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Stuck In The Glue


In a response to my last blog post, Bill described the ongoing reality of a medium market station and used afternoon drive as the prime example. The station is pulling a 1-share and is selling at around 20 dollars-a-holler based on market cpp pricing. Afternoon drive is V/Td at a cost of a hundred bucks a week while the shift pulls in just under 300K a year.

Bill goes on to state that a live," talented host would set him back about $60,000 and that, as such, would require a ratings increase to 1.8 to maintain the profitability of the shift. He is unconvinced that adding more live talent to the mix would be worth the hassle or the expense. Bill wraps it up with a reminder that radio is a mature industry and is, essentially, locked in. In other words: Pooched.

My immediate gut-response is a compelling urge to holler out Then stop selling costs per point! But, I dont have to as other credible and astute professionals in this industry have already made that argument and made it better. Still, reach and frequency is the way to go and the target audience is anybody with a pulse and a paycheck and anyone who knows somebody who has both of those.

Meanwhile, in my last piece, I reluctantly confessed I have accepted the premise that a large proportion of owners and managers have no interest whatsoever in improving the quality of the services they render to audiences and advertisers. For many, the status quo, while hardly producing much pride or sense of achievement is, nevertheless, quite acceptable. Besides, any scolding on my part would only fall on deaf ears. Further, owning a less-than-stellar but still profitable enterprise is not a hanging offense. I am fully reconciled to that fact. And why would I not be? In my entire career, I have found very few owners or managers who are dedicated to improving the reach of their stations or the effect of their commercial productions. Those who did profess an interest were still stuck as nobody knew how to go about it in a cost-effective manner. So, they tinkered. And they still do. A few just wade in with explosives.

As an industry, we are very fortunate that even shabby broadcasting and shoddy commercials can still produce a satisfying result for many advertisers. That, I claim, is about the innate power of this electronic medium a medium that works in spite of our best efforts.

Still, I want to rise to the opportunity that Bills challenges present. First, I agree that Bills adding a live personality to afternoon drive would only guarantee one thing: an increase in expenses. I wouldnt do it either. And it pains me to say so. Even a talented/clever/witty individual can, very quickly, wear an audience out through their inabilities as a broadcast communicator. Besides, our example concerns an individual who would be working afternoon drive as a stand-alone presenter at a station that pulls a 1-share.

There is only one circumstance under which I would release any performer on the air, especially one who will be working as a single presenter. That is: only if I trained them first! And when I say trained, Im not talking about exposing them to a set of philosophies that they might consider between music sweeps. Im talking about intense, comprehensive, hardcore training, in order to acquire knowledge, understanding, and the unique and necessary skills of a broadcast communicator. Being able to demonstrate their new abilities on demand would be a condition of employment. But, after that Woo-Hoo!

Now, given a 1-share as in the example, its no stretch to presume that Bills station sucks and in every way a station could suck and still remain on the air. Yet, much the same could be said for even those stations that have the benefit of extraordinarily strong personality-based morning shows (or even other live dayparts) that have saleable shares, but are still unable to increase their audience.

Those station or conglomerate owners who are in constant fear of living only on borrowed time are not being overly anxious or paranoid because of market indifference or other-media influence and infiltration. They really are in serious trouble! And nobody seems to know where the cheese has gone, why it left, where to go, or what to do to get more.

While Bill (understandably) defends and argues for his limitations an all too common phenomenon he also fails to provide any solutions. I understand that, too. His dilemma is common. In fact, its pervasive. The assumption is: there are no known, effective and readily-available alternative choices.

What is required, meanwhile, before adding any additional staff, is a full-scale, comprehensive re-training of everyone already in the station who has anything to do with providing spoken words that hit the transmitter. That includes PDs, on-air staff, creative departments, and producers. It wouldnt hurt the sales staff to know whats going on as well. This is because so many of them tout themselves as de facto copywriters.

Let us be clear on this one issue: Radio will not make any improvements in accessing greater audiences or providing more effective and influential commercial content until the staffs become, if not superior, then much better broadcast communicators. Even if they kick and scream, they must be dragged into the training room and forced to acquire some meaningful skills. (The more likely reality is that it would be owners, managers, and PDs who would be doing most of the kicking and screaming, as having to learn something new is, somehow, insulting and hardly ever a welcome experience.)

Now, I also appreciate how the vast majority of readers will sniff and toss these conclusions aside as being of little consequence. This is particularly so, given the number of immediate technical challenges and expectations that are being foisted on management from the influence of other media. I can claim with some confidence, however, that the only element that will turn radio around will be based on the work of talent.

However, talent brought in off the street or glad-handed in from down the street or picked up from a smaller market and thrown on the air can only expect to be suppressed, under-used, and bored to the point where they spend their shifts weeping uncontrollably.

Even as these pieces could be written off as the rants of a renegade, I am at a loss to come up with any other elements that could be applied to the music radio mix that would advance the cause of any motivated owner. No single owners or large organizations want it to be so. But, unless immediate action is taken, they may as well resign themselves to being in the glue. If there is any comfort in it, at least they wont be alone. Or, as the Boy Wonder, Robin, exclaimed to the Caped Crusader: Holy, mucilage, Batman. Were stuck!

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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