(By Ronald Robinson) Maybe my 50 years in radio (30 years on the air), and my general skepticism, makes questionable my actual youthful exuberance for the potential of the medium. My brains might have been addled some as well. I mean, any reasonable individual who takes on the task to redirect the communicative aspects of radio is, practically, attempting to till a field of rocks with a broom.
I appreciate how at least half (my guess) of the people who are now plying the radio trade began their careers after the medium was crippled by consolidation, and was forced to endure the programming atrocities that came as a result. I remind myself how these folks may have no idea of what it was like when radio was “all live – all the time,” or when personalities in all day-parts were on the air from 10-14 minutes an hour, or when tunes were one-at-a-time and certainly no more than two back-to-back.
The phusterclucking of spots is a more recent, but still debilitating phenomenon that benefits no one – not audiences, not advertisers, and, ultimately, not the stations. There is little in radio (besides an inarticulate boob on the air) that is more off-putting than a seemingly never-ending series of poorly executed, banal, patronizing, insulting, authoritarian, and annoying commercials. Any on-air “personalities” communicating at the same levels have earned and can expect a litany of criticisms.
Radio’s leadership has more than thrown out the baby. The bathwater, the basin, and the faucets have all been jettisoned. And yet, after a couple of decades, it all seems so normal, especially to those who weren’t around and don’t realize they are participating in a very bad dream.
Now, before any reader assumes that I am leading up to a call to jump on a “way back” machine of sorts and return to those halcyon days of yore and radio lore, a sobering reality check is in order. It’s too late for that trip. The bus left a long time ago and, besides, most of the talent has already been crushed. What remains has become, again, “normal,” and as such, even tolerable.
More importantly, however, radio’s communicative status quo is held in such high esteem, it has also become defensible! The main defense of radio’s reality has been nothing more than wild assertions, sincere to be sure, but only as cogent as any position that is not backed up by evidence.
I have always claimed that radio is a magic medium – so powerful as to maintain its reach, its influence, and ROI as an ad medium, and a significant loyalty from its listeners. All these attributes continue in spite of the internally imposed, self-destructive practices that are recognized to be in force, particularly by reasonable and considerate practitioners.
Radio is stagnant; unwilling to entertain those practices that could drive radio’s current position as the number five ad medium into the stratosphere. Indeed, in recent times, research is being provided that demonstrates how radio is potentially in a marvelous situation. This information, however, is useless so long as the medium’s leadership stays in their gumboots, mired in the muck of tradition, dogma, and denial.
Returning to “talent,” on air and in creative departments, a massive and fundamental program of education needs to be undertaken by those in leadership roles – corporate and individual – in order to take advantage of more modern and available strategies and methodologies of broadcast communications.
To put the situation another way, I am satisfied the evidence of the practices of radio over the last 20 years and longer is conclusive, and points to generated shambles of which the responsibility can be laid at the feet of the consolidators. This has left the medium marking time up against a massive wall. Radio does not have the resources, the knowledge, or the motivation to arrange for getting past this wall.
The opportunity to train the talent that exists and those who are coming into the business remains, but is likely to be ignored by the vast majority of owners and management. While those who subscribe to the idea of “live & local” are to be encouraged, a bulging and more costly danger is presented. It would be a mistake to simply throw anybody with a pulse on the air only for the purpose of filling a day part. What is required is a new, more listenable and more influential “normal.”
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@example.com.