Can I Get A Witness?


(By Ronald Robinson) At no time in my radio career did I ever wish to be wearing a tattered robe held together by a flayed piece of rope. I never wanted to be wandering rain-soaked or freezing sidewalks in my open-toed sandals while carrying a sandwich board that read: “Attention Radio – Snappeth Out Of It!” Nor did I want mine to be a lone voice in the wilderness.

Figuratively, that has all come to pass. Imagine my surprise. Imagine my disappointment. Imagine my righteous and haughty indignation. If it weren’t for a suspiciously twisted form of arrogance, along with other (only fantasized) expectations, I would be completely at a loss for a good reason to continue my endeavors to assist radio out of its own Dark Ages.

Radio’s owners and management, I submit, are on a rampage, singularly and collectively, of dedicating themselves to, “polishing their own turds.” Insiders can hear the squeaking of rags buffing the really rusty parts, and they get a continuous aroma from anyone who is applying way too much elbow grease.

One sentence covers the status quo and the dedicated protection thereof: “Radio is the way it is, the way it was, and the way it will always be.”

While that is nonsensical gibberish, it is also, I believe, the predominant position held by radio’s owners and management. Not only are they unwilling to take steps that will jolt the medium into contemporary times, they are also unwilling to even consider the possibility that such opportunities even exist!

A pilot friend of mine tells a story about him flying an older Beech-18, a notoriously underpowered twin-engine aircraft that was popular in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and later. When describing the performance of the aircraft with one engine disabled, he explained. “That just moves the scene of the crash further downrange!”

Radio, and too much of it, is running on only one engine and, in some cases, that power plant is overheating, smoking, and sputtering. Over the years, Twin Beech operators figured out when it was time to get more powerful engines bolted to their airframes. Radio writes off any process of “powering-up” as too expensive and completely unnecessary. End of discussion.

All the evidence – it’s available on the radio, by the way – supports the proposition that owners and management have no idea they have control of a pervasive medium that has the potential to be so much more enjoyable for audiences and, most importantly, so much more influential for advertisers. Remember them? The ones who pay the bills?

It does not even occur to radio folks they might be walking around with lightning-filled bottles in their pockets. Nor does it occur that communicating on the radio is, indeed, a very complex and sophisticated process. Very few people in radio pay that idea any lip service at all. And it shows.

Major, sophisticated ad agencies are continuously issuing multi-million dollar invoices to clients for what they provide. And what they are doing is using the most complex, intricate, imaginative, and mind-boggling principles-of-influence, along with the finest technologies available, in order to get listeners/viewers to buy products and services they may not need, at prices they may not be able to afford, for reasons about which they may not even be aware. Furthermore, these techniques are also applied to get people to actually believe things they may not have otherwise even considered.

Radio, however, comes at audiences with loud noises, a bludgeon, and demands for certain behaviors. That is the rudest and the crudest of all possible approaches. Radio’s response to this indictment: “Don’ know what you’re talkin’ about.”

In the meantime, I pause in a doorway, out of the wind, to cup my shivering, shaking hands around a match and light a smoke. I do, though, keep a wary, bloodshot eye out for someone who might approach and say, “I understand what you’re doin’, man. I’m with you! Good luck! Want some soup?” (Maybe tomorrow will be drier – and a little warmer.

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 Ron at [email protected]


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