How Facts Get In Radio’s Way 

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(By Ronald Robinson) In addition to being a well-educated and practiced individual in the communicative aspects of radio, I am also well trained in providing counseling services to individuals who would benefit from changes in their psychological processes. The synergy, meanwhile, between these two seemingly unrelated elements is still quite extraordinary.

Unless trained beyond our own propensities, we tend to behave and speak in a manner that is consistent with our thinking. Our ways of speaking are, almost exclusively, intuitive and habitual. In a way, radio reinforces that idea with the “be yourself” and the “one-to-one” edicts. Neither of these missives is, practically, achievable. Both, again practically, are destructive.

Even though both of these premises can easily be demonstrated to be faulty, it can be noted they still take on the mantle of “facts.” But, like the almost universally accepted rumor that “rules were made to be broken,” some facts are still vigorously denied. Such responses occur when any “facts” run head-on and clang into a steel wall of already-existing beliefs and/or values. 

Very little solid, contradictory evidence stands much of a chance of gaining any traction when other unspecified materials are already welded on. This is when minds stop processing, and heels get dug in. The recently coined “alternative facts” phenomenon serves as a prime example of nonsense that has been served up on a warm plate to reinforce those whose positions were already locked in. Formerly accepted “facts” become questionable, and a new reality can be produced – way too easily.

Here’s a fact about radio: Radio’s more recent spate of ownership has done a magnificent job of wrecking what could yet be a marvelous platform to reach and influence greater numbers of audiences. Twenty-five years ago, did the ownership group gather at a lodge somewhere in the Appalachians and determine their best strategy for success would be to gut the industry of its talent and make radio a less appealing and less effective medium? It doesn’t matter, as that is exactly what they did anyway.

I wonder if anyone else has accepted the following as fact: Other media stopped selling against radio a long time ago. The reason: They don’t have to. Radio continues to do everything possible to make it an impotent, unnecessary part of an advertiser’s media buy. A couple of discounting sentences from the competition is often enough to take radio out of any considered mix. Buying around radio is easier now than at any other time in our sordid history. (I guess I am obliged to acknowledge radio’s reach and occasional, sometimes startling examples of wonderful ROI.) “The Story,” meanwhile, is stilling falling on mostly deaf ears.

Radio’s “Really Big and Important Story” is cobbled from such a cherry-picked set of examples as to stretch an advertiser’s credulity to painful limits. At best, radio has become a sometimes, maybe, and depends advertising option. That, I submit, has become a pervasive perception of advertisers and, for many, an accepted “fact.”

Furthermore, bells are ringing, bugles blaring, and banners flapping during station-sponsored celebrations of “The Story.” Few of radio’s leadership are willing to admit that the appeal of programming is nebulous and innocuous, and the quality of locally produced advertising is only consistent in quality with bulletin boards at the neighborhood Skweeky Kleen Laundromat. These are examples of deniable and rejected facts.

Here, then, is another unacknowledged fact: Sophisticated advertisers, and the equally sophisticated agencies that produce their advertising, have known for over half a century that electronic advertising works far better when the emotional aspects of an audience are, not only factored in, but take a primary position.

Radio has no truck with such nonsense. Instead, radio insists on producing ads that feature only content – presented by annoying announcers. Radio still lives, but mostly dies, by clutching the “Price/Product, Yell & Sell” model. Local advertisers insist on this approach and radio, not having anything else in the can, supports them.

And so, radio’s pervasive denial of the facts continues. I used to think that somebody in the leadership would snap out of it, so to speak, and start engaging in research to counteract such debilitating behaviors. I was mistaken. I am also disappointed.

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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Ron Robinson
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. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunately, Robert, radio’s defensive responses are just examples of so much else of what is going on in the culture.
    If we aren’t so much surprised, we are still put into a situation where we can be appalled.
    None of this bodes well for the short – or long term.

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