What’s It Going To Take? 

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(By Ronald Robinson) “What’s It Going To Take…” is the title of a blog I have been writing for the last 12 years for a Canadian radio forum, radiowest.ca. It appears in the General Radio News category. It started out as a plaintive howl in the wilderness, and it remains so today. But, since I am fully prepared to, and have provided many of the answers anyway, the title takes the form of a rhetorical question.

What, then, did I not know? I (foolishly) assumed that many of radio’s leadership would consider the new material as examples of reasonable alternatives to the traditions that were ruining the industry. I also assumed that some of the principals would recognize the benefits of applying the provided methods, take appropriate actions, and celebrate with high-fives and congrats — at the bank.

That the vast majority of radio practitioners have yet to understand, never mind accept the neurologically demonstrated realities of radio being, primarily, an emotion-generating medium, as opposed to a medium that exploits the rational capacities of listeners, staggers me still. I admit: I’m stumped, stymied, perplexed, and generally… buffaloed. But, then again, I overstate. I lie. I am not really completely stumped. I shall explain…

By the time I was being fitted for my Coach and Counselor’s Cap, I had been educated in the many and varied ways we (people) can get screwed up and screwed over by tradition, social and cultural dogma, religious dogma, and yes, organizational and institutional dogma. In another word: indoctrinated. Radio included. 

Bound and gagged by so much communicative dogma have we become, that we have rendered ourselves impotent in the marketplace, and crippled in our ability to respond and make absolutely necessary changes. If that sounds just a tad alarmist, it is because radio is very close to pushing the “panic” button with the hope that somebody arrives with hooks, ladders, and fairly big hoses. (There is a story that the Titanic sailed while a small, unsuppressed fire was burning in a coal bunker, weakening the steel along that portion of the hull. Even if a myth, it still makes a hell of a radio analogy.)

Meanwhile, I was also trained to work with people to adjust their patterns-of-thinking — their models-of-their-world, so to speak — in order to make useful, desirable, and satisfactory adjustments in their behaviors. Part of those processes consisted of making extremely precise adjustments in my own patterns of language in order to gain rapport and the influence with which to teach my clients. 

Since I had been a radio guy for the previous 16 years, the realization that we (radio) could apply those same language patterns to communicating to a radio audience, with profound results, became one of the few real epiphanies of my life — certainly, my career. In that moment of real-time clarity, I remember stealing a line from my dad: “Holy snappin’ arseholes!!” he would say.

So. What is it going to take to, primarily, get radio back on the rails? An abrupt, industry-wide crash might be motivating. But, to some degree, that is exactly what is occurring right now — only in slo’ mo’. One hopes that something a little less drastic and crippling could be introduced to head such a horrible eventuality off at the pass, especially since the bridge up ahead has been blown to smithereens by that heathen and vicious gang of digital desperadoes.

Radio makes some legitimate claims to a significant ROI for advertisers who are prepared to properly invest in the medium. The harsh reality, however, is that the ROI, as currently delivered by radio, is nowhere near good enough! Only massive improvements in the ROI can justify more advertiser participation and much higher rates.

Radio still enjoys a worthwhile reach. It’s in all the trades. Neat. Add a buck ninety-five and we can get ourselves a medium cup of coffee. Bragging rights on reach are overblown and practically worthless.

Sophisticated sales executives have been pretzeling themselves into, well, pretzels, while providing techniques for the rank-and-file reps to better engage advertisers in order to flog the same sludge we have been for decades. Might be a problem. Fundamental change to how radio communicates iswhat it’s going to take.

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 info@voicetalentguy.com

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