Here Is What It’s Going To Take

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(By Ronald Robinson) In an earlier piece, I made the analogy of radio, in general, to flying a vintage, twin Beech-18 on only one engine. The fate of the aircraft and pilot was of moving the scene of the crash just slightly downrange. Cumulus might be providing an example of that — in real time — with share prices having moved from around $64 to a dime in under four years representing more than a cough or a sputter. The engine has blown out and the wing is on fire.

Meanwhile, to continue the radio/aircraft analogy: As the situations develop, radio drives the sales departments to kill something they can eat armed only with a broken hockey stick, and the Beech co-pilot is handing out Cokes and peanuts. Apparently, both the radio sales guy and the co-pilot haven’t been paying attention, or they are both delusional.

What many/most radio station owners are missing is that instead of staring through the tunnel looking for any evidence of a bright light, they are actually peering into the business end of a 12-gauge shotgun.

Over time, there has been a torrent of proclamations from radio’s ownership and management (and cheer leaders) to “increase sales by telling the story!” That would be the story about the reach radio still enjoys and the ROI that radio can often deliver — under certain circumstances. That strategy hasn’t been working out all that well, by the way. It (the strategy) is unlikely to turn too many advertisers around, either. Granted, there are some sophisticated purveyors of the radio sales arts who can generate decent numbers for their outfits.

Yes, radio needs to continue telling the story. But, radio also needs to add to that. Radio needs to be/must be/is required to do something else: Radio must create a new reality for itself, its audiences, and its advertisers.

For decades, radio has only taken steps to diminish itself and its influence on audiences, and its capacities to be more effective on behalf of its advertisers. That these approaches have been framed as “prudent business practices” or some other shabby and cheap justification, only demonstrates how truly shoddy and superficial these pronouncements have been.

Cumulus, as the most recent example of a teetering organization on the verge of collapse, has had the same opportunities to address, not only its business model, but also its models of communication. Like the rest of the industry, with only a few exceptions, they have done nothing at all that would result in making their stations more appealing to audiences, and making their local advertising services more effective for its advertisers.

All of that is an element for the programmers to address. My suspicion is that some programmers already know there are too many wrenches busting up sprockets and, essentially, jamming up the machinery. Most, however, would have great difficulty in articulating any alternative behaviors.

Replacing voice-tracked materials or equally banal syndicated programs with “live & local” doesn’t even come close to providing audiences with much, much more compelling programming – the programming that will be required to generate significantly greater audience interest and loyalty.

Employing untrained talent, completely lacking in the knowledge of even fundamental broadcast techniques, never mind the multiple nuances of delivering to an electronic audience, amounts to no more than throwing degraded slop to the hogs. What comes out the other end is a cheap, tasteless bacon that is unfit for human consumption.

“Copywriting” meanwhile, in other jurisdictions, is still accepted as an actual profession. In radio, it is a necessary piece of slog-work that is, as often as not, thrown to the sales representatives to scribble out on a table napkin – while the advertiser dictates.

Those are the parts of “the story” that can’t be told. To do so would expose the lackluster motivations, understandings, abilities, as well as the hypocrisies, of the business. Even if there was a mass confessional staged for the industry, the crashing and crushing reality is this: Radio is not willing, nor is it prepared, to accept or address an absolute need for generating a new, necessary reality. This is because of one thing: They don’t know how.

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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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.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Bravo, Ron. Even with Cumulus’ Voice move announced on Friday, it is yet another money losing adventure. There are people working on alternatives but you have hit it right on the head what the major problems are.

  2. As this blog wraps up, I will make this my last comment.
    I am astounded at the spectacular hubris of an anonymous, pompous troll who may believe he is actually demonstrating or developing any credibility.

    By the way, I have been hearing similar examples of these vacuous arguments from any number of radio participants – for decades.

    In that ensuing time, radio has been sliding lower in the “desirable media” category, and has been grinding its way into its current stagnancy. “Goldilocks” – my ass.

    • “radio has been sliding lower in the “desirable media” category”

      Perhaps you can post a source for that. Just last week, a credible source said exactly the opposite on this site.

      Why Eric Rhoads allows you to attack the industry he loves and the people he considers clients is beyond me. I’m not the one who needs to demonstrate credibility. That’s your job.

  3. According to TheBigA, radio is already operating in a “goldilocks zone” – of sorts.
    As such, no fundamental, never mind nuanced, changes would be required.

    Were this the actual case, rabid defences would not be required at all. And mine would be the lone, contradictory voice in the wilderness. But, it isn’t.
    Better known commentators than I are writing sympathy cards to those people who don’t realize they are walking up the lemming-path — to the precipice.

  4. All that tells me, The BigA, is that you, like most of your peers, have not been paying attention.

    I want to fix radio. The behaviours of the last decades demonstrate that ownership and management not only are unwilling to consider making improvements, but insist that no improvements are available – or even possible.

    • Once again, you are saying complete untruths. Lots of owners and managers have written commentaries on this very website listing specific improvements that not only COULD be made, but they are making themselves. But those people are owners and managers. You are neither. And you offer nothing. Just endless negativity about how bad things are. You must be loads of fun at the holidays. You want to make radio great again….sounds very familiar…with similar results.

  5. If TheBigA wants specifics – of which there are many – he can hire me.
    All will be revealed.
    By the way, I have already divulged a number of specifics right here in this space.
    Meanwhile, I guess “the story” of radio’s continued (acknowledged) reach will have to be the cure to all that ails the industry.
    So far, that is all that has been presented – along with some extraordinary approaches that are available to the sales department – to help stuff the snakes that have no desire to be stuffed up a drain pipe.

    • I don’t hire people who complain about radio. Those kinds of people are a dime a dozen. Real consultants can point to specific examples of their success. So far, I haven’t seen any.

  6. Just before the blog goes belly-up, let me reiterate:
    With the exception of some rare, excellent talent that can pull their stations over the hurdles, radio has been applying the same models-of-communication for decades. And ALL of them are flawed in a number of ways.
    That has been and is my contention.
    As to the differences between American and Canadian radio: There are very few – except that Canadian radio’s staffs enjoy high quality, FREE Health Care. You guys might want to look into that, as well. 🙂

    • Yet another generalization with no specificity:

      “radio has been applying the same models-of-communication for decades.”

      My response to that is that for the same period, radio has also been the audio medium of choice for over 93% of the population. You may view them flawed, but you have no specifics, and the public doesn’t seem to agree with you. They continue to listen in large numbers despite all of the competing technologies available. I consider that a tribute to the thousands of dedicated radio employees who work hard every day.

  7. While TheBigA continues to dance past the major points of this blog, he also demonstrates the unwillingness and, also likely, an inability to mount a retort to the the main premises.

    Those premises include: Ownership, management and programmers are at a loss as to how, specifically address the pressing and pervasive issues of shoddy on-air communications, and the unwillingness of radio to address its equally shabby practices of producing only the least of what is otherwise called “creative”.
    I repeat the reason for this unfortunate tragic and foreboding circumstance: They just don’t know how. Even more disastrous is that they are also unwilling to make enquiries.

    • I can’t address generalizations. There are 14,000 radio stations in the United States, each with different staffs. There thousands of different owners with lots of different approaches to programming. You prefer to attack the entire industry, and call it “shabby.” Radio stations don’t all do the same thing in the same way. I see no point in dealing with such a lack of specificity. If you don’t have specifics about a particular station doing a particular thing, I can’t address it. I’m not going to play your silly game of “radio sucks.” A professional radio website is not the place for such a thing. I hope the publisher of this site recognizes that. Your bio says you know Canadian radio. Perhaps you should stick to that. You clearly don’t know anything about radio in the US.

  8. “How would you know what they do?” questions TheBigA.
    I pulled my head out of my butt decades ago. I urge you to do likewise.
    I found the exercises to be illuminating – and refreshing.
    Meanwhile, radio has no secrets. Everything is coming out of the box – all day long.
    Cumulus investors are staring at a nickel-a-share. Going to jump in?

    • You seem to think there’s any connection between share price and actions the company has taken to fix programming and sales problems. There is no connection. The share price is low because the company recently announced that anyone who has any stock will get nothing if their deal is approved. They have already told investors their stock is worthless. So no, I’m not going to jump in. Had you read the article describing the Cumulus debt deal, you’d know that. But I guess you felt that article was BS. Please…read the facts before writing blogs. Maybe even quote a few of them in your articles from time to time.

  9. So, an assumed dichotomy is offered as evidence?
    RadioInk provides news and views as they are made available and deemed to be acceptable.
    That includes the self-serving, vacuous pronouncements from corporate radio leadership and the folks who are calling “bulls***”.
    Other extremely credible bloggers are calling for massive changes.
    Do these also fall on deaf ears that separate cloth heads?
    The lack of a rush to extraordinary improvements suggests such is the case.

  10. As an example of a sorely uninformed, ideology-based and tragically unwilling to research the alternatives “boy-in-the-bubble” radio apologist, I give you (the readers): TheBigA. Here is an anonymous troll who is schilling for failing programming strategies and failing radio organizations that are just barely hanging on.

    • A reminder that this is an INDUSTRY WEBSITE. The primary readers and the owners are all what you would call “radio apologists.” As I said, you attacked a company for doing nothing, while the publisher and editors of this site regularly feature interviews with the CEO outlining all that she has done. Either you are wrong, or this site is ill-informed. It can’t be both. If you think you’re building business for yourself by attacking radio industry people, you’re wrong.

  11. Once again, you make false generalizations, this time about Cumulus, proving that you don’t actually read RadioInk.

    If you would just do a search on Mary Berner’s name, or a few other key executives from that company, you’d see a list of things that they have done in the last two years to make their stations “more appealing” to their listeners and their advertisers. The debt they’re fighting was caused by a previous regime. This one has set about changing the culture and the practice. If you’d just read the stories on this very page, you wouldn’t embarrass yourself by saying they’ve done nothing at all. They have, and they can give you a list of all the things they’ve done, with some statistics and poll results to prove it.

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