(By Ronald Robinson) To my own discomfort, I am inclined to agree with the commentator who said, “In some contexts, we are all crazed primates.” I have also heard it put as “Monkeys with car keys.” Hardly complimentary. Although radio’s owners and management might respond with vitriol, I submit the evidence of radio’s pervasive behaviors suggest they also agree with the premise. They treat listeners and some employees as though they were much further down the evolutionary scale.
Even though we homo sapiens share up to 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees, I demand that radio treat me a lot better than just tossing me a banana. Generally, radio communicates to me as if I was wearing a leash, a diaper, a tutu, and a pair of roller skates. Meanwhile, demands I might make will have about as much impact on radio’s leadership as does “Bobo’s” screeching and nattering. Yet, the opportunity to reconsider how the generation of low-grade practices of audience contact, of which radio is guilty, is always available.
Simian similarities aside, I not only think radio listeners deserve better, I also believe radio is consistently missing the potentials to be more listenable, influential, and more prosperous. To my knowledge, Program Directors are doing almost nothing to consider or advance this premise. Understandably, because most PDs are also caught up in their own air shifts, responding to inane comments on social media and doing some minor janitorial work, the best they can do as teachers and coaches is to read from the standard liturgy as provided from the notes of long-gone predecessors.
I do find it encouraging that some thoughtful people in radio sales and marketing are developing and providing access to some extremely worthwhile materials – all for the benefit of local spot-floggers. However, there is still the minefield of shabby creative yet to be negotiated.
PDs, out of habit, tend to criticize their staffs on the obvious mechanics. Those on-air folks who can navigate half a minute or so, without fumbling or falling apart, are considered to be working “clean.” That their content might be innocuous, and more so, that their processes of communication would be ineffective and even insulting to listeners, is unlikely to come up during an air-check. PDs, I have heard it argued, treat their on-air and creative staffs like they, too, were chimps who missed making the evolutionary leap. (“Now, take this banana and get back in your cage.”)
PDs have yet to address even the fundamentals of radio communications. Fortunately for them, they also have a plausible deniability. They can accurately report they have no idea of what those “fundamentals” would be – never mind what form they would take or how to go about implementing them. Further, it would be unwise for them to start rattling their own tin cups on the bars of their cells. Yes, they too are in chains and behind bars. Their careers would be less in jeopardy if they were to just keep their mouths shut.
I am obliged to acknowledge the performances and appeal of many legitimate “personalities” who are slaving, successfully, over hot microphones. And I do so – joyfully. They are, however, the unique and the rare. Some are encouraged to walk among the “great unwashed,” as one of my own PDs referenced audience members. Extraordinary talent can have amazing impacts on an audience. But, again, it still takes exceptional talent and skills, and they are among the most rare of birds, indeed.
It is the rank and file on-air presenters and writers who are used as cannon fodder – subjugated when they are engaged, easily replaced, and not missed when they are gone. These are the folks who would benefit most from an education that concentrates on the fundamentals, and later, the nuances of becoming influential, listenable, appealing, and influential radio communicators.
Again, I repeat: It’s a great thing that radio salespeople are being brought up to speed.
Programming and staff, however, are being kept in the darker recesses of their cages. As such, they are also being kept uninformed, and becoming sinister in their frustrations. The missing 2% is required. Is it any wonder the most they can do is throw poop?
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]