(By Ronald Robinson) The argument about corporate owner/operators running so many stations in one market has been going on since consolidation started devastating local audiences and advertisers. When consolidation was first being championed by professional lobbyists, it was TV that was the designated, Satan-inspired culprit. The more modern vile, foul-smelling, brimstone-laden denizens are all things digital.
Today, Big Radio wants even more consolidation — more market glutting. Although they don’t say so, what they really want is less competition from the players that would remain. Since lying has become a viable and, so far, sustainable strategy in the culture, they can state anything they want if it serves the agenda. Or they can say nothing at all.
Meanwhile, a few pundits argue for more “live & local” programming as the elixir that would solve many problems. “Live & local” has been touted as the poultice of which even Grandma would approve. I invite anybody to consider what the advantages could possibly be if what is already being foisted off as entertainment, information, and advertising content were to be replicated on all day parts. I shudder to think of the wreckage that would ensue.
I am also satisfied that all levels of radio management, both corporate and local, recoil in horror in the privacy of their offices when they, ever-so-slightly, consider the ramifications of cranking up the overhead by providing even more of the drivel that is already being pumped out.
Corporate radio is operating on the promise (more like fantasy) of greater profits by disemboweling (alive) the staffs that provide the services necessary for radio to continue — “personality” programming for audiences and more effective, local commercial production for the advertisers.
So much of the meat and taters menu has been eliminated or cut away that radio becomes steadily weaker and more anemic. Leased crutches are required for radio just to stay ambulatory. “Have pity and provide easy-access parking,” they whine. “We are so terribly disabled and worthy of those special privileges we like to call ‘rights’!”
So distorted has the general management group become, they are grasping at any possible ledge, root, or embedded rock that will stop them from plunging into the abyss. They are the first to use non-existing mind-reading techniques to gauge the needs and desires of whole chunks of their audiences and advertisers. “Audiences want this and audiences want that,” they will burble. As if.
Such extraordinary assertions are based on a couple of wild assumptions:
- Management has the exceptional capacity to know what it is that audiences want.
- Anytime any polling or research is undertaken, management is willing to accept that audience members actually know what they want and are able to articulate those wants and desires.
It was just such questionably flawed “research” that gave ownership the best excuse and justification to proceed with massive cost cutting. Audiences responded to the research with, essentially, “We want more rock and less jocks!” “Wow!” said radio, ever alert. “We can do that!” Given that the music of the day continues to be extremely limited and ubiquitous, the only real means of being distinct in any meaningful way — the personalities — were taken for a ride down “Murderers Row.” The bodies are buried under adjacent parking lots.
Many in the ownership groups have been panicked to the degree that some continue in asking audiences for what they want! This only supplies an opportunity for defaulting to a position of plausible deniability of responsibility.
Radio is utterly, at any level that might come up, unwilling or unable to face, accept, or execute its responsibilities, those being the responsibility to massively expand and improve its “live” on-air presentations, and its responsibility to significantly improve its ability to generate much more effective commercial content.
Audiences are unlikely to make those requests and advertisers are also unlikely to do the same for their locally produced commercial content. Neither group is likely to even consider that such requests or demands might be useful or possible.
Listeners and potential advertisers do not experience night-sweats by thinking about how radio might better impact on their own circumstances. Why, then, should radio, other than for its own prosperity?
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]