Radio’s Better-Case Scenario


(By Ronald Robinson) A question open for debate is as follows: Is radio operating (generally) under a “worst case” scenario? I have been hearing that bantered about in the affirmative for some decades – more vigorously in the last 10 years or so. I do not, however, believe that proposition to be categorically true. This, because I also believe radio’s situation can get worse…much worse.

Radio’s best case scenario, then, would have to include stations that are presenting first-class, “live & local” personalities, through all day parts, who are continuously demonstrating their ability to attract and hold large audiences over extended periods. To qualify, these stations would also be required to offer commercial content in the form of locally produced spots that are achieving marvelous ROI for the advertisers while being exceptionally listenable to an audience.

In my previous blog post, “Radio’s Sweet Spot,” I reintroduced readers to the distinctions of the neurological aspects of how audiences and radio professionals are brain-accessing the medium – and that they are different! I also insisted that making the linguistic distinctions that are consistent with this neurological component makes a massive difference when exploiting the potentials of the medium.

Marvelous and unique, but also rare personalities are still enjoying wonderful impacts on their audiences. Yet, individuals like them are not readily available like take-out orders or from a cookie cutter provider. Too often, they are actually feared by their management because of the probabilities they might also be found as “offensive” by segments of the audience. My position: If they are not offending somebody, some of the time, they’re not doing it properly!

Those few exceptional performers aside, most other presenters are just this side of being mechano-jocks – robotic, anemic facsimiles of actual, talented and skilled performers. An accepted fact of one of the realities of the business is that eager, young people are not being trained as they sign on to toil for donut-money in the small and medium markets. Senior talent, including those working large markets, are not being retrained. At the risk of seeming a little harsh, I suggest an enormous number of people who are cracking microphones open around the country would not be suited for pulling a shift at a local taxi stand.

I have always been struck by the nonchalance of the industry when it comes to considering the communicative aspects of the medium. There has never, to my knowledge, been a concerted effort to research the impact of the English language on listeners. Assumptions have always been made that the language is what it is, and that some people are just better at delivering it than others. The sermons end with assumptions that all lessons have been learned. (No questions or challenges are being accepted at this time.)

To be fair: Most of the numb-bummed staff, fidgeting on their hardwood pews, won’t even bother (or are unable) to come up with some challenges or questions. Considerations of the serious consequences of failing to become adept at delivering their own language expressly for an electronic-medium audience has occurred to almost no one. The liturgies have all been delivered; bowings, scrapings, and propitiations rendered, and then it’s back to, “Stones comin’ up. You’re gonna love it! On your Ferret 96.9 – Buffalo Groin’s Best Classic Rock!”

Many reasonable people – some of them programmers, coaches, pundits, talent, and a couple guys in ownership – have been suggesting a modest-scale return to the strategy of “live & local.” I suspect they figure supplying more “touchstones” (references to the local market) is supposed to influence an audience to support the station.

I might agree, but only to the degree where “live & local” is a future goal-state, a destination, an end game. As a pre-emptive move – to be implemented as soon as possible – it would be a disastrous strategy. The new, “live” talent would be doing what, specifically? How, specifically? How often, specifically? And with whose guidelines, specifically? Dropping local references on the air a couple times an hour would be patronizing to any audience. They would be delivered by amateur communicators, those on-air staffers who are unprepared and uneducated in the skills of addressing a broadcast audience.

If radio is to move to a “better-case scenario,” a number of serious issues are going to have to be addressed. A two-pronged approach is in order: the writing and production of local ads and the on-air presentations of the “live & local” talent. The structures of the languaging methodologies, techniques, and strategies I provide are consistent for both the activities of on-air presentations and ad creative.

The very best performers and the very best ad creators are doing what they can to support their own enterprises and, by some form of osmosis, to (possibly) move radio towards a “best-case scenario.” Perhaps this is having some effect here or there. But as an overall expectation, for there to be large-scale improvements in the industry in general, too much would be expected from too few on a never-never time frame.

Indeed, suggesting that radio can move from teetering on a worst-case to a best-case situation, without experiencing the intermediate interventions that make up the middle ground, and therefore, providing transitional opportunities, is to launch into a rescue without going through the planning process. The inevitable result of a poorly planned, poorly executed exercise would be rife with destruction, angst, and disappointment.

Many in radio will be, if not content with, then, accepting of the status quo. Yes, it means participating in an industry that has no intention of improving its products or services, so long as a buck can be made by doing the same things tomorrow as were done today. Besides, sales departments can always be flogged, coerced, or bribed into generating more bookings. Some of them – the fortunate few – may also have the cooperation of their creative departments. Radio, meanwhile, could still move to a “better case” scenario.

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. Thank you, Robin.
    It is very satisfying to be informed when somebody “gets it”.
    Your comments have been generating credibility with me for some time.


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