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Ron Robinson

Radio Can’t Go Back


In another conversation, a number of former On Air-guys were revelling about being the Boss Jocks of their day and were trading war stories about hitting posts, kissing vocals, talkin’ dirty and, generally, Rammin’ the Hits. The chat got eerie, though, when many of them were not only pining for those experiences, but also insisting that if brought back – fortunes would be re-made again. That is: re-introducing the same approach to a 50-plus audience that was foisted on those tender ears when they were in their teens.

There are at least two ways to consider the proposition – as a recommendation to approach today’s “Youth Market” with those heavily-formatted, stringent but still frenzied approaches or, as the guys suggested – as a method of reaching today’s 50-plus audience. It could be argued that youth-oriented stations are still applying similar, heavy formatics anyway.

The Boss Jock radio stations of yore were designed to do one thing - collect "kiddie-cumes". Top-40 did quite well, but only for about ten years – even as “FM Underground” was taking hold and appealing to a more (allegedly) sophisticated portion of that audience. But remember also: every one of those brands/franchises/formats died a prolonged but sure death - the result of a failure to grow, mature or develop with their audiences.

Unfortunately, the owners, PD's and Consultants also failed to pick up on that one dynamic factor and continued to program their stations as if all was well and only the audience was stupid. Some still do operate under the same premise. Stations clung to their formats with such tenacity, they didn’t even comprehend what they were doing to themselves. That’s why none of them ever left suicide notes.

Now, I have no argument with excited, exciting Talent, particularly the smart, witty and provocative ones. I am completely satisfied it is they who continue to drive any real success in this business. The rest, though, were and are no more than Robo-Jocks - forgettable and replaceable at any time. Ownership liked it just that way as it kept the payroll in check. The phenomena of audiences wandering off to other stations then and other media now, didn't/hasn't seemed to register. That Talent has been eliminated for the greater portions of any broadcast day has had strangling repercussions – the most debilitating which, I predict, has yet to be experienced.

Now, because of my predisposition that even smart Talent needs more training, there are no guarantees such a format would be successful as the Talent lineup would be absolutely critical - more so even than the music selection. But, only by a tad.  Unless they were absolutely and extraordinarily gifted in their presentations – some of whom who are still available or continue to work, Talent, I submit would still have to get beyond their own innate, demonstrated skills and become Master Communicators.

While the "Boss" approach might be fun... for a little while, there are other matters to consider. Among them: I am no longer 12-24. Since then I've been back to school; I have traveled and had life-experiences - not all of them jolly. I have read books and written books. I have met people who think differently and many who think a lot quicker and mo' better than myself. I have acquired skills and met many who have done the same. I am comfortable with the concept that half the audience may be smarter than me. I appreciate that all of the audience carries knowledge and interests about which I have absolutely no clue. (Actually, I was taught this position very early on as being an attitude that would stop any “talking down” to an audience – an extremely toxic and self-defeating behavior.)

If someone is going to engage me while they are on the air, they had better be bringing more to the radio than ability to Play The Hits. They have to make me think, imagine or feel. Plus, I refuse to be continuously insulted or patronized any longer by weak and superficial purveyors of (primarily) inconsequential gibberish.

As to a Plus-50 audience: Indeed, the monster News/Talkers are evidence of that very audience being served. But only some of them are participating as listeners. Those would be the political junkies and folks who can tolerate the whinin’, bitchin’ and complainin’ of the hosts, guests and callers-in for some period of time. My own contention is that it would be only a bit of a stretch for a station to feature Tunes & Talk. This could result in a massive sector of an audience that has already been disengaged for quite awhile, becoming re-engaged, participatory and supportive of the client-base. Rumor has it that this is the demographic that still has some bucks to spend.

I mean... nobody is serving such a huge, available chunk of that 50-plus audience? Can this possibly be!? To be more succinct, let me offer three main options open to an owner who is considering tackling any audience, but particularly a 50-plus demographic.

1.) Disregard the Talent issue altogether. While this maintains a form of the status quo, there are those who would argue this to be a position hanging on tenterhooks. Current and common opinions on these matters, however, tend to be front-loaded by those who would rather not approach the issue – at all.

2.) Load up on spectacular Talent. Hope for the best and keep the checkbook wide open. Indeed, while this is the antithesis of #1, some owners and managers are terrified that this would be the only available option to doing nothing at all. The attending cost of Talent would seem to be prohibitive. In practice – with no assurances offered – they may be forgiven for withholding on a charge into that bleak unknown – a place where there be Dragons.

3.) Take some decent Talent and re-train them to be Master Broadcast Communicators. If checks are to be written afterwards, it will be because of superior performance and results. The downside of this position is that many owners and managers refuse to accept this option as either viable or doable.

My response, meanwhile, to an owner who refuses to even muse or speculate on making the attempt: "Whether you’re kidding around, stalling or even if you’re sincerely incredulous, not only does something gotta, but something’s gonna give."

Those, I submit are some of the considerations for anyone thinking about launching such a project – a wildly successful Boomer radio station - and also some of the reasons why there are few, if any.

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

(3/1/2012 9:53:29 AM)
To be clear: I wouldn't give Big Talent the run of the place until after they had completed a stringent, comprehensive re-training on "Advanced Broadcast Communications Techniques".
This would be as dangerous as leaving my home for two weeks and giving good ol' Uncle Ernie my VISA-card and the keys to my house, liquor cabinet and my '91 IROC-Z.
Better to hunker down and keep playing "30-in-a-row" until the trustees arrive.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(2/29/2012 7:11:52 PM)
Amen-Again!! I walked away from mainstream radio over 3 1/2 years ago and finally started to learn about 'really' communicating.

Agreed that much de-programming from Boss Jock times, and re-education on how to connect with listeners responsive chords must be done - especially for 'larger than life'anncrs.

Am a much better communicator today than when I carried all that show prep.Had to swallow plenty of ego though;not easy for many lovers of self and their 40 plus years in the 'bihdnezzz'

- Charley West
(2/29/2012 3:48:17 PM)
Great to read your name, Charley! (Charley carried more show-prep material than most guys had as libraries at home.)
Meanwhile, I wouldn't urge turning even "larger-that-life" Personalities loose on the radio, Charley. Not without a stringent program of re-training. More on that in the next Radio Ink piece. Otherwise, yes, indeed. More Talent, please!
Best wishes... Ronald "T".

- Ronald T. Robinson
(2/29/2012 3:33:34 PM)
Ronald "T" ... remember the good 'ole Calgary daze of CFCN? I still have the nervous eye twitch from them. I read, with interest, your musings and agree with much of your take on 'Boomer' Radio.

It can be done and should be, however, not applying the same formatics today's CHR outlets do.

Am in complete agreement with hiring larger than life personalities and not getting in their way over radio philosophies .. let them do what they do best.

Are there ANY owners/mgrs.who would?

- Charley West
(2/29/2012 7:23:54 AM)
"Thanks, Jock... so far as it goes." he said, as he looked over his shoulder. :)
It's true, though. I didn't sign on with Radio Ink to play "kissy-face" or be a "brownie", either.

Music Radio sucks seven ways to Sunday. It doth sucketh so because of the efforts of Radio People - the ones who are beginning to see trumpet-blowing hordes charging over the hill and are realizing their loins are not girded one little bit.

As to CC throwing some more syndicated Talent back on the air: Big flippin' whoop. I'm fairly uncomfortable in expecting they'll be in the "Donny", "Ryan" or "Tesh"-molds. (I can feel the squishy, sachrine kickback already.) I wouldn't even give credit for an "ol' college try".
But, that's me - a dink.

- Ronald T. Robinson

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