(By Ronald Robisnon) Radio is not particularly unique in some of its approaches to, in our case, audiences and advertisers. When I was being trained to do behavioral counseling, one of the presuppositions that was presented was the following: “People, and the organizations they develop, tend to find out what doesn’t work – and then do it harder!” A simple example of this would be the PD or manager who speaks to a staff member. When the response is unacceptable, they yell. When that doesn’t work, they yell louder.
While that is a standard-issue, psychological truism as it applies to peoples’ behaviors, radio has been living out the concept in other ways. Even as significantly pertinent information has been distributed throughout the industry, radio has been digging in its heels by either failing to apply the new developments or by making all efforts to disregard it. This avoidance strategy hasn’t been working, so radio does what it does best, it avoids it all the harder.
I believe I will get no reasoned or articulate arguments for the following: Twenty-five years ago, radio was producing better on-air presentations from “live” personalities and better, more interesting copy, especially for local advertisers. What radio has been doing harder, with admirable persistence, is crippling both of those components of the radio broadcast model. What is still left standing is: Sales. That is what gets the attention, and it is sales that is supported, but only in some cases, some of the time.
I am also of the opinion that commercial radio is the least exploited medium in our culture. But then, that would be the case anyway, given how radio continues to, with intention, mangle the communicative aspects of the business by slashing budgets for talent and commercial production.
So long has this been the M.O. of commercial radio, it would be feasible to suggest that radio management no longer has any convenient access to talent – mostly because the majority of skilled people have been drummed or starved out of the business. Of greater import, radio is no longer in a position to identify talent, if and when it is available. So pervasive is this situation that I speculate radio’s management groups have been getting together only to find they really don’t have much else to talk about other than how to generate greater sales – without incurring more expense.
The disgust with this situation has become palpable within the industry. Commentators are registering their disdain more often and with more vitriol expressed at ownership and management than at any other time in our history. Those who make the attempt to defend the business and its sordid attempts to quell the folks who are registering bitter complaints can only provide maudlin and pathetic justifications for the status quo. It’s really quite pathetic when they scramble for examples of where everything is just rosy.
Radio is in a position, right now, where it is sliding into a miasma of indifference – demonstrated by the lack of enthusiasm from listeners and from advertisers. Radio has, for the most part, stopped providing the products and services that would begin to have an impact on such a shoddy circumstance.
Even as the strategies and methodologies are available that would quickly fire up a significant radio turnaround, owners and managers are having no truck with any of it. Too many have already thrown out their boilers or sold them for scrap. Too bad, as that is where the coal gets shoveled.
Governments, meanwhile, are going about the business of abdicating their responsibilities to the public and, instead, are futzing around with the regulations that will make for greater radio property acquisitions. This would have the effect of allowing broadcast corporations to do more of what they are doing, that isn’t working – and to do it harder!
So, where then might there be opportunities? It would take an extremely forward-thinking organization to: 1. Realize they are playing a game where they will be the ultimate losers; 2. Search for and identify the strategies that will get, at least their own outfit, out of the glue; and, 3. Determine to execute those strategies. Otherwise, radio will continue to be the architect of its own, eventual demise.
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]