Excellence Need Not Apply 


(By Ronald Robinson) Sometimes, especially when the whining from radio’s ownership and management cranks up an extra 10 dB while taking on the tonality of a horse dentist’s drill, radio’s workforce gets ever more agitated and twitchy. Some are slipping fast, going berserk on occasion — without notice.

To wit: How can ownership and management expect to attract exceptional sales performers by supplying Kibbles & Bits as remuneration? Further, how can radio attract potentially fabulous performers and commercial writers when it is a well known part of radio’s modus operandi to keep these individuals manacled in soundproof cells where nobody else can hear their proffered ideas? Their frustrated pleas for help are of no consequence, as they rake their tin cups across the bars. 

Management does, however, take great pains to be certain that, before these performers are thrown into the clink, their spirits and their creative potentials have been permanently crippled. As with the individuals being tricked into the sales side, one can also wonder who is going to be training them. 

It’s not as if a successful communications model has been designed and applied for the last decades. To my knowledge, even professional coaches and consultants have not been addressing the issue. In this area, radio’s larder is empty — the cupboard can only support a few ants that are dining on some leftover coffee supplies. There are also rumors about them chewing through ancient copies of The Electric Weenie.

The very last thing radio ownership feels compelled to do is to put some money on the table. No scratch for sales. No dough for talent. No bucks for creative. No cash for engineering, either. If this were the case for any other enterprise, how much of an argument would there be for the likelihood of the successful continuation of such a business? I mean, who would make book on any portion of such a travesty?

Meanwhile, like so many other aspects of the culture, some delusions do enjoy an upper hand in these considerations. Part of the delusion might be that the radio gods will be sweeping in to set things straight, but only at the last possible moment — so long as it happens right quickly. Since radio is not taking much, if any, responsibility for its own dire straights, the question could be asked, “Why would the gods even care?” There is little chance of that as all the evidence suggests the media gods have already picked digital.

Now, I have been hanging out in these hallways long enough to appreciate I am unlikely to generate much in the way of admissions, and I certainly won’t be getting back an “amen,” either. Not from this crowd. They have too much invested in dogma, and are in no position to lose much more credibility — as if that was a consequence that could be avoided.

Given all the laments coming from radio — about poor sales, shallow perceptions from advertisers, unfair practices by other radio companies, and the dastardly, criminal influx of other electronic platforms, a single truism about radio is constantly being denied or ignored, from within. That truism: Radio has become a third-rate medium!

Denials of this fall on indifferent ears. Evidence has already been considered. The jury came in a long time ago with a unanimous “guilty” verdict. Appeals are running out. Hard time is inevitable. Buzzards are circling, patiently waiting for the corpses to start piling up. Easy pickin’s are assured.

Yet, much of radio continues to pretend it is an actual, vibrant, and viable medium. Given all the third-rate on-air performances, third-rate, locally produced, commercial content, and third-rate ad campaigns foisted onto jaded and cynical advertisers, the surprise should be that anybody in the industry keeps bleating about “the story.”

Practically, radio no longer has a compelling story. It is what we tell each other. The ROI portion, while still valid, and sometimes impressive, is lost in the din. What radio still does have, however, is lots of potential! 

Until radio is able to address its third-rate status and the realities of its third-rate performances, any alleged potential will only serve as content of a forlorn saga about possibilities that were overlooked when action was what was required.

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]


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