(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]