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(TALENT) Lobotomies Here – Cheap


With the exception of some still-dynamic people working morning drive around the country, most of the rest of on-air staffs could be asked why they aren’t working as dispatchers for cab companies. That’s if they ever wanted regular, ongoing use of microphone and the occasional opportunity to jack around some.

But then, most of the later generations of on-air presenters have little or no comparative experiences of their own or knowledge of others who were working the same day-parts and who were doing any more than they get to do now.

That this group of people who on the air today are examples of the very worst a mass, professional medium like radio can generate is not up for discussion or argument. Even before the whining and defensiveness fades, I will allow that this situation is not one completely of their (talent’s) own making. I mean, I have never met any members of the talent base whose intention it was to sound like illiterate, drooling, patronizing suck-ups.

If there is an available excuse for these examples of incompetence, one could easily point to the partial lobotomies administered to talent as soon as they cross the stations’ thresholds. This is still a great, corporate strategy, by the way. That’s assuming the outcome is having an obedient, conditioned, hardly-engaged, and compliant employee. (And it is.)

The above paragraphs are just a preamble to a more important point: Talent can be fixed/trained! All it takes is a decision to do so. All the necessary elements are readily available.

Now, I hope I might be considered -- at worst -- a harmless but still hopeless romantic as I reveal the following premise. It has, indeed, taken a while to allow myself to come to this conclusion:  I am now convinced that radio station ownership and management have no intention or desire to improve the quality of the services they render to audiences and advertisers!

The most this crowd can motivate themselves to do is implement a few minor, cosmetic “changes” of some sort. Then, there are “The Big Changes” like blowing out an entire staff and swapping out the formats -- that kind of thing. And yet, even when an entirely new format and staff are stuffed into place, the very same management and programming strategies are implemented. This is not because they are applying proven management practices, but because nobody has a clue as to the alternatives. This is another prime example of the phenomenon I have mentioned before. That of finding out what doesn’t work and…doing that harder.

The new on-air staff, once again, are also bound and gagged. No updated training is considered, offered, or supplied. All former restrictions still apply. But, for no good or known reason, expectations are elevated. These are the kinds of delusions that get any number of people into very serious trouble. I really don’t get it. It’s like tying a horse to a post and expecting it to run. Not only run, but to win The Preakness. Still, there is that added, little thrill that management gets from wearing boots and breeches. And brandishing a crop. No matter -- so long as somebody is getting a buzz.

In the process of coming to my above conclusion, I couldn’t help but notice how many well-known, learned, experienced, and generally pretty smart radio-people are being ignored along the way. Shame on me for expecting otherwise, particularly from a cadre of deregulated, corporate thugs who roam and pillage, all the while pointing to their fiduciary priority as a justification for…well…everything!

Perhaps we look in the wrong directions for entrepreneurship, never mind leadership. When a single organization owes more money than the entire radio industry generates in a year, one can be forgiven for wondering how these guys got to be role models or even individuals with credibility.

When new and established online providers of tunes show up and issue a wheeze, cough, or a sneeze and the ownerships of the terra-based portion of radio stampede to their doctors’ offices to be checked for the Ebola virus, one does appreciate just how twitchy and insecure this industry has become.

Meanwhile, some individuals and spokespersons for the business have been touting the really, really, really important and industry-saving appeal for implementing either “content, content, content,” “local, local, local,” or some combination. While there are legitimate reasons to implement some of each of those elements into a station’s programming, in and of themselves they are only marginally useful. But, because they would be relatively cheap and easy to include, a number of programmers have been hauling themselves into that nag’s saddle with a hearty “Hi-yo, Plucky! Awaaayyyy!” Some dogs won’t hunt and that horse won’t run.

General, specific, or local “content,” friends, is arbitrary, pervasive, and ubiquitous. It can be found elsewhere, at all times, and at my convenience. I don’t have to wait by my radio an interminably for a multi-spot, audio-bundle-from-hell to wrap up, and I don’t have to take a chance that there might be a “live” personality on the air who might be providing me with the information I may want in the moment.

“Content,” while as important a programming element as any, is still not the key for radio. The key for radio is "process." That is to say, the manner in which we communicate the content we are providing. In the meantime, when our suppressed and lobotomized personalities-in-chains are delivering more or less of that “content,” they are doing so in such demeaning, patronizing, unintelligible, and insulting forms as to render any possible benefits almost unattainable and inconsequential. I take the premise farther. I maintain that our “communicators” are so inept as to be providing little more than multitudinous, ongoing, and extremely toxic “tune-out factors” every time they bang open a microphone. Again, it’s not their fault. It is, however, a downright, dirty, rotten waste of talent and a shame on our industry.

So, even as I reluctantly accept that most of these deregulated, broadcast conglomerates have no interest -- even self interest -- in improving the quality of the services they are (supposedly) delivering to audiences and advertisers, I can allow myself the luxury of fantasizing that some sharp operators will become more aware of the obvious and start considering alternatives. Any outfit, I predict, that starts training and applying the principles I've described will have an enormous, long-term advantage. Plus, for those who enjoy that kind of thing, the resultant carnage left in their rear-view mirrors will be quite spectacular. One other thing: Lobotomies can be reversed.

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

(9/10/2012 11:41:48 AM)
Meanwhile, Bill, I wonder if you might (privately) share your station's web site with me through my email. I'd like to hear the station and the market before I make any further comments. Otherwise, I will be making only generalizations - not that that's bad thing. :)

- Ronald T. Robinson
(9/10/2012 11:26:19 AM)
Thank you for those astute and well-organized comments, Bill - reasonable descriptions of the status quo.

Rather than addressing them here, I will go into alternatives, challenges and potentials in the next piece.

You have, I suspect, articulated the concerns of many in your response and they do deserve much more than any quickly-penned or flippant retort might provide.

In the meantime, I am inviting others to chime in, as well.
Thanks again.... Ron

- Ronald T. Robinson
(9/10/2012 8:58:49 AM)
Here's the whole problem in a nutshell. Let's say my station is in a medium/small market. I have a 1.0 AQH rating in PM drive and the market is coming in at $22 per point. I have some local direct clients paying a bit more, and I have some big agency accounts on annual contracts paying a bit less, but the average unit rate is $22. Let's assume that I'm running 16 units an hour and that I'm 80% sold out. That means I'm doing about $292,864 per year on the shift.

Now, right now, I'm paying a voice tracker $100 per week, or $5200 per year, to do my voice tracking. He is somewhat mediocre, but the ratings are pretty steady, so I'm satisfied.

Now, let's say you convince me that you're right, and that the station will sound much better with a fully engaged, talented personality. Even though it's a smaller medium market, she's going to cost me $60,000 in salary, benefits and additional taxes per year. My labor costs have now gone up by $54,800 per year. Question: how much do the ratings have to go up to justify the expense? To stay where I am in terms of cash generated by the shift, I need a rate boost of $18 per unit in order to pay for the talent. Given where the market is coming in, I need a 1.8 rating.

In most markets, pulling such consistently higher numbers on the basis of air talent alone would be, to the say the least, problematic. Maybe I could add another couple units to the clock, but that would probably dilute the impact of the new talent. Or, I could sell harder and make up the difference by being closer to sold out. (But if I could do that, I should do it anyway, even without the new talent).

Radio is a mature business, and it only makes sense as an investment if it generates the largest amount of cash possible in any given situation. It is inconceivable that the population of radio listeners is going to grow so dramatically organically, and given the number of signals in most markets today, it is difficult to dominate a market like one could 40 years ago.

Maybe it's possible for the industry to start pulling a larger share of the advertising pie in general, but that's unlikely, given the number of new slices from new media that have to be factored in

In short, we have the radio we have today because of the economics of the business. I'd love to run the WLS of old days, but it's not economically feasible for most stations.

- Bill

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