(By Ronald Robinson) Over the years, my friends and radio colleagues were generous in their praise of my skills as an on-air performer and as a writer. I was never openly accused of any form of arrogance or hubris, although I did, from time to time, play a jerk on the radio – with some distinction.
None of that means I didn’t hold myself in the highest esteem as the results I was able to generate were being demonstrated on a consistent and long-term basis. To be sure, this was me diggin’ me. Meanwhile, although it did take awhile, about 15 years into my on-air career, I did come to the conclusion that I had learned more about the communications aspects of broadcast than almost all of the folks for whom I was slaving over a hot microphone. Please appreciate: I don’t say “smarter.” I do, however, insist I was well educated, better informed, and severely practiced.
Unlike the majority of current on-air presenters who get about three minutes of highly structured airtime in an hour, we were “live” somewhere between 12 and 16 minutes per hour. And that was about those of us who were working as single performers. Other than the morning shows, there were no crews, no teams, no zoos, and no happy gangs. We were dangling out there to otherwise spin, pump water, or hang ourselves. The group, it has to be said, did take some casualties. The requirements were high enough to guarantee substantial talent turnovers.
Casual historians of radio might be interested to know that the culling of personalities began in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s — well before the Consolidation Pandemic completely wiped out the talent corps. Owners came to the conclusion that “more rock — less jocks” (also occasionally referred to as: “more tunes — fewer jaloons”) was the route to even greater prosperity. Although a few of us were able to hang on during these times, the memos were on the bulletin boards in the jock lounges: “Abandon all hope and avoid taking out any mortgages.”
It was during this period that I was making my second-biggest mistake. I assumed that, because I was exceptionally skilled and enormously effective — boxcar numbers — I would be immune to the toxic trends that were oozing into the radio culture. I was eventually proven wrong, even as I had outlasted most of my peers.
I had not fully appreciated owners coming to the irreversible conclusion that audiences and advertisers would not notice the slashing of both strong personalities on the air and skilled writers in the creative departments. Besides, ownership could easily support their decisions by pointing to the research that seemed to reinforce the notion that “more music – less talk” was an appropriate and functional strategy. The cost-cutting aspect would have been enough. The “research” was a magnificent justification bonus — a radio gods freebie.
That the research methodologies were tragically flawed was not revealed until many years later. By then, it was too late to change course. Further, there are still many principles in radio who still operate as if the research is still accurate and valid. I mean, there’s nothing like a hard and heavy dose of dogma to keep the gullible in line — including the leadership.
This, then, leads me to my biggest mistake…
Thousands of diverse industries and enterprises go out of their way to tout the need for continuous innovation. They do so because innovation is not only good for business, it is absolutely necessary. Failure to do so, they understand completely, almost guarantees their ultimate demise.
Radio has taken no such decision. An expectation and assumption that it would take on massive programs of innovation has been my biggest mistake. Radio has worked against and rejected innumerable opportunities to improve with a “polarity response.” It has done the exact opposite of what is required to fulfill its potential.
The manners in which radio communicates to its audiences has been beaten down and crippled to the extent that most of radio’s offerings have become annoying and ineffectual gibberish. That is most obvious in the flotsam masquerading as commercial content. Indeed, ownership demonstrates no interest in the matter. That is their folly — their biggest mistake.
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]