Radio’s Dead Birdies (RIP)


(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]


  1. Thanks, Fred, for a cogent question.
    The reason there is so much criticism of The Talent is because fully 90% of them – and I may be a little generous here – are HORRIBLE on-air communicators – unable to be appealing, interesting or influential.
    This is the case even after they have, over the years, been suppressed, shackled, limited in their air time (probably a “good” thing today) and otherwise banished from the medium.
    Further, the extremely questionable “research” from decades ago that suggested “More Rock – Less Jocks” didn’t seem to work out to anybody’s satisfaction, either.
    And what steps has radio taken to alleviate and improve this situation? None.

    • As was stated above, Fred, needing more music was in response to the people on the air that lacked communication skills. We all have friends we can sit for hours in discussion, and those we can stand to talk to for three minutes. With a good communicator, there could be an hour where only 12 songs play and no one complains a bit. Radio isn’t currently devoid of good communicators, but they are rare to find…

    • All original material, Ronnie. Thunk it up as I was thunking of your post.

      Just like you I was once a DJ, but I still like radio and can name dozens of good operations around the country. I also hold no malice towards old bosses or companies. I learned something from each stop, but, opposed to you, I realized then and now that I don’t have many of the answers and am willing to learn.
      I know more than I did a year ago but less than I will a year from now. Can you make that statement?

  2. Note to anon troll shelley:
    Any Canadian without a set of jumper cables in the trunk is either living in South Carolina – or on borrowed time.
    By the way, that was just a PARTIAL list.
    Would it surprise anyone to know there is more – much more?

    • Here are a few more things that Ronnie has mastered:

      Knowing when a 30 second ad is over just by looking at a clock.
      Having the good sense to say “Be There!” on any race track ad.
      Realizing that any song by Elvis on the radio announced as “new” was probably recorded years ago.
      Being aware that investing in phonograph needles is not wise.
      Sensing that reading “F***” in a transcript is likely not referring to “Fish”
      Starting an agriculture ad with “Mr. Farmer!” has probably been done before.
      Accepting that an album titled “Christmas with Hootie and the Blowfish” isn’t worth much.
      Come to terms with radio being an accepted medium that never lived up to it’s potential.
      —If any would-be-station is interested in Ronnie being your consultant, I’d vouch for him.

  3. Ronnie,

    I just read your list of all the things you know how to do.

    Bet you don’t how to jump-start a dead battery.


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