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Radio Creative -- An Oxymoron


This is neither the time nor the environment for radio folk to be blowing smoke up each others anything, so lets just cut to the chase. Locally-produced radio commercials have about a 90 percent chance of sucking with such enormous volume that even the people populating the crack house next door are yelling Dya wanna keep it down over there!? Were trying to sell some drugs!
The proposition that radio commercials generally have about the same sophistication, forethought, preparation time, and audience appeal as those ads posted on laundromat bulletin boards has never, to my knowledge, been met with learned and well-articulated defenses. Therefore, we may as well discuss how it is the case that radio spottage doth indeed sucketh and sucketh large. A number of points are already well known and will only get a passing reference. Others the more subtle ones get a little more attention.
That so many stations have a creative department staffed by Geraldine or Gary, but not both, serves as enough of an explanation all by itself. Still, I will allow as to how that is not a complete argument. There have been times in radios history where there were writers falling all over each other as they charged the production studio with their latest efforts. There was even a management position that went by the name of Chief Copywriter.
In fairness and for the sake of accuracy, almost all of the well-staffed creative departments were operating less as bona fide sources of Creative, and more as M.A.S.H. units. Few constructive techniques were being performed. Rather, the departments were dedicated to a form of meatball surgery churning out massive numbers of formulated spots at injurious numbers, complete with the attendant lack of attention to detail. (True, on rare occasions, there were opportunities to stretch out and apply some creativity," but these were uncommon events and, after the buzz was over, morale would collapse again because the practice of cranking out spots at industrial speed would kick back in. And the writers would return to being the hacks they never wanted to be.)
Then, as now, there have been highly acclaimed experts at creating commercial excellence in radio. A good friend to Radio Ink, Roy H. Williams, is a superior example of a radio-guy who knows of which he speaks. Any radio writer who would take Roys advice, treat is as gospel, and apply the techniques he teaches, would be well served indeed. Even if they integrated the techniques he gives away for free that would be enough to move a career along nicely. But then, there are the catches."
The catches include that the writer, who when introduced to the techniques, gets themselves all jacked up on enthusiasm for the art of writing effective, creative radio ads also runs into the realities of: 1/ Lack of support from the stations management (who werent there for the presentations in the first place) and, 2/ The station rep who is in the pocket of some car-guy starts demanding standard-issue yell and sell/buy or die copy and announcer-deliveries. Plus, Roy and other professionals do insist that some thought go into the actual creative process and the structure of effective advertising. The One Big Idea-concept is well known, but hardly ever incorporated and for a couple of reasons. 1/ Often, there is no time to prestidigitize one out of thin air and, 2/ The client has nothing unique or particularly worthwhile to say. (The best sale ever? Spare me.) Of course, the client being in just such a predicament creates the very opportunity for radio creative to be applied. Give me a client with nothing special to say or to sell. Now, thats a worthy challenge. And, by the way, that situation applies to almost all of them all the time!
Meanwhile, very, very few broadcasters realize how, specifically, our medium impacts an audience. This is obvious from the way in which we continuously treat radio either intentionally or through client coercion as a newspaper-of-the-air. We cram our spots with content prices, products, locations, times, newspaper or online references. It goes on and on.
Accessing an electronic medium engages a completely different set of automatic, neurological functions. Radio is not a medium that is kind to pure content. Radio is a medium that generates emotional responses first, foremost, and almost exclusively. Radio is not a medium that can deliver much recall for content. It can, however, generate recall for emotional experiences assuming some have been generated. Nobody in radio wants to take or give the following test: Mr. Jones. What are the last three radio commercials you heard where you went out and bought the product or service? That's what it boils down to. But, take heart. There is an escape route and it can be represented as follows: Recall is not necessary to generate behaviors!
A reminder here of Ronalds Top Three Necessary Elements for a Worthwhile Radio Commercial:

1/ Achieve and maintain audience attention.
2/ Generate an emotional response in the audience.
3/ Insert client info into whatever time is left. Yes, I know -- thats important too. (Although it doesnt require a lot.)
But those elements are just for openers. Sure, a spot would be far more effective if the techniques were applied. It might even be a tolerable or interesting spot. But, it wont be as effective as it needs to be not if we are going to be making any inroads toward audience acceptance and client trust.
More than a transfer of information is required in our case. It is going to take a complete re-training of how we use and present this medium. If it means standing on managers and staffs throats until they get it," then thats how it has to be. Marketing radio a little better, meanwhile, along with a buck, ninety-five might get us a cup of coffee. Our task is to make radio a far more powerful medium than it has ever been. The free ride is over. The merciless hordes are approaching the crest of the hill and theyre blowing trumpets. Bob Dylan has already made the appropriate suggestion: Lets not go talking falsely now. The hour is getting late.

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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