere, well-meaning individuals are quick to respond. Of course, I cannot be expected to accept their positions or defer to any of them. Trolls and inarticulate responses from uninformed participants, I can tolerate. Sometimes they are a source of thought-starters. While these are occasionally irritating, I have other, greater concerns

What does trouble me is an overriding indifference. This indifference is overwhelmingly and continuously demonstrated by otherwise smart people in radio who refuse to address the very elements over which we have the most influence. Those are: What we say and how we say it, specifically. These specifics, I speculate, have never, ever, been addressed in any useful or meaningful ways. And yet, this is what we do! Or rather, to put it more succinctly, this is what we are supposed to be doing

Granted, “sales” has been established as the element of the highest, if not only, priority. “Programming” was, literally, exiled into the desert decades ago. So none of my own revelations, and the lack of them being indulged or considered would come as no surprise. But, shocked and surprised, I confess, I am

The opportunities are still, however, plump, ripe, and ready for the picking. Sweet fruit and the marvelous benefits of adding them to the menu are available. Before any of that can take place, though, what is required is an “awareness” of the problem. Radio is reluctant. Actually, the evidence demonstrates that radio refuses to consider anything other than that which is already in play

I have few delusions about radio-in-general accepting some or any of my materials. That concept has never been on my agenda. My real fantasy is that I might meet an imaginative and courageous corporate manager who has come to understand the severe limitations under which radio is being self-forced to operate, and who is willing to discuss the many, available alternatives. We could make magic – and bring on the rains

Meanwhile, I often use the term “dogma” as it applies to the already accepted, traditional, communicative tenets under which almost all of us have been operating. “Dogma,” as such, requires no evidence that demonstrates efficacy, and severely penalizes all those who would challenge the edicts – including myself. That has been and remains an apt description of our approaches to radio communications. Indeed, this is the way the premise works: If we refuse to accept that we have a problem, there is no problem. But, we do refuse, and there is a problem. It is all-encompassing and crippling. None of that can constitute or be described as “the small s***.

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. Email him at [email protected]


  1. While I readily appreciate Josh’s comment, it is difficult to argue with Joel.
    His is, I believe the predominant position – the status quo of contemporary radio.
    If a sales department can make a go of it without having exemplary spots and wunnerful ratings to take to the street, the priority of planning for any programming and creative improvements would get swept off the table like so many crumbs of burnt toast.

  2. The difference between dragging yourself to work, going through the motions, and collecting a paycheck – and creating a great marketing campaign through the medium of radio is paying attention to the “small s***”!!! I honestly feel bad for any clients of that commenter…

  3. Joel is correct. Does anyone else, I wonder, see the massive reality-gaps and squandered opportunities that come from the failure of radio to address what it is that we actually do?


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