(By Ronald Robinson) Seems like a significant portion of radio operators are well aware of how their stations are failing at, and utterly anemic in, serving their local markets. Because of the tragic deregulation of ownership that took place a couple of decades ago, a model of forced incompetence has been staked out, and is now being vigorously defended.
It should be pointed out that most station owners began disregarding their local responsibilities, and opportunities, by cutting talent and services many years before deregulation made it surprisingly necessary. Meanwhile, there is no defense of the status quo that has been put forward — not by anyone who wants to avoid losing credibility and anymore personal integrity. Of course, those at the pointy end of a corporate agenda are summarily excused from being expected to sport much in the cloak of such integrity or, for that matter, group solidarity.
The realization of the need for operators to make a significant shift by providing many more superior services — at the local level — are, I suspect, also leaping into their awareness. As such, they are running up against some formidable challenges.
From time to time, there are admissions that “live & local” is the most effective strategy to undertake — beginning today. Yes, today would have been prudent. But that, I suggest, is no more than an opening consideration. Such an admission, and even a sincere determination to execute the ideal, is no more than an acceptance of a completely undefined concept — a premise with no meat on its bones, and no structure.
There was a time when those of us who longed to be “on the radio” were having that experience because we wanted to be “performers.” Our imaginations were engaged by the potential of gaining the learned skills and the improvisational capacities of stand-up comics — only in the sit-down positions. Our audiences were purely mental fabrications as we worked alone in the dark.
Even when management treated us like mushrooms, eventually canning us, we maintained our drive to persevere and “make it.” I have difficulty in aptly describing the thrills of working in major markets and, eventually, dominating in the process. The money got to be real good, too, by golly. The respect of my peers was the most satisfying thing.
Further, I maintain I had acquired some significant skills in the years prior to my being introduced to, and was applying, the linguistic patterns and strategies I was taught and implemented in due course. It was those methodologies that really launched my success. A couple of mentors intervened along the way, and I am grateful. And thus endeth an arbitrary and embellished trudge out on the exit ramp of clouded, super-jock memories.
Meanwhile, what about the realities for radio — right now? The challenges are staggering. They may be overwhelming. Just paying flippant lip service to the premise of “live & local” — the absolutely, correct strategy — will only frustrate the participants, sincerity notwithstanding.
There are two glaring but still ignored elements to this challenge. 1. The immediate training or retraining of the multiples of required on-air hires, and, 2. Educating the additional copywriters that must be brought on. This, however, could be a simultaneous process because the training of every one of the on-air folks to perform copywriting duties, as well, would be quite satisfactory and much more efficient.
Recruiting talent, as many operators have openly confessed, is a mug’s game. Those that are on the search are terrified of the outside personalities who may be demonstrating any actual (alleged) “creative” talent. What they still really want from on-air presenters is compliance! (“Read the liners. Shut up.”) Still, undisciplined, uninform, and unreasonable presenters that would wreck studio environments and audiences are, very much, a valid concern.
Indeed, crash courses in effective radio communications are required, especially for those outfits that have accepted “live & local” as the only way to take their stations forward. Since it is extremely unlikely that but a very few organizations will even be making any inquiries on the matter, the rest of the industry is destined (doomed?) to bog down or be lurching about, what with all the added expenses and hassles of bringing in untrained, uneducated, and unruly pretenders.
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]