Needed: Competent Communicators

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(By Ronald Robinson) Recently, the astute chairman of Radio Ink, Eric Rhoads, wrote an article in the magazine appealing to radio’s ownership, management, and working staffs. While no cheerleader for Great Big Bloated Corporate Radio, he also cautions those who would eagerly rip into the larger corporations for all the known and (mostly) accepted rationales.

Eric also reminds us of those outfits – smaller to be sure – who are doing quite nicely. One could reasonably wonder: If some smaller outfits are doing so well, what is it that stops the biggies from sending out scouts to reconnoiter and learn what the distinctions are; to model those stations and to implement those models from the Big, Corporate Towers, back on down the line.

Meanwhile, many radio operators are scrambling to collate the information and research that radio does, indeed, deliver an exciting ROI. Presenting the information in a professional and compelling manner and having the information accepted by a wary advertising corps are separate, extremely challenging, but still worthwhile matters.

Even as Bob Pittman and Mary Berner are exemplary individuals engaged in the daunting task of turning their respective enterprises around, any ignoring of the massive debts and questionable approaches to making any real headway are akin to whistling in the dark and wishing for a dawn that never seems to come.

Are there any cogent arguments that the consolidation nightmare that became radio’s reality, and the subsequent gutting of talent — the evisceration of the elements that could provide relief — have not been discounted and ignored? It is also clear that the massive, necessary improvements in radio’s most basic products and services are not even being discussed.

When I started to scribble this article, my working title was “Wanted: Master Communicators.” I immediately realized this was no accurate representation of what radio ownership has ever articulated or advertised. Next, I tried, ”Needed: Master Communicators.” That wasn’t going to fly either, as I am unaware of any senior management that has ever made such a statement. I finally had to accept the title as provided: “Needed: Competent Communicators,” even as there is no consensus on that, either.

I can only speculate that during the 40 years Moses was leading the people around the wilderness, that somebody didn’t speak up and say, “Since this isn’t working, how ‘bout we do something else?” It has now been decades since radio has been self-exiled into the wilderness; attitudes are becoming ugly and vicious, and supplies are dwindling. It’s hard to do good work while chewing the bark off rocks.

One can only contend the majority of owners and management have become delusional on what it is we do for a living or what our responsibilities include. Let me offer a refresher: Our core responsibilities are to attract and hold as great a number of audience members as we can, and to provide the most influential commercial messages as we can on behalf of our advertisers. As an industry, we would be graded at a D minus.

Contemporary radio is being cruel to and disrespectful of both audiences and advertisers. That we have been getting away with it is hardly a recommendation for continuing the practice. And that radio is falling off the list of desirable advertising media suggests that we really aren’t getting away with much at all.

With the exception of a few hundred marvelous presenters who are doing terrific work for their outfits, and who can make it on their extraordinary personalities alone, the competency levels of the remaining on-air folk everywhere else is akin to running on fumes and gasping. Ownership, management, and programmers, either intuitively or consciously, are aware enough of how bereft of knowledge and skill the talent corps really is. Shoddy, cookie-cutter copy also qualifies.

Radio, essentially, provides a mess o’ tunes, followed by a mess o’ spots, along with minimal, but still innocuous, irrelevant, and unappealing messes o’ babble between those two major elements. Locally produced radio commercials demonstrate the lowest possible levels of communicative competencies ever delivered through a professional, electronic medium.

Yet, radio continues to hang in there despite its glaring, but unacknowledged and unaccepted communicative inadequacies. Radio has a desperate need for competent communicators – by the thousands. Eric, meanwhile, is to be applauded for his ongoing support for a (potentially) magnificent medium.

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. Contact him at [email protected]

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Ron Robinson
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. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed.

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