Radio Accepts No Advice 


(By Ronald Robinson) “Perception,” it has often been extolled, “is reality.” While that can be argued as a truism, it is still a subjective position for some individuals, and only for some of the time. As often as not, the position comes off as one that has limited utility and renders wholly unsatisfactory consequences. However, the radio industry’s shared perception of itself suffers from just such a perception and just such a reality.

Further, radio does not only accept the perceptions that have been held by its owners, leadership, and much of the employee base, it has refused to challenge itself on the very edicts (I say, “dogma”) that have been perpetrated and perpetuated within the industry for decades. Consolidation, I suggest, has only made the rejection of responsibilities to improve the industry much easier and certainly more justifiable than if a more competitive environment might have generated.

Radio continues to reject any considerations, never mind the available applications of maneuvers that would upset the status quo — one that has been accepted for the better part of 30 years. The irony lies in that there are very few apologists and supporters of the industry — the way it is — who can provide thoughtful or reasonable justifications for maintaining the status quo.

To be sure, radio’s ownership and leadership can trot out a litany of complaints against a number of outside and inside influences, including government regulations, other media that enjoy “unfair” advantages, “unreasonable” demands from advertisers and agencies, and the machinations of unscrupulous competitors. 

While many of the complaints do, indeed, have some merit, they will not stand as rational excuses to disregard every opportunity for radio to save its own bacon. Given the general state of radio, these irrational justifications to avoid implementing any worthwhile changes still have enormous traction.

Meanwhile, radio has, from time-to-time and still can deliver a marvelous ROI for advertisers — so long as two other aspects of mounting a radio campaign are considered, those being: the time buy and the effectiveness of the messaging. Without those two elements being factored in, there is the high likelihood of, once again, hearing that old chestnut, “I tried radio and it didn’t work!” So, were we expecting something else?

Without immediately launching into the almost universal, shoddy performances of the largest majority of those pretenders masquerading as “on air talent”, the effectiveness of locally produced commercial messaging would be laughable, if it wasn’t so sad, pathetic and amateurish. Granted, many readers would be getting their backs up at such comments, but this would be a knee-jerk reaction. There really are no useful or valid contradictory arguments that can disable the contention. Our spots, to apply the vernacular, verily do sucketh large. We ought to count ourselves as extremely lucky that radio audiences are more likely to tolerate the messaging — more so than they do when presented with ads on other platforms. I repeat: Lucky. Not smart. (There is an explanation for that phenomenon that is unique to radio, but I still expect an inordinate indifference.)

It is extremely difficult to explain a concept or a strategy when most of the crowd is raining down boos, hisses and catcalls. I am relieved the hurling of rotting vegetables has gone out of vogue. Still, I do keep an eye peeled. Given the state to which much of radio culture seems to be devolving, anything is possible.

Even as radio has decided that it is the sales process that will bail the business out of the hoosegow, other observers are well aware the other two factors — the time buy and, most importantly, the crafting of the messaging are the missing but required elements. Better closing ratios, while worthwhile in the shorter term, still won’t get radio back on any super-duper, media highway.

For more years than I care to count, I have taken all my education and experience in radio, and have been promoting the contention that radio has continuously been missing opportunities to be more appealing and more effective. By refusing to address the superior methodologies of presenting the spoken word in a far more influential manner, radio remains locked into communicative strategies that are not only less appealing, they are practically, counter productive.


  1. Quite so, Robert.
    Programmers get into exhausting fur-ball fights when arguing about what to PLAY – as if those decisions made up the significant considerations in the attempt to provide dominating programming – including influential advertising.
    The playlists are no more than generic, demographic targeting strategies – no assurances are provided. (Formats can be established during a weekend over pizza and beers.)
    The components for which managers have no time, no knowledge and limited experience are: What to SAY, and how to SAY IT, specifically – both on-air and in commercial production. This factor leaves them with severely diminished capacities to teach, as well.
    Even the so-called “coaches” are relegated to a combination of putting out bush fires and jostling with deck chairs.
    Yes, Robert, The Big Fix is required and The Fix will have to be at core, fundamental levels.
    Turd Buffing, as you already know, will not do the trick.

  2. Thank you, Robert, for being candid and precise with your response. Although some apologists for contemporary radio will make milquetoast excuses for the medium, they cannot deny the practicality of your remarks.
    Indeed, a severe fixin’ is in order.
    But, as the article itself suggests: Ain’t nobody paying much attention.
    The working reality of radio’s ownership and management suggests: If it cost more and takes longer than buying and applying a bandaid – it is not going to happen.

    • A friend is a regional executive with one of the “big” companies. They have a station that is number two in the market and a station that is number 4. The leading station is an AC playing the game of how young can we get with out lopping off our upper demo?,The demo 40 plus is the meat that holds the AC station together. They recently flipped one of the companies “spare” FM stations to alternative, a format that radio people seem to love even though it has consistently under performed for years, decades really. During a nice dinner, I suggested maybe a better tactic would to have created an upper demo AC to destroy more than half of the market leaders audience, automatically moving their best stations up in the ratings. She got a funny look on her face. I continued, the number one station has no competition and your programming geniuses decided to put an alternative on the air, a format that will chip away some of the listeners of your own damn stations and do nothing to weaken your competition, if you are literally giving away your lower rated stations anyway why not do something productive with them?

      She had no answer, except to say, “Yeah that makes sense”

      Conventional wisdom is killing radio. I’m old enough to remember when all the big, smart, money guys thought nobody would ever listen to FM. That was the conventional wisdom in the early 70’s, even when the reality was Beautiful Music stations on FM were winning in market after market. When I got to Boston in 71, Westinghouse was disparately trying to sell WBZ FM, when WJIB FM was number one in the market.

      You are on the money when you say “radio accepts no advice”

  3. Note to Robert Christy:
    I believe your contention is sincere – although extremely iffy – like a lottery ticket buy.
    My main premise has always been that communicating to a radio audience requires a set of extremely sophisticated strategies and methodologies – none of which are being currently applied.
    Rollin’ them bones on a different set of ownership – individuals or groups – comes with no assurances and most likely, unsatisfying consequences.

    • I think they would develop their own strategy, tactics and methodology. They know the audience, because that’s who they are.
      I have two teenage grandsons, they wouldn’t recognize a radio if you tossed it in their lap. I have a 24 year grand daughter who is in grad school, her cousin just graduated from law school and is 25. The girls listen to NPR for news and they both use various podcasts as do the boys. The 4 of them may be outliers or are they?
      The kids mothers who grew up in a household supported by a radio guy, who went from programming to management, don’t listen to the radio anymore either…go figure, right?

      I’ve been retired from the business for 5 years, I don’t listen anymore either, I do listen to news on NPR. I use Sirius/XM. I love Pat Kerwan and Jim Miller on the NFL Channel. Gee, both of those guys are personalities who know what they are talking about, imagine that.

      I live in LA, dollar-wise the biggest radio market in the world, you’d think it would have some really outstanding radio stations, stations that are bigger than life…well, come and take a listen.

      We were in New York a few weeks ago, I tuned in the #1 station. Really?

      I’ve heard interviews with artists that go like this: “We have XXXX from the XXXX band in the studio with us this morning, So what’s going on XXXX?

      “We’re on the road, have been since January and we’re playing Staples Center tonight”

      “So you’ve been on the road since January and you’re playing Staples Center tonight, right?”

      “Ahhh, yeah”

      It needs to be fixed Ronald.

  4. I wonder what a group of young people would do with a good signal FM, if you handed them the keys, a one page list of rules to stay legal and told them to make their friends happy.

    It would make “radio people” crazy, but I think it would kick some butt. And I’d also bet it wouldn’t be a music station.


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