If Radio Was A Product 


(By Ronald Robinson) Although touted as an entertainment/information/advertising service, what would be the implications if radio were, instead, considered a product? It is important to realize that radio, generally, is too often accepted as questionable as an entertainment medium, suppressed as an information medium, and haphazard as an advertising medium. It is from those assumptions that we begin. 

Hard goods, it can be noted, almost always come with some form of guarantee or warranty. Agricultural produce arrives with assurances. Pharmaceuticals, for those who can afford them, include warnings of side effects. Auto manufactures are forced by the competitive nature of their industry and government stipulations to supply comprehensive warranties that are quite impressive.

Most service companies stand by the work they do – lots of times. Even insurance companies make vague statements about coming through in the pinch. Insurance company cruelties, however, come with no warranties whatsoever. More recently, Republican politicians operate under no constraints of any kind. They are free to promise/lie and, otherwise, roam the territory with impunity as they assault the psyches of uninformed and gullible voters. False promises do not constitute ironclad guarantees.

Given all the other pressures under which radio finds itself operating, practitioners can still heave a quick sigh of relief that this industry is not held accountable – not in any meaningful or disturbing way. Just as well that we are in the “advertising game,” where there are winners and losers. Ours is a caveat emptor situation where “Ya puts yer money down and ya takes yer chances.” 

Advertisers are more likely to consider radio in particular as one of those “throwing crap against the wall” deals. Charming. But then, since we have worked so hard to attain that status, one could wonder how it is we are hardly braggin’ on it. (Nobody is wondering or braggin’.)

Radio is not a product. And for that, we can pause to thank our lucky stars. Radio cannot be compared to a decomposing Lada, a flaming Pinto, or a Corvair that couldn’t stay on the road because there was so little traction on the front end. (I found that out the hard way, and so did my mom – same Monza, separate occasions.)

Now, let’s take a moment to get downright silly. The giggle-fest begins by posing a fairly simple, possibly innocuous, question: Should radio deliver guarantees to its advertisers? While some readers may already be spitting up through gales of laughter, others can agree how that’s just too hilarious – even hysterical. Guarantees on radio advertising? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Of course, the default position on that one has always been, “Well, um, uh, there are too many variables and extenuating circumstances that prohibit our offering any guarantees that advertising with our station will bring your store satisfactory results.” Good one, huh? Slicker ‘n goose goop.

When I was being trained up as a child behind the shed through the brisk applications of a hickory switch, I was still able to maintain and recover some abilities to make distinctions – otherwise known as “reality checks.”

To be sure, when a lawn and garden furniture and supplies outlet arranges for a station remote for the following weekend – with free coffees, balloons for the kiddies, and really whizzy rotating and blinking lights on the station van – expectations can be quite high. However, if a Cat 2 storm comes rolling in that Saturday, those same expectations get trashed, and the station van floats away. “Extenuating circumstances.”

If another similar retailer buys another station with a remote and a heavier rotation of lead-up promos, is that an acceptable bailout variable? Those possibilities, and others, can be factored in while negotiating the contract, including any riders that might apply, like only red jellybeans for the talent.

All of this silliness hides the REAL issue. The REAL issue is that radio is still unable to supply the commercial advertising and on-air performances that would allow for the station’s confidence to provide any guarantees! Announcers at the remotes are run-of-the-mill or part-time help. The produced commercials are, practically, of no particular consequence. No guarantees. Hopa-Hopa clan membership is all that’s included.

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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