Radio’s Crippling Reluctance 


(By Ronald Robinson) I wonder who else remembers when adding a quarter ton of reverb into the microphone audio chain was considered a groovy and powerfully influential move. Speeding up the tunes 2 or 3 percent was, for the time it takes to grow a field of beans, considered an equally powerful and manipulative strategy to excite the minds of listeners.

The fix we did celebrate, however, was how a combination of “compression” and “gating” was used to construct “duckers” — a tool that allowed the jocks to talk over song intros and extros without having to overwhelm the microphone VUs. We could whisper or holler without dumping the pots on the tunes. Wonderful. What a mix! (This was before radio deferred to audiences objecting to the practice, complaining that the jock’s voice interrupted or interfered with their recording of the music — an illegal practice, anyway.)

It should also be pointed out that (maybe) half of the creativity being demonstrated by the on-air performers occurred during the playing of the intros and extros. Hitting multiple “posts” became an integral part of the art. Not that the Big Heads in the industry made the distinction, but this practice is what integrated the jocks and the tunes, and made the radio station sound wonderfully seamless.

Meanwhile, valiant and valid attempts are continuing to be made to increase the proficiencies of radio sales departments. Inquiries continue in the area of gathering more credible ratings. Further, efforts to collate valuable data that supports the efficacies and efficiencies of radio as a worthy advertising medium also continue. All of these efforts are more than laudable. They are necessary!

Indeed, the (above) efforts are consistent with any organization that needs to improve revenues. Even though the strategies are made up of a patchwork of this or that effort and may keep the industry limping along, there is still that matter of radio’s gaping, sucking chest wound — the one that may, ultimately, overwhelm much of the medium.

How many PDs, I wonder, are educated and experienced to the degree where they can take their severely limited number of charges into a room and declare: “Here they are, folks — brand new methods for us to clean up our on-air delivery practices and totally new and effective strategies for not only communicating to our audience, but for making our commercials more appealing and more effective!”

Any PD unable to make that announcement confirms the notion that a massive amount of work is yet to be done.

It’s as if the industry is paying more attention to rearranging deck chairs, patching up worn and tattered sailcloth, and buffing up the bright work than it is in addressing generations of barnacles on the hull and, most importantly, the huge, expanding hole below the waterline. While the pumps are being run full time, they could also burn out at the least convenient moment.

Whatever time, resources, and efforts that are being put forward are primarily for the sales group, while some attention is being paid to platforms other than radio, and whatever techno-gizmos are being foisted in the market place.

Radio, for the most part, abdicated its opportunities and obligations to improve the spoken-word elements of communicating some decades ago. Yet, this is the only clearly identified element over which stations and or organizations have complete control!

What has become a solid and sordid behavior of radio has been — even greater than its failure to address the communicative aspects of the business — its intransigence to even consider the alternatives. Radio is not only unwilling to discuss these matters, it is haughtily and assertively militant in rejecting them as unworthy of any consideration at all.

I urge anyone concerned to consider (there are others) the following:

  • Is radio a Direct — “one-to-one” — or an Indirect medium?
  • Do speakers on the air — live, voice-tracked, or in commercials — have any actual authority to make demands for behaviors? 
  • Do the purposeful use of adjectives and adverbs influence an audience?
  • Are sensory-based words of any solid benefit?
  • Are different verb tenses having any influence on audience members?

If the responses are, “I dunno,” and/or “Who cares?”, the hole in the hull is being ignored.

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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