Will Radio Ever Be More Effective?

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(By Ronald Robinson) So many of the radio clichés, those promoted by radio’s stalwart apologists, keep coming back. The one that has been getting my attention lately is usually phrased by AEs, as much as by uninformed advertisers: “I don’t want spots that are award winners. I want spots that move product!” This is stated as if one had nothing to do with the other.

This asserted position also comes with widely held, but unarticulated, assumptions that there is no middle ground. It is implied as an either/or position. Direct, content-heavy, grinding spots or artsy-fartsy commercials that only satisfy those who appreciate such materials, get hung out at opposite ends of the spectrum.

So, the question that seems to get asked so often: “Will radio ever be more effective?” Radio commercials are as effective as they have ever been, and as effective as they need to be. This, to me, demonstrates how radio has collectively shoved its head up a dark and toxic place.

Somewhere between the psychologically disturbing, but wonderfully creative, radio commercials most often produced by agencies — with pumped up invoices in hand — and the grinding, annoying, and questionably effective spate of direct, content-laden, and poorly written, local, station-produced (or agency-produced) clunkers, there lies a vast territory of unexplored communicative opportunities.

Again, there is no need or utility to approach this as a dichotomy. Radio is not being forced to play at only the shallow end of the communicative pool. Radio did this to itself. But, it wasn’t a conscious choice — certainly not one that included an awareness of the consequences of taking the tack it has. Radio did its version of a 180 by knocking off the talent, both on-air and in the creative departments, in order to limit the overhead. And, by gawd, it shows.

Apologists don’t seem to notice the status quo is the same one that keeps radio mired in the #5 position of desirable entertainment and advertising media. Sure, some forms of robo-radio are doing quite well in their markets. So, what? For those owners that are quite content with that situation, nothing will be changing. The opportunity is for the guys down the street to: make enquiries, decide to take affirmative action, and to reap the rewards of ripping up the terra firma and plowing the competition completely under.

“When I grow up, more than anything else, I want to write effective and sometimes entertaining radio spots for fun and profit. And I want to wear a deflated rubber chicken in my trousers.” That’s not something radio owners and management are likely to hear from prospective employees anytime soon, at least, not the spot-writing part.

Meanwhile and from time to time, I have to remind myself that, for decades, I have been promoting on-air and copywriting communication strategies and methodologies that, to be even more effective, require that radio present itself in new (for radio), and different ways. Occasionally, some pundit or other will get up on their haunches and start demanding evidence of stations that are applying the materials I have been providing.

Let me be forthright. Beyond my own experience — that suggests and demonstrates tremendous potentials for the approaches I espouse — there is no objective evidence available. How could there be? No owners or managers are willing to make the inquiries or take the risk of applying the information. I am also aware that, for many people, even an overwhelming supply of evidence will do nothing to pull those individuals off their already-existing beliefs — even while their own positions remain questionable, distorted, and shabby.

In terms of radio overhauling its communicative approaches, we are still wandering behind the starting blocks while potential participants reject signing on. We are still at the beginning of the beginning. So far, pundits are satisfied to defend robo-radio like it was a real thing of value with a real future. And, with the very rare exceptions, radio stations that do feature actual, “live” personalities from time to time, are still suffering because of the lack of acquired skills by talent. Weak justifications are unacceptable.

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 info@voicetalentguy.com

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