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Tomorrow Is Here


Like a dog that wont let go of its one and only ancient, shredded bone even though it's completely bereft of any further nourishment radio talent and programmers dig in and insist they are effectively communicating in a one-to-one fashion. But then, why would they do otherwise? Until a viable alternative is presented and applied, talent would be lost in the wilderness without an element that provides, at most, a false sense of security.

There are a few powerful and false assumptions in play here.

Assumption #1. Radio is, exclusively, a direct medium. No, it is not. Radio is far more effective when approached as an indirect medium. A personal conversation in the same environment where people have visual and kinesthetic (touch) proximity and where each voice can be heard is a direct form of communication. A telephone chat, although missing the visual and kinesthetic elements, is still a direct form of communication. But, even here the waters are muddied because the phone is an electronic medium and, as such, introduces a different set of neurological dynamics to a conversation. Still a direct or one-to-one form of communication it is. A speaker in front of a group tinkers on the edge of a direct communication in that some feedback is available in the moment. But, unless audience participation is invited or a heckler breaks loose, the one-to-one opportunities are rare and, as often, arbitrary.

Assumption #2. There is nothing new in radio and, therefore, radio has no secrets. Those are comments about awareness. I argue they are, rather, comments about a lack of awareness. In these articles I have been insisting that a different and transformational methodology of communicating through an electronic medium not only exists, but has been thoroughly implemented and tested for years on the radio! The working and practical fact is: Everything concerning radio about which I have no up-to-date knowledge can be categorized as both new and a "secret." To me. I suggest, in this, I am not alone.

Meanwhile and as if to counter my own argument, there are indeed times when radio is being utilized and presented as an indirect medium. This phenomenon comes about during those delicious and glorious moments when on-air presenters are either talking to each other or a guest/caller on the air. In those sometimes extremely satisfying minutes, the listeners are no longer the direct target of the speakers. They are, instead, in a position to participate in, lets say, a once removed listening experience. The 37-cent term for that is: a vicarious association."

However, when one of the on-air presenters turn their attention to the audience and begins speaking to him/her/them directly, the fantasy crumbles; the partys over and the lights flicker and dim. This is the situation, particularly for any talent who is working alone; its the case for almost every commercial on the air and it is definitely the case with station promos and splitters. This is also when a completely different approach and skill-set is required. Further, I am not surprised that broadcasters have not picked up on this massive distinction. It took me the first 16 years of my career before I even considered these matters.

Meanwhile, because of the ongoing discourse and my unwillingness to spill all the beans in public, this direct/indirect distinction is only an opening introduction to a complete set of techniques and methodologies that may, in due course, be a spectacularly important element in the regeneration of radios fortunes.

What all this means to broadcast owners and management is they are going to have to acknowledge that communication emanating from talent is the only element that will save radios bacon. And if ever there were a porker than needed saving, its the least desirable advertising medium of all our little drove of piggies.

Talent has history. There was a time when every station had talent hanging from the rafters hardly ever enough, but a number that would allow a station to be live at all times. Plus, there were many others in smaller markets who had also paid their dues and were intentioned on making it to The Show. Were those really the good ol days? For those of us who made it to the Majors and were making killer bucks for a few hours of presenting ourselves as skilled and talented performers, indeed they were. And better still. While we were part of a group of at least 12 performers per station, we were still among an elite those who could deliver the goods, the numbers, and the accounts.

There would be a misrepresentation here if I just unloaded with the It was all so very far out and groovy spiel. It wasnt all that great. Not all the time. For the large majority of on-air presenters, the bar wasnt all that high. Most people on the air had little to say. But, they did say it poorly.

I am completely satisfied that sophisticated programmers and managers of the day had already been influenced by their own intuitions and were ready to start gutting the talent-base well before the trend was established in the early '90s. The severe limitations placed on the vast majority of jocks working Top 40 formats are a clear indication that programmers were unwilling to let their talent fly off the handle to do their thing any more than would allow a crew of drunken party-goers play with the hosts loaded weapons.

To be sure, in the culling that followed, the good went out with the indifferent and the incompetent. What remains are a few examples of excellence on the part of talent and a whole lot of incompetence tied up and constrained as they might be.

For those who may not have had or heard the experience, we were on the air a lot in each hour. The difficulty was in finding enough time to run down the hall for a pee-parade before the next set was up. Today, in most day parts, the talent can do their grocery shopping before they have to be back on the air babbling innocuous burblings about matters of little or no consequence except maybe the station. And doing so poorly.

Still, talent makes up the difference that will be making any difference. This is not an argument, but a statement. Anybody who wants to argue is urged to take it to the chaplain. Talent on the air, talent in the creative departments, talent in the voicing of commercials, and talent in the programming departments are all required and right now. The days of PDs administering prison discipline as an effective means of generating exemplary programming have been over for a very long time.

The challenge to train and develop new and/or used talent falls on the shoulders of program directors and I am disappointed to claim that, as a group, they are ill-equipped to rise to the challenge and bring off a successful conclusion. Its not their fault. Its in the deleted and suppressed portions of the gene pool of radio. Indeed, we suffer as the result of weak breeding. The training in, and application of, better, more effective forms of broadcast communication is well overdue.

The realities are not about to change in that radio is currently under extraordinary pressure from without and from within. We need to take action and we need to do it now. Tomorrow is already upon us.

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

(9/7/2012 11:32:17 AM)
I had a GM blurt out a very curt and disrespectful "You trying to tell me how to run my business!?"
My response: "Only those programming portions about which you have no clue."
It was, as can be expected, a very short chat.

- Ronald T. Robinson

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