Cowering In The Box


(By Ronald Robinson) I wonder how difficult it must be for radio’s ownership and management to articulate what “out of the box” really means. The contemplation of such a nebulous and ill-defined concept is tough for bogged-down and reticent executives, I suggest, for one primary reason: They are unable to describe or define the “box” in which they find themselves right now! Useful comparisons would, therefore, be unavailable.

Yes, there are credible, intelligent, and knowledgeable individuals within the industry who are able to make some of the necessary distinctions about what is ailing radio – the “box” into which radio crawled long ago, and where it remains. The trick, however, is in finding someone else within the ownership and management corps who is willing to engage in such conversations. If those individuals could be rooted out, they could form a club, and even have secret meetings.

I have no evidence that ownership and management are eager to seek out, identify, or address themselves to those strategies and methodologies that would drastically improve the results generated by their own organizations. To do so would entail becoming aware of, and rejecting, significant portions of the current models of radio they have been applying – with limited success – for decades. Seems nobody is lining up for that experience!

Commercial radio has become, generally, a stagnant enterprise. While the presentations of some sales departments are becoming more sophisticated, the services being supplied by the radio stations still amount to the same ol’. This situation applies to both large corporate outfits and smaller radio companies.

Radio, meanwhile, has a great friend in Bob McCurdy, Vice President of Sales for the Beasley Media Group. Bob has been providing an impressive amount of research, as well as functional methodologies, for radio sales departments to take to their current and prospective clients.

As important to me, though, is Bob’s position as also a student of the other, ignored parts of the business – the “communication” parts. When asked, Bob can explain and demonstrate a number of the – so far, unaccepted – communicative basics along with many powerful nuances that are critical to being appealing to audiences and influential for advertisers.

With rare, but statistically irrelevant exceptions, the information provided by the likes of Bob, Roy Williams, and a few others, (including my own small contributions) has, essentially, been ignored or outright rejected.

As I have continuously maintained: Radio has done as well as it has, not because of any particular sales, programming, or spot-construction wizardry, but because of the innate power of an electronic medium that still enjoys a substantial, traditional reach.

“Direct response” ads make up the greatest majority of all the spots that get aired. To clarify: Direct response ads depend on audiences consciously processing the presented material in real time – with the hope of almost instant responses. This approach has, indeed, kept the medium in a position of a stuttering stasis. The edge of entropy does, meanwhile, approach, and some would suggest in a rapidly increasing and threatening manner.

What is missing from radio’s quiver is all the other arrows. That is to say, all the immediately available communicative techniques that take advantage of the listeners’ innate, unconscious abilities to access and respond to broadcast materials are being ignored by broadcast executives. Management cowers in the original box.

Like adamant proponents of the flat earth theory many centuries ago, radio management recoils in disgust at any mention or demonstrated evidence that would challenge radio’s utterly accepted set of dogmatic positions. To even prop the lid and peer out for a moment risks the discovery that “There be dragons out there. Close the box!”

Further, excuses and/or justifications have been made that allow for the inability of radio’s management corps to consider their business from anything other than an in-person, subjective position. It has been suggested these executives are incapable of the practice of “disassociating.” It’s just an exercise of pretending to consider a situation from the perspective of being outside of yourself and looking back in. Another form of disassociation is taking the fly-on-wall perspective – the position of a disengaged, objective witness.

None of these are acceptable or useful excuses – even when they are true. And none of this is actual “rocketology.”

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. Email him at [email protected]


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