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Ron Robinson

Programming And Other Four-Letter Words


When I was being trained to do HR-work and personal coaching, I was introduced to a premise that, upon consideration, held true in an alarming number of circumstances. And in no way have radio-folks been inoculated against this particular scourge. The premise was: "People, and the organizations they develop, have a tendency to find out what doesnt work and do it harder!"

All-too-common examples of this phenomenon can be witnessed regularly by observing people who, when talking doesnt get the response they want, start yelling. When that doesnt work either, they will up the intensity and the decibel levels. Less-than-cordial responses promptly ensue. At the risk of stating the obvious, the multitude of "yell and sell" and "buy or die" radio spots that continuously wreck our credibility and challenge the patience of the audience, provide another disconcerting example.

Meanwhile, radio -- especially commercial, music radio -- has been applying this ineffective and tragic "find out what doesnt work and do it harder" strategy for decades. Even a cursory investigation reveals that radio has been sabotaging its own potentials by embracing a series of misconstrued values. The primary one is a focusing on the most direct line between expenses and the bottom line. This line, by the way, bypasses any consideration of the most important outcomes that were, at least at one time, the basis upon which all radio business and programming decisions were based.

To be successful and relevant, radio has a couple of high-level outcomes to pursue and accomplish.

1. To attract and develop an ever-growing number of audience members for increasing amounts of listening time.

2. To design and produce effective and compelling commercial content for the benefit of our advertisers while avoiding burning down or blowing out our audiences in the process.

Astute readers will note these objectives have nothing to do with any straight lines joining expenses and profits. Rather, unless and until those lines intersect with the two (above) principles, we will continue to get what weve been getting an industry at the bottom of the list of desirable advertising media and an industry in obvious turmoil.

Further, as radios leadership continues to ramble on about concepts like "innovation," I find myself stymied. No. Thats not nearly strong enough. I find myself dumbstruck that management can use that term at all never mind deliver it with a straight face.

For as long as I can remember, any innovations that have come to radio have been those that are strictly technical and that have been delivered from outside our business! The wailing about the challenges of participating effectively through online platforms serves as another recent example of a technical innovation that has been foisted on radio. Certainly this is not a platform developed by radio people. Nor has it been a welcome addition to the owners and management of radio stations. I suspect they would rather have another 50 pounds of bricks added to their sleds.

Programming, meanwhile, has been in the doldrums ever since the Drake format ran out of gas in the early '80s. Ghettoizing spot-sets into irritating, interminable prison sentences for audiences does not qualify as a programming innovation. Whoever came up with that one or accepted it as an "innovation" needs to be taken out back, and at least shown a hickory switch. Likewise for whoever introduced those music sweeps that go on into next week.

Laying waste to the talent-base without having a better, more effective alternative ready to go has been a disaster to those stations attempting to be noticed and accessed regularly never mind to those stations owners who have picked up on the newest buzzword and are insisting on developing a "brand." When a decision to eliminate back-selling tunes on the radio is considered another, important innovation, the next, logical step is to wave the white flag, plead for mercy and, if possible, pack up and go home. Were out of fight and were out of ammo.

Indeed, "innovation" when applied to radio programming becomes another of those four-letter words the ones that are rude, crude and vulgar, and that lose their meaning through over-usage.

Only because they have so many other responsibilities in the running of their businesses, am I almost willing to forgive owners and senior management for not coming up with advances in their programming departments. Or rather, whats left of these departments, particularly after management-applied, "scorched earth" policies have rendered them severely injured, if not entirely immobilized. Professional programmers, however, are not being offered the same free pass. Last time I looked, "Deckchairology" was not a verifiable nor offishul profession.

Although transmitters are still humming and the shells of radio stations still stand while, within, their severely limited staffs stagger about but still carry on, these days may be remembered in one of two ways. One is as a time when radio began to wake up to its responsibilities and its potentials. Or, they may be recalled as the days just before the drawn-out collapse of the industry.

I am of the firm belief there is one primary focus that radio must address and on which it must concentrate to not only save itself, but to put itself in a position to prosper beyond anything dreamed of up to this point.

That primary focus is an acceptance of the necessity for the acquisition of, and training in, the precise strategies of broadcast communications. Anyone in radio who is operating under an assumption they are already delivering their communications/services with precision and sophistication is unclear on where they are and equally unaware of where they could be going.

The evidence is readily available up and down the bandwidths in every small, medium, and major market. While there are still many exceptional, professional performers slaving over hot microphones, the pervasively mundane and insulting (to audiences and advertisers alike) offerings of music radio on an everyday basis are unworthy of those who would be professional on-air communicators, professional creators of effective broadcast advertising, and representatives of these services.

To be sure, real, new and valuable innovations are still available. But these innovations wont be much like those we are already providing. These strategies may well be the elements of a leading edge, a new paradigm for radio, a quantum leap, or the difference that makes the difference. Plus, my education and experience urges me to say, "Better to go with what works and do that harder."

By applying these new, innovative strategies, I claim we can, once again, start considering and projecting another four-letter word: "Success."

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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