(By Ronald Robinson) Even as online advertising is fraught with allegations of shoddy ad placements, questionable reports on reach, and undemonstrated claims of efficiencies, radio clings to its “reach” numbers like they were water-logged ring buoys tossed to panicked survivors of a sinking cruise ship. Sincerity is high, confidence levels are low.
Recently, a credible and (deservedly) highly lauded executive in the iHeart organization wondered: “How can we have 93% audience penetration and 7% revenue share? It is a paradoxical and confusing dynamic.” This was a lament.
I suggest there are no paradoxical elements in the scenario. The injurious elements have been obvious to some for decades. Radio is guilty of serial crimes against audiences, advertisers and, to a large extent, employees. Inept, lazy programming, criminally shoddy commercial writing and, of course, the excruciatingly painful phusterclucking of spots are all openly being displayed on most radio stations around the country. Conclusion: Radio does not even sound like it could be effective!
Radio executives have been disemboweling themselves for so long, hardly anybody notices the steaming pile of guts at their feet. Nobody comments, “What’s that horrible, putrid stink?” To further run another analogy into the ground, the priests of radio still insist that “bleeding” is the appropriate approach for getting rid of diseases, demons, and disgruntled employees. Even a disinterested passerby could go, “You do realize a jar of leeches might just do the trick. Get rid of that stank, too.”
When astute Canadians, having been fully acclimatized to the vagaries of winter, get their vehicles stuck in the snow, they have already been taught that flooring the gas pedal in an attempt to get out blows the tires and makes the drivers look incredibly foolish. Only two methods work: Rock the vehicle in reverse, then drive, in quick succession, or, get some mechanical advantage (sand, gravel, chains, onlookers etc.) and continue rocking back & forth — until May.
Radio has been spinning its wheels, burning fuel, and popping tires with no discernible change in position for far too long. These events could be learning experiences, as well. Perhaps expectations are too high. Instead, this worthless activity has only created bigger and deeper ruts. Over time, I have had many conversations where radio’s apologists absolutely come down in favor of bigger, deeper ruts. Some, perhaps out of frustration, insist theirs are the bigger, better ruts.
I am reminded of a saying from a reasonably intelligent, formerly handsome, and still congenial individual. “When the learning stops, so, too, will the earning.”
While I appreciate how some radio sales groups are attempting to better understand their own medium, and to take that info to the street, the same can’t be said for the programmers. These are the people who, under duress or not, have brought us to a state where the “live” on-air presenters, if not eliminated, have been bludgeoned into submission. Unless completely usurped by the AEs, the programmers may also be responsible for advertising copy.
The results of such shifts in power to a group who have, literally, no competence in the arts and sciences of broadcast advertising have left radio in a situation similar to a group of children frolicking at a community swimming pool – first, relegated and then, commanded to: “Stay in the shallow end! No splashing!”
In an earlier post, I proposed that fully 90% of all radio stations are grossly under-performing, and have, nevertheless, relinquished any responsibilities to fully serve their audiences, their advertisers, and their employees. Given the contemporary dynamics of much of the culture, it may not even be much of a stretch to suggest a conspiratorial element might also be in play. Another almost acceptable justification is that these are a group of broadcasters that are either unaware or completely indifferent.
Newer, better, and more effective strategies on all of these fronts are required.
I can only imagine what Hartley Adkins, the iHeart executive mentioned earlier, could accomplish were these factors to be considered and acted upon – seriously. Among the elements that have been ignored by corporate and local station management include: What, specifically, we say, and how, specifically, we say it.
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]