(By Ronald Robinson) As a critic of the methods in which contemporary radio is being programmed in the areas of talent performances and commercial writing processes, I am compelled to regularly monitor stations around the country. This is the grunge part of the exercise. Any potential masochistic tendencies of my own require that these be painful/pleasurable experiences. And they are.
Practically, what all these efforts do is to reconfirm my forever-held position that radio has been doing squat-diddly about its communicative approaches.
Regular readers will appreciate that my condemnations are based on my own model of “how things really oughta be” and, as such, is open to disparaging remarks. I hardly ever get any organized retorts that include counter-explanations. I am accustomed to little more than contrary assertions from folks that are freaked out by even the possibility of there being alternate, more useful strategies available.
I was going to do bullet points on the sins and transgressions, committed by the station I just reviewed, during my 7-minute shock block. Suffice it to say, however, the litany of poor communication moments, and failures to exploit so many other opportunities, were, as is typical in my experience, disappointingly overwhelming.
I do these monitoring sessions and, typically, I get palpitations followed by some form of gasping and/or wheezing. To put it a little more succinctly: I’m relieved I never gave up drinking. Or smoking. Or cussing.
So, here is the encapsulated, depressing rundown of my most recent 7-minute radio shock block:
The presenter jumps in and begins to ramble on about some weak, patronizing, local station promo. He is obviously reading a scripted portion and he’s going very, very quickly. He uses one tonality, one volume, and he sounds like he’s forgotten how to breathe. He assumes he has my attention, as he is communicating on an intended one-to-one basis. He fails. Next, he reads an unanimated little story about a man on the other side of the country winning a lottery and blowing it all. The punchline: “That’s too bad. It takes all kinds.”
Then came the spot onslaught – seemingly unending, annoying, and insulting attempts to get me to buy stuff and do stuff – for no particularly compelling reasons. All the spots were of the direct, content-heavy variety, and every one of them was sporting some or other noxious cliché. I am not kidding. In this particular phustercluck, I was regaled by advertisers that had “the best in service and selection,” were “conveniently located,” had been “serving the community” before Saul was Paul, offered “plenty o’ free parking,” had “all your storm door, tire, and kitty litter needs,” and the ubiquitous “Don’t miss it!”
I was whimpering by then, but the onslaught continued with more of the same. There was no respite from this radio ad carnage. (Nor is there any immediate relief in the offing.) None of the ads were providing any especially exciting deals, either – not for those “real-time-top-of-mind-awareness” claims that are so often supposed to kick in. That includes the grocery chain that had a six-pack of Coke on sale for “2.97,” if I was willing to drive across town to take advantage. Besides, the drug store across the road had the same deal. Then, after had felt like a very long time, the exercise was over and I began my recovery period.
In my last piece, I noted how “conscious recall of radio advertising is not required to generate behaviors.” How fortunate for radio it is that such a phenomenon is in play. We have to thank the unconscious processing of our audiences is such that listeners can, and are, indeed, subtly influenced by the spots – as poor and shabby as they were. Were it not for that bizarre element of our psyches, we wouldn’t have an industry to further degrade.
My position has always been only partially about how horrible radio presentations and ads are as representations of professional, broadcast communications. It has been more about all the available, but still lost, opportunities to make radio advertising – and talent presentations – more tolerable, appealing and, most importantly, more effective. I cling to the position.
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]