(By Ronald Robinson) Fine. Let’s just acknowledge there are a couple of hundred fantastic radio stations operating around the country. These outfits are sporting superior staffs, generating terrific numbers, and have eager advertisers lined out the door, partly due to excellence being demonstrated by the AEs. Then there is the rest of the 10,000 outfits, a substantial number of which are doing just alright — at least, fewer complaints.
I will be generous and suggest that leaves over 9,000 radio stations that are, practically, running on lies and delusions. Audiences are being ignored, advertisers are being tragically underserved, and employees suppressed, exploited, or eliminated. Some of these organizations are the robber barons of modern media. The FCC has become no more than another corrupted, government agency — well aware of who provides the cream cheese for their bagels.
Many of us retain a heartfelt affection and a respect for radio — some because of our histories of doing well participating in the medium and others because we are impressed by what can be accomplished when radio is punching far above its weight. I believe that radio still has the potential to be the most efficient and effective platform on the planet.
I will also mention the still-available opportunities for writers and performers to dabble in radio’s Dark Arts. These allow for the production of incredible, emotionally charged, and creative bits of advertising wizardry at costs that shame the invoices emanating from producers of print and video-based projects. We can elegantly dodge, weave, and soar through the advertising firmament unlike other pitiful, flightless birds.
And so, there it is: the rather pathetic and ongoing status quo for radio — largely unchallenged and passively accepted by most. Radio participants who are unaware of the applicable options would have to be included as part of the problem, as well.
The current status quo is unacceptable; the bar needs to be raised — and drastically. If, meanwhile, the FCC allows more stations to be owned by fewer organizations, that would reinforce an already weak status quo, and will cement it in — with rebar supports. But, that’s another head-hanging story.
The larger corporate radio organizations, fairly obviously, are depending on a questionable, tilted, and distorted government agency to accomplish what it seems they cannot do for themselves — the crushing of smaller ownership groups and stand-alone outfits. While such an unfair, cruel, and arbitrary outcome is likely, I put it to reasonable readers: no matter what happens in the interim, there is only one functional and necessary strategy for radio to apply. That would be a massive upgrading in the on-air and commercial writing capacities — opportunities still available.
To be sure, ongoing attempts to revitalize and educate sales departments are necessary for any business, radio being but one of them. Other businesses do have a bit of a leg up, but only if their outfits are supplying superior products and services. Radio cannot include itself in such a category. I am suggesting that 90% of radio stations are foisting some forms of pure, tepid junk on audiences and advertisers.
This speculation may also be overly generous. I also opine the remaining 10% of successful stations would not recognize themselves in any of these descriptions and criticisms. “We’re doing just fine, thank you very much,” they may be bleating. They might also add, “If it ain’t broke, we shan’t be fixing it.” This is based on a supposition that these folks know what “broke” sounds like.
When I speak of the necessity for radio to drastically improve its methods of communication, I include, from time to time, a requirement for the application of newer forms of language patterning, but a deeper understanding of how, specifically, to appreciate what strategies will motivate an audience.
Meanwhile, a few successful radio writers are demonstrating the value of creative metaphor, fantasy, sensory descriptives, distorted patterns and emotion-generating copy to influence listeners. Other writers are invited to take a poke at the concepts — with permission, of course. For the many presenters and writers, however — and before the creative whiz-bangery — an education in producing precise and effective clean language is required.
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. Email him at [email protected]