Talent – It Don't Come Easy
Only recently have I been sensing a quivering in the music radio zeitgeist. Sporadic considerations are emanating from a number of smart, senior executives that there might be something worthwhile to bringing talent back into the fold. The rationale suggests some positive impacts on ratings and revenues by dropping in more relevant "local" content by local "live" personalities – qualifying as more appealing broadcasting. They are dangerously mistaken.
Even as Ringo sings, "Got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues," readers are encouraged to key in on the word "dues." In our case, it refers to developing knowledge and expertise – elements that are sorely missing in the resumes of a majority of today's on-air presenters. How this all came about is well documented and need not be revisited here. In my view, hiring on new and/or used talent, or opening up the talent that is already working, is comparable to being complicit in arranging for a car wreck around the next bend in the road. All anybody will have to show for the effort are hospital bills, insurance claims, and lawyers' fees. This would be the unwanted consequence or "blowback" even when the good and heartfelt intention was just to get a better grip and go a little faster.
Music radio, I contend, finds itself in a state where the simple fix is now unavailable. We have watered down our gruel to the point where there are no longer any nutrients, no proteins, no carbohydrates, no fats, no texture and no taste. What remains is just a murky, questionable…moistness. Furthermore, security cameras have, for years, been recording the cooks horking loogies into the pot. Some might read into the behavior a little spiteful, but still unconscious, sabotage – based only on perceptions of the attendant body language. In other words, foisting even more of the menu that is already on the air on an unsuspecting and innocent audience, is a recipe for ptomaine poisonings of the audio kind. Audiences will not be amused or forgiving – and they'll know who to blame.
Hiring new or used talent has always come with serious risks and responsibilities. It's like taking half a dozen cats into the family household. More food costs. Buying more scented, self-clumping kitty litter. Developing cat-herding techniques. More grooming. More petting. More cat toys. Plus, there are those times when kitty-pshrinks will have to be engaged for those felines who insist they are entitled to everything because they are actually Simba.
If I were sitting in the "Big Guy's" chair, and was presented with encouragements to bring in more talent and to open them up to live, local references, I would refuse – categorically. But then, I already know what new talent is going to be asked to do. I also already know how, specifically, they are going to do it, and I can predict – with confidence and some stridency – how messy and expensive an exercise that would be. After ignoring high-quality advice and engaging in a hiring exercise anyway, any consideration of an ROI becomes more than just an embarrassing concept. It becomes a bitter, tragic laffer.
While I tip my hat to those many magnificent on-air individuals whose talent, wit, intelligence, and humanity bulges out of the speakers to make listening to the radio a compelling, satisfying, and personally intimate experience, they are, indeed, the rarest and most breathtaking of birds. The rest of us chickens will have to get by on something else. But we can't, and won't, get by on what we've got right now.
I would not let one soul back on the air unless I had directly or indirectly trained them – thoroughly. Until that happens, I wouldn't let them utter anything other than what is written on a 3x5 card, and even then only if I had directly or indirectly trained whoever is writing up the cards. I wouldn't allow for one member of the staff to stretch out on the air until they had demonstrated they were knowledgeable and skilled in the techniques in which I had directly or indirectly trained them. They would have to earn those opportunities. I wouldn't let one more promo hit the air unless I had directly or indirectly trained the writer. The creative department would also have to undergo the same training. This would be a condition of employment for all. The benefit, however, would be that, instead of flightless chickens, there would be eagles dominating the airwaves.
Now, I am not so caught up or self-absorbed in this position that I can't recognize arrogance when it is presented. In my last piece, I distanced myself from the position of a zealot, as well. What I am referencing is a completely new paradigm for music radio – all radio, for that matter – but more particularly for music radio as it does have certain unique dynamics.
Generally, people claim to like the idea of new paradigms and even a willingness to embrace one or two – at least up to the point that it's their own, old paradigm that is getting hammered in the process.
Meanwhile, some have suggested that my premise is akin to the one in the movie "Field of Dreams": Build it and they will come. As much as I enjoyed the film and reveled in the philosophical possibilities, I wouldn't offer the premise as a garden-lined pathway down which to stroll. Not if I was trying to get to the bank! There is an element of faith explicit in the position, and while faith might be acceptable to certain folks in some areas of experience, it is hardly useful as a strategic element in the programming of radio stations. In this context, faith would be synonymous with gullibility and wishful thinking. If I were in the "Big Guy's" chair, I would insist on some evidence. But then, if I were sitting in the "Big Guy's" chair – I would have the evidence already.
Yes, I do appreciate how these comments can easily generate accusations of "arrogance" and "stridency." To the charge of "stridency," I plead utterly guilty. But, not to the one of arrogance.
Still, one could ask who am I to be making such bold and broad statements? As fortune would have it, I am a radio guy who was presented with an opportunity to learn more about broadcast communications than most of us have ever learned or are learning today. I'm a guy who studied, worked, tested, and applied the knowledge; and I'm the guy who generated the results. I'm a guy whose "dues" are paid. I'm a guy who has taken what were, once, philosophical speculations and, through years of application, turned many of them and more into a powerful methodology. As Walt Whitman put it: "If you done it, it ain't braggin'."
Indeed, promoting a new, communications paradigm for music radio is akin to walking into an evangelical church and attempting to recruit members for a club that celebrates the life and times of Carl Sagan. Folks can get right lathered up.
(4/23/2012 3:51:46 PM) |
Quite so, A. J. The challenge then, is to get a whole lot of talent up to snuff and speed and to do so in a hurry. Plus, they will have to be better equipped and more knowledgeable that the gang from the past.
After all, I contend the jocks from back in the day were also the partial architects of their own demise. Audiences were not pleased with the majority of the performances.
|- Ronald T. Robinson|
(4/23/2012 11:05:12 AM) |
The lack of a qualified talent pool was, IMHO, a result of an extreme lack of mentoring for the last 3 decades. You may not agree, but in all my years in the business, I didn't see much of that happening. In a sense, radio has caused its own problem in regard to good on air talent.
|- A.J. Davis|
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