Programming Brings The Bland


(By Ronald Robinson) As the only “passive” commercial medium, radio is still getting more listening than it deserves – certainly more than it has earned. Instead of researching and exploiting this strangest of phenomena, radio is also passive about its own potentials – and has been for decades.

I would go so far as to speculate that most of radio’s leadership is completely unaware of this most important of distinctions. Many others have been rejecting the concept even before giving it even the slightest consideration. “Sales,” after all, is not only the prime directive, it is the only directive. (“Programming is somewhere down the hall.”)

Recently, I have been reading the pronouncements of a number of corporate PDs. As I read a collection of the demands handed down like they were gifts from the radio gods, I have to wonder if programming is ever going to snap out of it and start generating useful, meaningful, appealing communications from the on-air and creative staffs – those that still remain.

Many of these PDs continue to insist on an “intimacy” between the presenter and the listener. One claims the existence of a “friendship.” Another maintains there is a “bond.” “Make me feel like it’s just you talking to me,” says one. This, of course, is all to be developed between an unknown speaker and an unknown listener. Even though this foolish and banal approach has been forced on talent as far back as when mechanical typewriters and mimeograph machines were the delivery technologies, no other challenges have been forthcoming. This poisonous approach is only one of those that have been mangling the effectiveness of presenters and writers.

I have often made claims that radio’s dogma/ideologies have been failing consistently. But, I also understand that hanging onto ideologies precludes the necessity of further contemplation or the examination of evidence. Easier path, but barren all the same.

Meanwhile, PDs continue to ramble with milquetoast philosophies and distorted psychological assumptions. Most recently, I have read the following:

— “Be yourself.” Rather than somebody else?

— “Stop reading to me.” As opposed to what – ad-libbing everything? Skilled communicators can make read copy seem like natural speech. That is, unless the copy overwhelms the concept, which it almost always does.

— “Be unpredictable.” I gather this is all supposed to take place after a six-song sweep, after taking care of vacuous station promos and teasers, and just before an 8-spot phustercluck.

— “Take pride in ensuring that programming transitions are seamless.” A reasonable question would be “How, specifically?”

— “Trust your instincts.” This may be the most toxic of suggestions. Talent spends years having their instincts pulverized. Talent-in-chains have no room to express much of anything. Talent has been blown off for “thought crime.” Besides, more than intuition is required to become a more effective communicator. It takes knowledge and acquired skills. The opportunities to acquire these have never been supplied by radio’s leadership.

With the rare exception, on-air talent have, for decades, been forced to play in a 6×6 sandbox surrounded by 20-foot walls. One has to presume that any PDs worth their salt are able to identify that which needs to be improved and have the chops to intervene, appropriately and effectively, without coming off as authoritarian or patronizing.

As to “being yourself” and “trusting instincts,” one must also presume the talent has the personal acumen to accurately and subjectively identify their own foibles, both mechanical and psychological. This is unlikely.

Most talent, already know they are shackled and screwed, and any attempts to manipulate them with innocuous pronouncements will only support any skepticism and suspicions that are already in place. Those in the talent-corps who do not recognize they are working with massive, corporate limitations will have already ingested the Kool Aid.

These people need to be taught communication skills, and they won’t acquire them through a process of osmosis. Personal contemplation will not suffice either. It is incumbent on a PD to supply useful, contemporary coaching — unless they are tied up changing the rolls in the washrooms. Anything less amounts to nothing more than another hokey and traditional dance around radio’s mulberry bush.

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]


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