(By Ronald Robinson) This may not come as a bolt from the blue to regular readers. For years, my position has been that radio has consistently, and with suspicious vigor, been throwing itself into the bramble bushes. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. What is closer to the truth is that radio heaves its on-air and creative department staffs into the briar patch.
At some point in the distant past, an executive who used to run a fleet of dry cleaning outfits, while nursing a severe hangover, wandered into the head office of a well-known radio conglomerate, foisted himself off as an “efficiency expert,” got hired and commenced to ruining an industry. Other snoozing CEOs noticed how costs were being substantially chopped down the street, made their own talent say “Baaa,” and moved them into the fleecing shed.
I’m not bitter. My distress about radio has no psychological causes. Besides, my angst can be treated with pharmaceuticals, cigarettes, scotch and deep massages. This is exceptionally good news as, because of Canada’s health care system, they’re all free!
I listen to radio with the same concern with which cattle ranchers monitor their herds. But, it’s safe to say radio staffs, long ago, have been “cowed,” so to speak, and are now rendered completely passive and obedient.
As I’ve often said, my threshold for what constitutes effective and listenable radio has never been met. There were times, to be sure, when radio was much more creative and interesting, but I wouldn’t expect the majority of contemporary radio’s participants to have any experience or recall of those times.
Radio’s ownership and management are suffering from ideological delusions. Most don’t know what radio has been, they don’t know what radio could be, and the status quo, although not particularly satisfying, is acceptable – the default position of an entire industry. Most importantly, when it comes to discussing strategies to make massive improvements, they come out empty, and in ill humor.
Whenever I go up and down the dial, I am almost always met with banality. Whether someone is “live & local,” voice-tracked, or delivering a milquetoast syndication, the chances of being intrigued, entertained, or intellectually or emotionally challenged are extremely low. Asking any listener to tolerate such a vacuous environment is beyond goofy. Radio’s continued reach would be startling if it weren’t for the fact of the neurological processes that listens experience.
Special prosecutors may have to be summoned in order to investigate the state of radio commercial presentations and the abuse of the people who are forced to write and produce them. Having to listen through multiple clusters of these nasty, speedily produced, and insulting productions counts as audience torturing, as well.
Actually, it is not a mystery – not to me and not to people who have done their homework. The neurological processes that are automatically and unconsciously engaged by an audience, bypasses much of the intellectual and rational components of their experience. If those elements were really being engaged, audiences would be showing up at the station’s doors with rotten vegetables.
In the meantime, let’s be clear of commercial radio’s mandate: To attract and maintain as many listeners as we can for as long as we can for the purpose of exposing them to commercials that are designed to influence and yes, manipulate those listeners to make purchases they would not ordinarily make without being exposed to those commercials.
Radio not only fails miserably at carrying out those mandates, it doesn’t seem to care all that much and, in fact, goes out of its way to reject any such responsibility. I am also willing to opine that radio has yet to go so far as to accept any of those mandates as being important, useful, or worthy of much serious consideration.
Meanwhile, my wife is lighting a floating candle in a carved-out piece of rock from a shoreline close by. The candle, she tells me, is releasing the spirits of Lake Superior. I should be feeling much better in a short while.
Given the exceptions of a number of spectacular talents, I don’t much care for radio – as it is.
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. E-mail him at [email protected]