Radio’s Impending Surrender 


(By Ron Robinson) For decades, I have been tippy-toeing through the field of landmines and other anti-personnel devices that have been liberally planted throughout radio’s general topography. Although I had been blown over by a few proximity concussions, and nicked by shrapnel that had decimated many of my peers and colleagues, I, too, even after demonstrating extraordinary effectiveness, was eventually taken off the field on my own shield. I would be less than candid if I did not also confess that I still do, occasionally, get a little twitchy.

And yes, from time to time, I find myself asking, “Why do I even bother?” (Short answer: The alternative is worse.) I am reminded of my days as a cub scout where I learned to tie a reef knot, sell apples, and was instructed in the societal benefits of helping little old ladies cross the street. What was unaddressed was how to respond to little old ladies who a.) Didn’t want to go, and, b.) Were swinging purses packed with bricks.

Radio, similarly, has communicated no desire to cross any street. Radio, rather, has determined to stand steadfast, right where it has been for decades – a medium with no practical strategies to forge a new future for its audiences, its advertisers, and its own future prosperity.

Radio owners have washed their hands of any responsibility to address future potentials of the medium and have, instead, hunkered down to polish only that propaganda that reinforces their firmly held, vacuous and unbelievably debilitating positions.

Today, the generally accepted “normal” for commercial radio is a brutal mediocrity. What makes the situation worse is how the industry actually defends the position with blatant lies and flowery justifications that would only be convincing to the most gullible and easily deluded. So, yes, there is still a very large portion of radio people who are tragically credulous, uninformed, and unwilling to learn. Plus, they refuse to speak with anybody other than those who already agree with them. Might such a scenario ultimately deliver tragic consequences?

Meanwhile, radio pundits and apologists throw out in-vehicle listening as a marvelous boon for the industry, rather than the last-gasp, tenuous grip on available audience. While most Talk radio content serves as flame-producing accelerants to reinforce dysfunctional attitudes and squirrelly psychological positions in their easily coerced audiences, music radio gets picked up in the car, more or less, as a convenient afterthought. This is not a cause for celebration. This is cause for alarm!

In some environments, the following question would be considered reasonable, rational, and legitimate: Why do these radio people refuse to make improvements? The quick & easy answers are: They are terrified to jeopardize whatever income streams they can protect, and, they have no idea what to do to alleviate the situation. They do, however, have an appreciation that whatever is required to launch a program of vast improvements to further embrace audiences and enhance advertisers’ fortunes is unlikely to come cheap. (I am satisfied the upfront expenses would not be all that great, especially when the results start rolling in.) Too bad inquiries are not being made.

Another matter: It is not the ownership and management that are doing most of the bleeding. They pontificate, consult the dogma, and deliriously fantasize battle plans well behind the front lines. Employees are told to hold their positions with parchment shields and peashooters. Then the orders come down to counter-attack. Too bad audiences and advertisers make up the village inhabitants that get wiped out in the ensuing carnage. (The “enemy,” by the way, has yet to be identified, and they sure haven’t been located. But, they’re out here – somewhere.)

Another workable metaphor might be that of the lemmings. Radio’s ownership orders everybody else up to the ledge and into the abyss while assuring the gang the endeavor is a noble sacrifice to those hungry, capricious, and jealous radio gods. Still, delaying tactics, and ignoring any evidence not consistent with the status quo, qualifies as excellent justification for abdicating responsibilities. It serves quite nicely. White flags are in the front office, desk drawers — and the get-away vehicles are idling out back.

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]


  1. Thanks for the extended, accurate input, John. I do, howevere, think our needs (radio’s) needs are greater than plugging in a different set of managers.
    My assertion has always been: It all boils down to the communicatin’, FIRST. “Content”, as sacrilegious as it might seem, is actually – secondary.
    Next Challenge: What, specifically are we to teach the on-air staff and the writers?
    That part, well, I have that figured out, organized, tested and ready to go.

  2. Well. Let’s take a look at the billions of quarter hours being vacuumed up by podcasts, streaming services and YouTube.

    It’s math. The industry holds on to this mantra of “93% of Americans/Canadians listen to broadcast radio every week/day/minute. Funny, but unrealistic.

    DJ’s don’t say anything anymore, a lot of them are tracked, morning shows are still kind of zooish. The end-user experience has been diluted to not much more that SMS national contest promos. We who were in the business were likely always talking too much and our marketing was self absorbed, not focused on the listener. That was our bad, but we lurched so far back the other way now.

    I took a group of college students to a local TV station to watch a morning newscast a couple of years ago. When we left, one kid said “Why don’t they just stream it?”

    It’s like the studio-to-transmitter-to-radio-device architecture is an unnecessary chain of technology to distribute content. And those stopsets. I can walk the dog and still hear spots when I get back home. And as for that car…thinking it’s the default entertainment choice in modern vehicles is rather ridiculous.

    Audio content is here to stay. The podcasters have found some best practices to monetize. The measurement tools are better than ever. Radio is still here because it remains a good reach medium. But the quality of the content is largely not good. Websites are god awful templates. A lot of PD’s don’t know anything about content marketing. Most don’t treat online as a completely separate platform and distribute unique content there.

    Radio stations hire radio sellers, not content marketing geniuses. There’s another big problem.

    To solve the problem in one oversimplified sentence – radio stations should not be run by “radio” people anymore. Take out the current staff and plug in the staff of, oh, Buzzfeed or Medium and you’d hear a very different and compelling on-air and online product.

  3. Sure, Douglas.
    RadioInk provides an archive at the top of the page under Blogs-Programming-Ron.
    A snack and a mitt full of NoDoz might be in order.

  4. The point, William, is that radio – as it has been and continues to be presented and practiced – has a very limited and limiting future.
    Meanwhile, I have been presenting precise, already-demonstrated solutions, and in this particular space, for the last five years.
    The responses from radio’s ownership and management has been, shall I say, spectacularly underwhelming.
    Although it is fair to say that for those who miss or don’t get the point – there is no point.


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