“People tend to get accustomed to their circumstances.” This was a general observation provided by my H/R trainer. He added, “Even when some situations become extremely uncomfortable or even intolerable, we are likely to accept those, as well.” Radio is in one of those very states – and radio tolerates it. Radio also does so without much internal awareness, grumbling, or angst.
Recently, I satirized radio sales departments by sardonically offering the following as those departments’ overriding and default position: “Everything – every station problem or challenge – can be addressed by increasing sales!”
While not even close to a categorically true statement, there is enough there to justify it. The outfits that do accept the premise – and act on it – are, for the most part, doing quite nicely. Steps are taken to re-motivate, retrain, or replace salespeople on a regular basis. Effective GSMs are gold. Sales does rule!
Given that, I still retain the right to get my shorts in a knot. My tribe, consisting of the boys and girls in programming, on-air, and the creative departments, teeters on extinction. Considered to be a tenuous expense, and identified as people of little consequence, we have come to be treated with a patronizing intolerance. But mostly indifference.
It is the case that, particularly in the years after the consolidation fiasco, radio has become a platform that has generally declined as a source of high-quality entertainment, information, and, most importantly, of dependable and consistently effective advertising. Primarily through the efforts of aggressive sales departments has radio been maintained as, at best, a still viable medium. (That, and the inherent “magic” of radio.)
Now, I do get it that, so long as radio can carry on as, essentially, a sales-driven enterprise, the likelihood that cries from the programming wilderness will be heeded or acted upon is small. This just happens to relegate me – and the education and training I provide – to the back burner of the stand-by, emergency, backup stove.
There is another weird irony in play here. While I might easily be perceived as a champion of the programming side of the business, I really am not – certainly not as it is being practiced today. Even as ownership and management, responsible for the emasculation of the departments over the years, can be faulted, another dysfunctional reality remains: In the majority of cases around every market, the departments are completely unaware of their illiterate and incompetent conditions. They run on traditions and intuitions.
The blame for this (arguably) all-encompassing incompetence can be placed at the feet of any number of the usual suspects. But, this time, it would have to include the programmers, on-air folks, and those toiling in the creative departments themselves, as much as any others. What efforts has my own clan made, on its own, to advance the need for better, more effective, radio communications? Very few have ever done the research or made any attempt. Purposed activities – sanctioned or not – that would make any real or lasting differences, have not been undertaken.
Claiming a “victim” status, while understandable, does not relieve our own crew from responsibilities. It has been my position for years that the talent corps is made up (mostly) of uneducated, untrained, uninformed, disinterested, and poorly rehearsed individuals – as all that applies and is relative to broadcast communications. Of course, I acknowledge and tip my hat to the exceptions; those strong but rare personalities who are appealing to their audiences and assets to their organizations.
Given that the programming and creative side of the business is met with the amount of indifference it is – from sales, senior management and each other – I have to wonder about the chances of someone like myself being engaged. Or arrested. This, as I am one who insists that re-training, beginning at the most fundamental levels of radio communications, must take place before any additional staff gets hired. Turning loose the staff that are still hanging around and inviting them to do more of what they do is a recipe for disaster.
“Live and local” may be an interesting concept – and one with which I agree. But not yet. Who are the new hires going to be if not newbies and retreads – performers who cannot demonstrate any particularly useful skills? I may, and this is troublesome for me, be barking up a tree that has no ‘coons in the branches.
A substantial course of study, understanding, and rehearsal is required. But, given the alternatives (of which there are none) radio still has a final, wholly ignored element to address: That is, if there is a desire on the part of ownership and recognition of the need to drastically improve their lot. I am not one who can force anybody.
Our friend Bob McCurdy has recently accepted the important task of working with the sales departments of the Beasley Media Group. Bob has demonstrated significant experience and knowledge. He has credibility with me. I believe he is also a sales executive who does not consider programming – including the production of local, commercials – to be approached with indifference. Beasley engaged a sales professional and nobody is surprised. Communications training? Whatever…
My chore remains: Find someone who cares. There is much to be done – methodologies and strategies to be learned and techniques to be rehearsed before my gang can generate massive results and be credible to our associates. My experience has been that of the “double whammy.” I provide training in an area of the business that is continuously met with indifference. Now, this indifference is not, necessarily, an intentional or cruel piece of business. But it still crushes any lingering motivation. I have an artist friend who is drawing a cartoon of the rear end of a rat with its ratty tail, ratty ears, a ratty nose, and beady, ratty eyes peering back. The caption on the t-shirt reads: “This is a rat’s ass. I still give one!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org