Radio’s Failure To Evolve


(By Ronald Robinson) “People and the organizations they generate tend to find out what doesn’t work – and to do it harder.” That was put forward when I was training to do counseling work. Next, we were challenged, if we had any doubts, to demonstrate otherwise. This presupposition applied particularly to those who were not getting the results they wanted for themselves.

This working presupposition applies to most of contemporary, music-based radio. The medium has not evolved, nor has it adapted to a far different environment than existed even 30 years ago. As an entertainment and, more importantly, as an advertising medium, radio is being pushed off the table. Even as there is still a nice chunk o’ change being spent on the medium, radio is still running the risk of experiencing, if not a complete extinction, then a slide into irrelevance.

There are self-sabotaging elements in the behaviors radio has been continuously and consistently generating for these decades. There are no acceptable responses to the charges that radio has wrecked at least three of the necessary factors that are required for the medium to just hang on, never mind flourish:

  1. Because the information is the most recent addition to the medium, I will mention it first. Yes, radio crows about maintaining much of its traditional reach – and rightfully so. However, even more useful data – good crunchable numbers – are available that might just satisfy any number of ongoing and potential advertisers using the medium to attain much more satisfying results. Getting that data in front of advertisers is the responsibility of the sales department.
  1. It is not the responsibility of the sales department to write interesting, appealing, and effective copy. They don’t know how, nor are they expected to. Actually, they are expected to – as if generating influential copy was something done on the way over to visit with an advertising client. Salespeople writing copy – under instructions from the client – has become an exercise in the alternate use of table napkins.
  1. Radio’s on-air talents have become akin to the homeless who are scurrying for higher ground during the onslaught of a flooding event from a major storm. There are no longer opportunities to hone their craft or to learn the nuances of what it is they are supposed to be doing –  appeal effectively to audiences. That a whole other methodology of communicating to a broadcast audience has been developed over the years is completely out of the awareness of the on-air practitioners who are running for their lives while dragging along all their worldly belongings. All managers and owners are willing to do is hold some high ground, look below them at a panicked throng of on-air presenters, and mutter “Poor devils.”

Similar to science-deniers everywhere, radio’s ownership refuses to factor in what, for other, reasonable people is overwhelming evidence that what they are doing is simply not working. So they do it harder. Indeed, radio is neither evolving nor, sure as hell, ain’t adapting either.

So obvious are radio’s maladies to the business community that they feel totally justified in ignoring the medium as a viable and effective advertising medium. Audiences, meanwhile, continue to complain bitterly about the phusterclucking of lousy spots and the particularly unsatisfying contribution of the on-air presenters – whether “live” or ‘tracked.

Owners continue to whine, snivel, and otherwise yip about the cost of talent and the huge hit to the bottom line that would arrive with the hiring of competent writers, as if anybody else gave a rat’s ass. This is something they moan about, but only to each other, whenever they can find a sympathetic ear.

Elsewhere, fawning all over legislators who can deregulate the industry even more has become the hobby-of-choice for those broadcasters who are having difficulty describing a “level playing field.” They can’t do it. They still figure it’s the onslaught of other media that is busting up the old gang. They refuse to consider they might be screwing themselves over.

Natural selection and random mutation – evolution – operate too slowly for this crowd to get off the downhill slope. This is especially the case given they are operating against their own best interests.

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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