(By Ronald Robinson) Some months ago, Eric Rhoads, Chairman of Radio Ink, was openly pondering. What, he wondered, would constitute “one thing” that, by its application, would launch commercial radio into higher vistas than those currently enjoyed by some in the industry. I found it admirable that Eric would broach the topic, especially given that so many managers claim how a boosting of the efforts of sales departments is really all that is required.
Eric’s bringing the matter to readers’ attention also implied that, indeed, something is missing! I surmise very few of his colleagues and associates were speculating or even bringing the matter up as anything worthy of discussion, or of having much consequence.
More recently, our friend, sales trainer and consultant Wayne Ens, made some interesting observations and rather bold suggestions. Briefly, Wayne pointed out how it was the innovators who were making the significant contributions in every field of endeavor. He noted how the primary drive was to increase services or the quality of products. This overrode any secondary desire for profits.
More to my point, Wayne also opened the door to hiring the “eccentric weirdos.” Part of his premise was the suggestion that hiring the wack-jobs and innovators would match the requirements of Eric’s “one thing.” Of course, since many readers would be eager to stick me with the monikers, I guess I am also expected to respond to the offered strategy with a hearty “Oh, yeah! Pick me!”
Firstly, I reject the “eccentric weirdo” label outright. In the field of radio communications, I am well educated, extremely experienced and, most importantly, thoroughly tested. The only weirdness about which I have been professing is made up of my own subjective dismay at so many readers’ unwillingness to consider these matters, or to think them through. I suggest this as a simple representation of human beings’ general reluctance to address or face the strange and/or the unknown. (We all own some of that one.)
Radio, I submit, has been squirming around for decades with chronic and painful cases of severely strained sphincters — a muscle the industry has been, for a very long time, terrified to relax, even slightly. The consequences of the (assumed) disaster that would follow any release of tensions are simply too awful to contemplate. A further irony is that we are also supposedly engaged in “show business.” We really should loosen up.
Wayne’s admonition to hire on a few weirdos would, I am afraid, be as unlikely as hearing a GM saying to his board, “Let’s bring in some flakes and head cases – just to see if anything neat happens.” Besides, any additional fantasy that the nut-jobs could be taught to dress nicely, show the proper deference to all the right people, and toe the corporate line while being exceptionally innovative and effective, is just that – a delusion.
Management will not tolerate such circumstances. And there are popular, accepted rationales for such debilitating positions. Before I earned my H/R cap, I was instructed to go into the world and find examples of the following edict: “Most people value ‘control’ much, much more than they do ‘results.’” I hardly had to leave the building. Through casual observation, I found so many examples of managers working the BIATB (“Because I Am The Boss”) strategy. Many worthwhile effects were lost in the power struggles. This principle has, too often, been affirmed and reinforced throughout my radio career. Radio is not being singled out here, either. This stuff is everywhere.
It has been my position for decades, that radio’s overall approach to the manner in which we communicate to our audiences and prepare commercial messaging for our advertisers is broken – practically fractured and shattered. Most on-air presenters and copywriters have been suppressed to the point where they are compelled to utter only those guttural grunts consistent with that of cave dwellers of many millennia ago. (“Your chance to win – comin’ up.” “See car. See deal. Buy now!”) Radio is akin to the elephants’ graveyard, where the potentials of the language and the medium go to die.
While I accept and often enjoy the rude, crude, and sometimes offensive content that gets out over the air from time-to-time, I do recoil at being insulted. And I am being insulted by radio at the very deepest of levels, constantly. As are the rest of the audiences. They are being assaulted and insulted by, among others, a continuous barrage of innocuous pronouncements, direct demands for behaviors, and the awful practice of having their minds read – inaccurately.
Audiences are expected to tolerate drivel and spew that are bereft of meaning, engagement, or intrigue. Imaginations of audience members are being ignored or under-utilized by presenters who have yet to even begin to learn how to be engaging, influential, and personable. Instead, presenters (and copywriters) vainly attempt to be “personal” through crude attempts to connect with someone they don’t even know exists.
The wreckage of radio’s communication processes has been piling up and rusting along our collective road for decades. So prevalent for so long has it been that hardly anyone notices anymore. (Truth is, radio has never noticed.) The scrapheaps are considered part of the accepted landscape, the scenery. Survivors of crashes have difficulty in explaining what happened as, typically, they don’t remember much before waking up, injured and in pain.
This, to my mind, is radio’s missing “one thing.” The wackos, eccentrics, head cases, and flakes may be invited in, at some point, to accelerate creative processes. But, until we engage in the transformation of the fundamentals (and nuances) of radio’s communications processes, we will still be marking time, ankle-deep in mud, beside the carnage along our dreary, boring highways, shivering in the wet. Pitiful and fifth-rate we will remain, while still claiming no incidents actually occurred. With respect for the merit of Wayne’s suggestions, this, rather, is the “one thing” that, if addressed, will break radio out of our self-made, debilitating, but still unacknowledged-by-the-industry experiences.
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]