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The Blame Game (continued)


Radio Ink publisher, Eric Rhoads, recently suggested that it was time for radio to take responsibility for its own situation. I would state in stronger terms that radio sits on the cusp of demise. If that’s too harsh for tender eyes, then, most certainly, stagnation. None of this, I contend, is necessary or inevitable – for many reasons.

The circumstance in which radio finds itself is the responsibility of the people who own, run, and yes, staff the stations. Ownership and management do make for rich targets. And rightly so. The staff, meanwhile – both on-air and creative – are in no position to put on their whiner-hats and yip about the big, bad corporate entities that are getting in the way of their own superior wit, skills, and charm.

In his editorial, Mr. Rhoads accurately defines radio as a medium that gets better (read: more influential) responses when audience emotions are engaged – more than if pure content is all that is provided. He didn’t have to say “appropriate emotions” as the ones that drive listeners to jab the tune-out button are not those that anybody recommends. That, as is constantly being demonstrated, is something we can do all by ourselves. In fact, providing material in a manner that generates those exact undesirable emotions is what radio does – as a default position.

The main factors that permeate the experience of the vast majority of radio folk include: 1/ An ignorance of how this medium impacts audiences; 2/ An unwillingness to consider newer or (seemingly) unrelated material that would influence programming and commercial production philosophies and techniques; 3/ An unwillingness and/or inability to adapt to changing environments; And, 4/ The unfortunate acceptance of a tainted and toxic hierarchy of values which places money/sales/revenue/profits as the first and highest priority.

The glaring and obvious irony here is that no one – and I mean no one – has been able to convincingly argue that audiences and clients have been the very last considerations of owners and management for decades. The bleating of management that “our listeners and clients come first” is just pure, noxious tripe. In other words: They are lying – and are so expert at it, they can do it with a straight face. There is, however, a bail-out position. They actually might be sincere. But, that’s even more frightening.

Further, and as mentioned earlier, talent is not being offered a free pass here either. As this is a business supposedly staffed by “professionals," I would not be out of line to ask of every on-air or creative department staffer: “What are the last three books on communication you read where you applied the material provided?” In other fields, “professionals” are constantly being upgraded in their knowledge and skills – most of which, by the way, is being provided by employers! (To expect that of radio is, I realize, to delude oneself.)

I really do tire of having senior on-air or creative personnel offering, “That’s the way I have been doing it for years and it’s been working for me.” Twenty piggies crammed into a 15’ x 15’ slop-filled stall can make a similar claim. The only difference is the piggies don’t know that one day they will be bacon – although rumors are rampant in radio.

I can pick any market of any size where the American model of radio is being practiced and know I am going to hear the most superficial, poorly-delivered, irritating, ill-prepared and seemingly mindless group of talent ever to grace a professional, electronic medium. While acknowledging the rare people-of-talent who do exist and who are plying their trade, I project that even the talent themselves would accept my description as being accurate. This doesn’t mean they have neither the potential nor desire to be superior communicators and/or entertainers. It is, unfortunately, a valid and sordid description of what is coming out of the box.

Talent will be forgiven for the claim of finding themselves in a terrible conundrum – wanting and willing to be better at what they do, but given neither the skill-enhancement opportunities nor the air-time to master any skills they may already bring to the microphone. As has been suggested for those on the management side, there is that group of talent who don’t even know they suck, especially when PDs, who are incompetent anyway, tell the talent they don’t suck.

This is no time for radio to be digging in and continuing to strenuously do what doesn’t work. Please stop me if I seem a little maudlin here. I kinda feel for the poor salespeople who are thrown out on the street with the latest, greatest closing techniques to grind the unsuspecting (or not) client-base with more pleading bafflegab. White noise taking the form of “Well, it worked for these guys!” is about all that is being provided. In terms of carrying briefcases full of powerful, broadcast solutions for their clients, most are just wandering around with empty sacks of confetti and sparkly beads – and a firm, sincere handshake.

Speaking of further ironies: The one that has always impressed me the most about radio is that one that hardly anybody in the business can describe how, specifically our medium works/impacts an audience. Not only that, but the medium has a completely different impact on those who work in the industry. Audiences experience the radio. We think about it. It is called a “meta-position."

Now, I do appreciate how laying out blame does nothing for the blamer – other than tending to freeze them into inactivity. There is, however, a time and place to discuss responsibilities and alternatives. This may be one of those.

Still, my thanks and a tip-o’-the-hat to Mr. Rhoads for reinforcing that which has been obvious to some for decades. Someone of his stature making the admonition can only help the proposition to be moved along.

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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