Radio Doesn’t Have A Strategy. Part Two.


(By Ronald Robinson) Radio continues in its refusal to address the communication model it has held and protected, sometimes viciously, for decades. Radio has been unable to define, never mind successfully defend, the premises and dogma on which it has been running…forever. Is it any wonder, then, that ownership and management put almost all available resources into sales?

The holy grail of radio has always been the “one-to-one” mythology. Please appreciate: Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate, never mind prove, how the premise works or, more importantly, its utility. Radio newbies are told: “When you are on the air, pretend you are talking to a good friend.” Writers get the same instructions. Enter: “The Personal Listener.” In other words, “The Primary Delusion.”

The hook was set. The matter closed, never to be challenged again.

As every angler knows, a fish at the end of the line has just had its mobility drastically inhibited. Plus, that fish will also be more at risk to its natural predators. Those who have seen video of a shark violently taking a catch just before it gets boated will agree that, for the shark, it was easy pickin’s. Radio, indeed, has a hook in its mouth. And it shows.

Radio musters a cadre of defenders of the pervasive dogma that makes up the current status quo. If the one-to-one premise is even (gawd ferbid) momentarily considered as potentially or partially false, attempts to claim that the only, albeit already rejected, solution would be to talk to an entire audience as a group. This is a false, uninformed and disruptive conclusion.

However, we are forced by rational reality to accept that any radio audience is made up of a large number of individuals. It would be foolish to presume we are speaking to that group. Practically, we are speaking at an audience. And if we do it properly, each unknown, unspecified individual will process the content – as an individual.

Recently, I demonstrated how, through the linguistic process of “transderivational search” (TDS), every single listener is unconsciously forced to extrapolate an understanding of everything said on the radio, every time. What makes those unconscious exercises easier to accomplish is the communicator’s ability to switch from a forced, direct second-person point of view (“you”) to an indirect, implied third-person point of view (anything else).

Part of the TDS process is also about each listener having a vague, conflicted intuition that the “you” can’t possibly be them. Besides, the rest of a presenter’s content usually has nothing to do with multiples of any specific, individual listener, and the mass tune-out is well underway. This one TDS strategy solves the painfully destructive single listener/group dichotomy! Woo-Hoo!

Readers who have made it this far may have prematurely concluded this material to be, essentially, nerdy, wordy, and unworthy of consideration. Such a position disregards the fact that the only element of radio we can influence and control, locally and/or corporately, is how we communicate to our audiences. But we don’t, and never have. And it shows.

Is it likely the top management of GE gets together and concentrates exclusively on getting the sales departments’ skill-sets up a notch or two? Or does somebody risk piping up, as an afterthought, saying, “Anybody keeping track of that jet engine thingy?” Uh, no. The quality of GE’s products gets the priority. The quality of radio’s on-air and creative services doesn’t even make it onto the agenda. And it shows.

I have learned (in other environments) how people suffer from delusions, distortions, and denials. None are rare. When asked, individuals agree these are debilitating thought-experiences. (Lucky for them, these experiences always belong to somebody else!) Radio, however, does own them all.

Meanwhile, let me introduce another related, but still twisted, item of radio dogma: The admonition for on-air people to be “personal.” This is toxic nonsense, even allowing for good intentions. The more accurate and useful adage would be delivered as follows:“Be personable.” Huge distinction. Instead, we try to worm our way into audience members’ skulls by attempting to snuggle up to their individual identities. No listener thanks us for attempting to crash his or her unique, subjective realities with blunt, ineffective language. But, radio does it anyway. “We ain’t yet learned to talk good for the listeners, y’all.” And it shows.

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. E-mail him at [email protected]


  1. Bob McCurdy has an article currently running in this space. My comments:
    All terrific points, Bob.
    Leaning on the experiences of Roy “The Wiz” has merit, as well.
    However, if one were to wander into the creative departments of too many stations, they would find a storage area full of old desks, janitorial supplies and a bent, broken individual with a 15 year-old computer – hacking the hype – completely unaware of their desperate need for a personal deodorant stick.
    Radio, generally, has no desire for or appreciation of the need to follow or implement the strategies you urge.
    As it applies to many of radio’s leadership, the Zen Master has said: “You can lead a horse to water. But, you can’t make it write checks.”

  2. For someone who has pulled my history out of his butt, “Bill” seems to be having difficulty in grasping the material, as well. This is about Programming, Bill – not sales – not directly.
    “Pipes”, meanwhile, have little to do with anything. The more important elements are: copy and delivery. A pair of thunder-nuts and a buck, ninety-five might buy a cup of coffee.
    I may never understand what it is about uninformed people who are determined to demonstrate it.
    Still – no rebuttal on the content.

  3. Robinson isn’t interested in a dialogue. He just logs in every 5 minutes looking for compliments.
    He’s a greying rock jock with pipes which qualifies him (in his delusions) to comment on the radio business.
    He’s never owned a station, managed a station or sold radio for a living, but he’s very qualified to tell you how to run yours. Oh, and he went to college and listened intently during English class.

  4. Explanations are required and 700 words only touches one point of a multiple of strategies.
    In this case, a “Dick, Jane and Spot” primer will not suffice.
    Reading a portion of a criticism AND a solution hardly arms anyone with enough material to do anything other than blather incoherently.
    There’s a lot of that in radio, and SMiller has just demonstrated the point.
    Again, no reasoned rebuttal – so far.

  5. Ron, you could have put this in 1 or 2 paragraphs…get to the point…if this is what you are talking about for radio creative and dialogue…huge tune out factor. i stopped reading halfway through (thank gawd, as you state it)…
    Just get to your point and maybe we can find something worth our time in your writing…seriously!
    I believe some of what you are saying but you spend way to much time kicking radio and its disciples…and it feels as if you are trying to prove your intelligence too. Keep It Simple STUPID!

  6. It’s way too early, boys!
    I suggest finishing those Coco Puffs before bleating.
    A rebuttal of the material would be nice.
    By the way, is the bar where the real skills are demonstrated?


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