Radio’s Schema


(By Ronald Robinson) This may come as a surprise to some, an accepted reality to a few others, and to others still, a matter not only of no consequence, but an outright misrepresentation of facts – what some people like to call a “lie.” Breaking News: Radio is sporting a huge, sucking chest wound! For many, this wound has healed over, leaving only massive scar tissue, which can be hidden with a shirt. This condition has come to be called: Normal.

The smaller, independent and still successful operators notwithstanding, corporate radio staggers around like elephants with multiple gunshot wounds. Its members survive, but they are not doing well, never mind recovering. And they sure ain’t happy. Just one more injury might be all it will take to bring them down – permanently.

While working on another project, the psychological concept of “schema” came up. Here, basically, is how that works: People grow up with an understanding of themselves and the world that may or may not – depending on the context – be true and/or useful. Every individual has their own, very subjective “model-of-the-world.” That would apply to all of us – including those in radio.

What happens, however, is when some information, concepts, or ideas are presented that are inconsistent with our models, we reject them, or worse, we refuse to acknowledge their very existence. “Progress” is stultified in such environments or contexts. The “schema” phenomenon is universal and very few are immune to its influences and consequences.

Radio’s constant moaning and bitching about its severely limiting experiences among other “big media winners” becomes incredibly tiresome. So does the blame game that is constantly being employed as a means to escape radio’s responsibility to recognize what? Radio’s very own form of “schema.”

For the years I have been enjoying the privilege to address radio-oriented issues in this space, it has always been my contention that radio refuses – as a result of an inbred schema – to address the very components of radio broadcasting, which are:

– more important than any other aspect of the business of providing services to audiences, advertisers, and, for those fortunate few – staff members;

– more effective in reaching, maintaining, and influencing audiences; and,

– more successful at retaining audience and advertiser loyalties.

This is a situation that may be contributory to further pain for radio in general. As an example of a fluffy generalization, I might ask of radio’s leadership: What strategies, specifically, have been introduced into the programming (on-air and creative) aspects of your enterprises that have delivered significant improvements over the last 20 years? It would take a pretty tough corporate cookie to ‘fess up and report: “Sweet dick all, I’m sorry to say. But, I’ve still got my relatively cushy gig, so take all the time you need to get out of my office. Right now!”

That might be an interesting real-life exchange. But it may never get that far. Radio is so full of its own “dogma” that, by the way, can be used as a functional synonym for “schema” – a subjective reality that also has surveillance and guard-dog components. As important to note: Those who aggressively or even casually challenge radio’s schema are likely to suffer painfully dire, sometimes serious, consequences.

Worm farmers are more successful at finding out what works than are the owners and leadership of corporate radio. “Wormies” prosper only when they increase their output. Radio has been putting on “sparkle meetings” for the staff and then, under orders, running them around the block in a victory lap. And this is to celebrate retaining the status quo – or a little less.

Years ago, I had no idea that what I had lucked into as an alternate and more effective means of radio communications, would become considered as poison by radio’s leadership. Nor did I expect the onslaught of criticism, incredulity, shock, and outright denials of the material I had begun presenting.

The incredible irony, to my mind, at least, can be presented as: Radio is a communications medium that refuses to address the very communicative aspects that have, and will continue to, determine the future successes and failures of the medium. This is an example of a SCHEMA on steroids and amphetamines, and with access to car keys. Does this accurately describe our leadership? Really?

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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