(By Ronald Robinson) All the canaries, once ensconced in radio’s coal mines, are gone. Talent was inserted instead. We had to reluctantly accept our own poisoned demises like those brave, martyred birdies.
Even before the Great Deregulation Apocalypse of the mid-‘90s, radio’s ownership and leadership had stopped paying any attention to the canaries that were passing out, dropping off their perches, and piling up on unswept floors.
Management, instead, had, by the beginning of the ‘90s, stopped looking for early warnings and was diligently engaged in going right to the source of their perceived challenges. They accomplished this by first demonizing, and then knocking off the group they had already decided were limiting revenues. On-air and writing talent were getting kicked in the slats and summarily heaved into the street. Juicy and easy targets of opportunity they (we) were, too.
That represents thousands of at least semi-skilled individuals in a talent base that was wished “good luck in your future endeavors.”
This was a foolish strategy that began diminishing radio as an entertainment, informational, and advertising medium. There is another, more significant aspect to this whole fiasco. A whole body of knowledge was systematically wiped out, leaving only charred remains. This cache of knowledge has not been replaced, and no attempts to replicate it are being made.
Examples: Before the talent base was jettisoned, I had already learned a great deal about communicating to a radio audience, including:
– How to apply different vocal tonalities, timbre, volumes, intensities, speeds, tempos, and separate microphone-distant techniques.
How to reconstruct demands-for-behaviors into more influential suggestions or inferences.
– How to attract and hold an audience member’s attention without violating their personal space.
– How to adjust an audience member’s subjective, internal experience from whatever they were experiencing into what I wanted them to be experiencing.
– How to intensify or diminish an audience member’s feelings to something other than what they were experiencing before the communication.
– How to influence buying behaviors from audience members – especially when they had no such buying intentions before the communication.
– How to generate audience members from subjective, internal, associated processing to different, internal, dissociated states.
– How to design comedic and/or satirical materials for an electronic medium, of which radio is one.
– How to make the distinctions necessary when speaking to an in-studio or on-the-phone guest as opposed to speaking to an unidentified and, therefore, unknown audience member at the other end of the radio.
– Also lost was the concept of treating audiences as, at least, semi-sophisticated members of the culture. Today, they are treated like just so many breeding, consuming slugs.
– At the time of radio’s Great Toxic Leavening, neuro-science was delivering materials that made significant distinctions between the effect of information being processed by audience members’ dominant and subdominant brain hemispheres. With the exception of a very few other individuals who have attained the knowledge of this data, and who have also brought it to the industry, radio, generally, has disregarded these elements. Science continues to demonstrate that radio listeners are, primarily, processing the signal through subdominant (right brain) filters.
It is fair to say a great deal of the (above) information was acquired by performers and writers, not by formal education, but through a process of osmosis. Hanging out with competent peers assured absorbing of the material. While some techniques were being unconsciously applied, only a few practitioners could actually articulate what they were doing. No matter, as most of it has already been wiped out.
Whether large corporate organizations, smaller groups, or a few stand-alone clusters, almost every radio station is now in a position where they are stuck with superficial, banal, and unappealing services and products. Another generation of radio people has been involved since Radio’s Great Flood, and they have yet to learn how to make a successful comeback.
The acknowledgements or admissions of radio’s crippling deficits are not being made. Desire to make improvements has not been articulated. Even the modern EPA – on a lax day – would label the radio environment as “Toxic.” Any new canaries still don’t stand a chance.
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]