(By Ronald Robinson) The most recent (cynical) FCC ruling paved the way for broadcasters to literally abandon their local communities and move their facilities to a central location – so far out of town that even a robust carrier pigeon might not make it back to headquarters with the message: “Buffalo Groin is burning! Please advise. And, oh yeah – send help!
Any local resident who could see an approaching pillar of flames a mile out and is the proud owner of a battery-powered radio could dial up their “local” station and hear no more than the following: “And the hits – just keep on comin’!” The technical term for such a listener’s situation is: “Totally Screwed.”
Meanwhile, as a result of “the bestest ruling ever,” corporate radio is gleefully jumping up and down like they were competing in a rigged Double Dutch rope-skipping tournament.
Besides, consolidating their operations even more, while throwing talent and support staff into the street, introduces an even more important element to this charade: Not only will the owners no longer have to pretend they are serving their local communities, they will never have to admit they never did, don’t now, and will never have the knowledge, experience, or desire to do so. Lucky break, or what?
Those members of radio’s ownership that are leaping about, have not checked the ice on which they are rejoicing. They will be severely shocked, when untested, corporate rinks crack open, and everybody tumbles in flailing. After failed attempts to scramble back out, the company is swept under the ice by the current, with the bodies of their staffs not likely to be found until spring. Indeed, a nasty metaphor about possibilities.
This ruling, it may be suggested, will allow certain organizations to maintain their business models – as anemic as they are – for some foreseeable future.
This new ruling, in a way, makes it easier for commercial radio to continue treating its audiences like rubes and its local advertisers like boobs. Right here, however, is where it is important for me to make an allowance: While this is the identifiable case, many owners and managers do not treat the audiences and advertisers in these manners with any sinister, cruel or conscious intentions. They are, for the most part, completely unaware of how, specifically, and in so many ways, they are derelict in their duties while unknowingly abusing their audiences and advertisers. A plausible response from ownership to the charge could very well be a sincere “Whaddya mean?” Contrary to legal precedence, “ignorance” often seems to be a completely satisfactory and, often, acceptable defense.
Given the amount of syndication, voice-tracking and, when it is offered, the embarrassing weaknesses of so many of the local talents that overwhelm the airwaves, this latest ruling does nothing to assure the future viability of radio – as impressive a reach as it still enjoys. Radio, I have been suggesting, enjoys the success it does, not because of any programming or commercial production wizardry, but because of the innate, electronic power of the medium. Another lucky break, or what?
The most important part of this presentation still remains in the proposition that radio’s owners and management have no ideas, never mind pertinent knowledge, of how, specifically, to move beyond the despicable state in which most of the radio business finds itself.
The ongoing insulting of, so far, tolerant audiences, and the exploitation of advertisers – both of which need better from this medium – stand as severe indictments against an industry that is unable to improve its bottom lines.
If radio is operating on the assumption that it will continue to be supported by both audiences and advertisers over the longer term, they are likely to be horribly disappointed. Wishful thinking and a buck ninety-five might get the guy with the fading, streaked sandwich board a bowl of soup.
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]