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Ron Robinson

My Position: The Programming Priority?


In a recent Radio Ink audio-interview, Mike Sheehan, CEO of Hill Holiday, one of the top ad agencies in the country, offered up some advice on how radio can compete for more of his budget. He urged stations to be “fearless” and improve their content. Well damn! Maybe that’s the answer after all! Even though Mike may have some further, more specific revelations in his back pocket, he did not reveal them.

Now, I do appreciate his point and agree with his position. However, the consideration of approaching any new radio programming or spot production concepts does come with significant "fear factors." This leaves a manager or PD in a precarious situation where “fearlessness” is no longer a viable option.

Rin Tin Tin had a fearlessness about him. Ol’ “Rinny” would charge into a dangerous, even life-threatening, scenario with complete abandon and come out of it with a large piece of pants torn from the butt of a defeated and humiliated villain between his teeth and with his tail wagging. Hero! But, that was fiction. In real life, the same kind of abandon can get a person killed. For a station manager or PD to do likewise could be even more terrible. It could get them blown out.

If I were a radio company line manager -- executive, sales, or programming -- these days, I would begin my day by ralphing my guts out until I was slumped on the floor in front of the bowl with nothing left in me except a few more throat-ripping, dry heaves. PDs, in particular, are being hosed down by company-provided blasts -- a combination of restricted, depleted resources, multi-platform responsibilities, the incapacity to attract or train talented, on-air presenters, and production departments that have been converted to extra storage spaces. Plus, for many, there is the necessity of serving and sacrificing to the false god of PPMs -- a fickle deity that is likely to reward the stronger, clearer signals before it deigns to bless an outfit that may be producing (alleged) terrific programming.

Then an audacious guy, say, someone like myself, saunters up with the claim that our most basic and assumed-solid model of communication is not only flawed, but is a dangerous and toxic detriment to what we want for our stations, including the continued and ever-developing acceptance of our programming on the part of our audiences and influence over those audiences on behalf of our advertising clients. At some point, PDs heads are going to start exploding as a direct result of trying to sustain an overwhelming load of responsibilities.

Yet, my claim stands. We have not addressed, changed, or developed the strategies and techniques -- the model -- of delivering language through broadcast communications media since well before “payola” was an acceptable, if not legitimate, way of making a couple extra bucks in the business.

Still, it gets worse. My claim includes the admonition that until we are trained to be better, more efficient, more appealing and more influential communicators, any efforts directed at all the other issues creating challenges for our programming leadership will be generating minimal returns and will, practically, make those efforts almost inconsequential. Indeed, the multiple challenges facing contemporary radio are real not fantasies. Although mostly internally generated as these challenges may be only adds to the complexity and frustration of having to deal with enemies from within.

Of course, I appreciate how difficult it is to build something of value when most of the muscle is directed at digging out of the rubble -- even as much as the destruction was self (industry)-induced. Nor is it difficult to understand how we are behaving more like mangy, cowering curs -- snapping at anything and anyone who dares come near -- rather than the courageous K-9s we are being encouraged to emulate.

When I’m doing personal coaching work, I go into each relationship with a basic and historically effective approach: To challenge, to change, and to check. I also enjoy a tremendous advantage. This is as a result of having clients who are already willing to make changes. Most are in some crisis or other and are often, in some way, desperate. Of this, they are consciously and painfully aware. I can challenge their already-existing beliefs, values, behaviors, and habits-of-thought about the world and themselves with relative ease because it is those very attributes that contributed to their current state. It is then incumbent upon me to have the skills to assist them in accomplishing any necessary, agreed upon, remedial or generative outcomes, with them and for them. I am then obliged to check my work and be sure the changes were implemented and the client is satisfied.

This audience of readers -- serious radio-people -- however, is a completely different group and with this one, I have no similar advantage. This group of individuals have any number of radio-related issues on their minds and have yet to come to the consideration or suspicion -- never mind realization or conclusion -- that an immediate re-development of our communicative strategies and techniques is acutely necessary and is, therefore, deserving of the highest priority.

A couple of reminders: Ours is an indirect, passive medium that impacts consciously and unconsciously. Radio generates more emotional responses than it does intellectual ones. We have no authority to tell anybody to do anything. We are not directly connected to anybody, specifically, even while talent and management parrot the “one-to-one” liturgy. This position is no more than an assertion that has become a wholly accepted and grossly inaccurate dogma. The proposition cannot stand even under the weakest of challenges. In these articles, I am constantly inviting evidence to be provided that might sustain or support the position. So far, and beyond a couple of boo's from the gallery, no takers.

Radio is a mass-broadcast medium that can be enjoyed passively where others require full attention or an interactivity of some kind. We have only two things going for us -- words and sounds. I find it tragically ironic that, as an industry, we have yet to address how we use the words. I want to be point out, as well: This is not about vocabulary. Although I do urge on-air presenters and writers to continuously improve their word-power. I mean, can "Reader’s Digest" be completely wrong?

 This premise and approach is about becoming more effective with the words we do use. Different demographics and psychographic targets will be using differing vocabularies. That’s important, too. Acknowledged. The techniques and strategies to which I am referring are many and yes, some are complex. They are also teachable and learnable. The necessity for their implementation is, to my mind and ears, of the highest import. Another way of presenting the value of moving on this premise is that while “content” may be perceived as king, any content delivered poorly will be next to useless for our purposes.

 Again, all we have with which to communicate on the radio are words and sounds and we have yet to stringently and purposefully pay the required attention to those words -- and the opportunities for their precise application. Or their impact.

 I do maintain, though, that out here, somewhere, there are owners and/or managers who are still willing to make inquiries, become more fully aware and, ultimately, begin demonstrating: the courage of Lassie.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


(8/29/2012 1:19:20 PM)
Please appreciate, Jack, the "personal/personable" - issue is a dichotomy for radio-folk... and is only the tip of the ol' proverbial iceberg. One - the attempt to be "personal" - is an ongoing disaster to those on-air people and writers who would want credibility with and acceptance from their audiences. The other - "personable" - is a paved road with many milk & honey roadside stalls along the way.
Plus, and I have to take you to task for this, the "mumbo-jumbo" reference is a convenient "out" for those who a.) are new to the techniques - most of which I have not revealed. b.) are not yet willing to appreciate them. c.) have not studied and tested them thoroughly. and, d.) have not enjoyed spectacularly successful results from their application - and over time.
As to your other comments about the pirates and beenies wrecking what was, otherwise, a viable and exciting enterprise, we are in full agreement.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(8/29/2012 12:01:50 PM)
Lost me again, Ron.

The double negatives don't exactly help: "the reality of neither the speaker or the listener not knowing that either one is participating in the speaker/listener dynamic at any given time...". Gonna take a while for me to parse that one.

Who're you listening to, with "I'm glad you're listening."? Gag. You're right - that's beginner stuff. Personable, but not personal. Personal is: "Wow! That's still my all-time favorite BeeGee's tune! Tell me I'm not alone with that". The unspoken message of "I love my job" is a world away from "I'm glad you're listening."

That being said, I don't expect I'll be able to pull you away from all that pseudopscych mumbo-jumbo. Maybe if the conglomerates would give their PDs time to train and nuture their air staff, let creative types create good programming, radio would look a bit more promising. Until that happens, all the MBAs and PhDs aren't going to undo what the beancounters have created.

- Jack Mindy
(8/28/2012 2:25:50 PM)
While more exacting explanations are in the archives, Jack, I have to challenge that an occasional "I feel like you're talking to me"-comment from a listener is hardly worthwhile.
Actually, given the reality of neither the speaker or the listener not knowing that either one is participating in the speaker/listener dynamic at any given time, the report gets a little spooky.
The simple time-constrained answer though, Jack, is as follows.
The goal of a broadcast communicator is to be, among other attributes, "personable". This, as opposed to "personal". Huge distinctions.
Plus, Jack, I would be less than sincere if I didn't accept that, over the years of your being on the air, you were attempting to be both and were often successful.
However, only one - "personable" - has legs. The other crashes and distorts so many other listener's real-time experience as to be toxic.
Let's say I pop the mic and say "... and I'm glad you're listening." 1.) I don't know who, specifically, is listening. 2.) The listener knows, at some cognizant level, that I don't know they, specifically, are listening and that my comments do not apply to them because of reason #1. 3.) I come off sounding like a mind-reading goof. 4.) This was never my intention as I am as sincere as the next guy.
Thanks to you, Jack, for providing an opportunity to respond in a direct manner as this is a communication between Jack and Ron. I know it. You know it and readers know it. Hardly like the radio at all. :)

- Ronald T. Robinson
(8/28/2012 12:49:25 PM)
You lost me, Ron.

In your 12:06 response, you say my fairly typical response “constitutes neither a useful report of someone else's, subjective experience or an accurate description of a broadcast experience.” No, it’s not someone else’s report, it’s MINE. Whether it’s useful is, of course, your opinion. And it very definitely IS an accurate description of MY broadcast experience. How can you claim otherwise?

Move closer on the bus??? If a seedy drunk was spouting garbage on the bus, yes, one would likely move away. If it was the trusted, friendly guy-next-door, you’d move closer because you find him interesting and expect him to make the ride more pleasant. That was the goal. It worked for me.

In your 12:40 addendum, you toss this in: “employing an indirect form of communications through an indirect medium”. Can there be indirect communications in a direct medium, or direct communications in an indirect medium? Only Stephen Hawking knows for sure.

I hope you don’t recommend your model air staff use such long, convoluted sentences as you seem to prefer. There’s no necessity to dumb down one’s conversation, but good communication calls for an ease of understanding that can include all your audience - one listener at a time

- Jack Mindy
(8/27/2012 12:40:21 PM)
By the way, by employing an indirect form of communications through an indirect medium (radio), even more people are likely to have the same experience as Jack's report alludes.
(This is an irony that I usually don't profess as it's not a particularly useful phenomena anyway. Besides, making that claim tends to frighten the locals... and the livestock, as well.)

- Ronald T. Robinson

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