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Ron Robinson

Radio The Prime Directive


It was a dark and stormy disposition and I was sorely startled to realize: It was my own! As a defense, I plead it as a position to which I had come by honestly. Although I was able to avoid being captured by stations that held their Holy Formats in the highest of esteems and demonstrated as much by rotating the same 500 tunes, and by turning their Talent into mere, mechanical Robo-Jocks, I was still a witness to the lobotomization of Music Radio.

It has been implied elsewhere and fairly often. In the case of our own, illustrious Publisher, Eric Rhoads, he put it quite well by him saying, "Your job is to create loyal audiences and help move product."

Lets be even more succinct. Our Job our Prime Directive then, is to: Influence! (George W. could have got away with saying, because I am the Influencer. But, at that point, it would have lost a certain gusto a certain zest and any meaning.) Allow me, meanwhile, to be even more succinct. Our Job is to: Manipulate! While I appreciate that many readers would recoil in horror at that word, I present it here as an appropriate term as well as an accurate and required practice. Plus, I also put it that anyone who is in Radio and is unwilling to accept that as what we are supposed to be doing is not fit for this business and had best find something else more nicey-nice. Our job includes attracting and holding an audience long enough to hear spots that are (supposedly) designed to get them to buy stuff. To accomplish any of that, we must influence and/or manipulate that audience until they are sockless. Or, as they say in French-speaking parts of Canada: Sans les McGregors. Until then, we radio-folk are the poster-people for rank amateurs.

I believe whatever remaining success Music Radio is enjoying is based on only two factors: 1.) The already-formed listening habits of a still significant portion of the potential audience and, 2.) As a result of the exceptional talent of those skilled performers who still remain on-the-air. Without those, whats left of Music Radio could be swept up with a single broom and dumped into the same garbage bin the bin marked Other.

A week or so ago, I listened carefully and a number of times to the Radio Ink interview with some very reputable Radio-guys who were speaking to the current state of the biz and their thoughts on improvement. At the risk of drawing a significant amount of ire and fire if not an air strike - on my location, I suggest those are similar comments to those I was hearing 30 years ago. And they bore about the same amount of credibility for me now as they did then. (Filed under: Platitudes.)

Radio, like any electronic medium, has an innate power. That being: a direct line a gift, even straight into the emotional capacities of a listener. That we fail to exploit this spectacular phenomenon is, in my view, extraordinary. This is so, especially given the substantial amount of corroborating evidence that exists. We neither influence indirectly nor do we subtly manipulate. Instead, we directly attempt to demand, force and browbeat. Further, we are continuously insulting and assaulting our audiences at every level possible.

Most of our Jocks are rendered as spayed, neutered or MIA-examples of the real thing. Our commercials rank right up there with copy featured on Kijiji-ads for used freezers or the bulletin boards of any neighborhood laundromat. Our communicative approaches are about as subtle, sophisticated or nuanced as a mall-cop busting 12 year-olds for loitering or farting. Our promos are about as close to public displays of masturbation as anyone dares. These are not the elements or behaviors of Intelligent, Influence Peddlers or Master Manipulators.

The only reasons we get away with these vacuous behaviors is because an audience member cant reach out and choke the ever-lovin crap right out of us. That, and, I believe, because we dont have any behavioral or philosophical alternatives to apply. Note: I expect there is no research whatsoever that will demonstrate that audiences retaliate with a need-to-choke response or that that they can articulate their displeasure with any exactitude. Their behaviors, however and as they relate to Music Radio suggest more than ample evidence. They arent crawling all over each other to get to our spot on the dial.

In one of his blog entries, Eric Rhoads was lamenting the passing (maybe misplacing?) of his passion for the business understandable when one wanders away from the Control Room and staggers, doe-eyed, into The Executive Suite. I only speculate he was, as much, mourning the loss of the across-all day parts creativity, spontaneity and excitement - along with the dangers of going live that, at one time, was what drew so many of us into Radio. These are the very components that are missing that have been sucked from contemporary, Corporate Music Radio.

Meanwhile, the Consultants have also been dropping the ball for decades. That they pick it up, spike it or throw it into the stands and do a Score Dance as if something of consequence had been accomplished is another story. Whether they cant persuade their clients to make the necessary adjustments or, more likely, that these same consultants dont have a clue as to what else can be done doesnt make for much of an argument. Clean-ups and furniture moving are services best offered by janitorial services and not consultants. Recent, tragic events have demonstrated how, when the ship lists so far, even the deck chairs get stacked as kindling against one of the rails or get lost overboard.

My experience with Consultants has been that in which the first and greatest priority is to make a radio station operate like a machine. To do so requires an enormous amount of pressure and control. Part of this means demonizing, minimizing and belittling the Talent. Just as well, too, as they are the ones who are going to be getting the shaft and do the suffering. So its best to make them less than human as well as deserving of the abuse that is coming. Then, its so much easier to scare the pants off them or, when such is the perceived need, to throw them into the compactors located just outside the back entrance.

I am, as a current example, intimately aware of a station (Major Market) that was suffering. As a last ditch effort, management and their consultancy decided to take the Talent and open them up let them start rambling. The poor buggers on-the-air didnt know what hit them. Not only were there new demands to Be Creative! Now! Further, they had to produce even more often! Some of the Talent professed openly: I dont know how to be Creative! Anyway, the exercise was a disaster. The Talent is no longer with us and the station is now open to changing formats. All pain No gain. Inexcusable.

Unless a consultant/coach/teacher has the chops to train at every level of Talent Improvement from the many nuances of language to multiple on-air presentation-strategies to accessing or developing personal resources for generating some of that down home Creativity, there is little justification for the invoices. Management compliance is required. Maybe thats something about which Eric (and others) could get excited about helping them to reinvigorate an enthusiasm for the Magic of Radio. Im happy to report: That has been my own disposition for quite some time.

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 counsellor. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to Talent and Creative, have yet to be addressed. Check out his website

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