(By Ronald Robinson) Our two countries are intrinsically linked because of a combination of geography, a shared primary language, a similarity in many of our basic beliefs and values, and the ease of crossing each other’s borders — most of us Canadians have relatives and friends who are also rightfully proud Americans.
So, it should come as no surprise to thoughtful readers that many of us from the Great White North are shocked and disappointed at the depth to which our friends in radio are allowing the degradation of those (mostly) shared beliefs and values, and the speed at which this disassembly process of our industry is occurring.
This is particularly perplexing for me because, so far as my broadcast and counseling careers are concerned, my most influential teachers, role models, and mentors were all Americans! At the time, this was an insignificant consideration as, practically speaking, the border was no more than a drawn line in the dirt or the middle part of a lake or river. Crossing over was such an easy process.
For about a year, I was pulling PM Drive at an Ontario radio station, and working nights playing drums in my band at a Michigan bar across the ditch. Crossing the border back and forth six nights a week consisted of a slow-down and a wave. (I was too ascared to run grass across the international bridge. Others, not so much.)
And then, there is the situation in which American radio finds itself – off kilter and lurching from one crisis to another – unable to counteract the forces that are (mostly) self induced and, sometimes, provided by outside sources, including arbitrarily debilitating, government decisions. That many of these decisions are supported by vested interests with an entirely self-serving agenda that has no inclusions for the betterment of the quality of products and services rendered by commercial radio is no longer an argument. That is, not an argument that can be won by anyone without access and influence.
Canadian radio is, essentially, run using the same model as American radio. We stole everything decades ago – including all the weird and dumb stuff like crippling the talent-base, tossing the writers out on their ears, and the phusterclucking of the spot load. There is, however, one significant difference: By comparison, American markets are glutted with signals, to the point where the whole dial is stuffed. An example would be in Calgary, a market of 1.5 million and 16 radio stations. The GTA (Greater Toronto Area) with its over 7 million inhabitants has less than 50 English language stations, many of which have only local community coverage.
Still, the complaints from within the business are similar. With rare exceptions made up mostly of smaller operators in small and medium markets, the bitterness and cynicism is rampant, appalling and, even so, disregarded or punished by those with the abject power and the crass willingness to do so.
Meanwhile, the larger ownership groups are licking their chops and drooling over the prospect of acquiring even more stations per market. This strikes me as beyond ludicrous, particularly since all they have demonstrated so far is an uncanny capacity to wreck their own industry. But, we shouldn’t expect those factors will be getting in the way of the greed and avarice that compels these outfits to want more and more.
Is it too much of a stretch to speculate the coming of a grand culling of stations, or that a major adjustment is lurking just over the horizon? Whatever happens, the first ones to suffer will be the staffs that will be forced to the sidewalk, sporting pleading sandwich boards and selling pencils from a cup.
And so, to my many unmet friends and colleagues toiling at the radio game, I can only offer a couple of thoughts: It is incumbent on everyone in the group to take on a new responsibility, that being the undertaking of acquiring the information, and then, the skills of becoming professional communicators. Mailing in or voice-tracking the shift, never mind the show, has been an unsatisfactory and ineffective practice for decades.
Any performer or writer who is waiting for management to supply such an education is only hastening their departure. Consider this a friendly “heads up.”
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]