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Ron Robinson

The Radio Refusal


A pack of incorrigible whiners those radio station owners and management who are yelping like ferrets hung up in a bear-trap. Revenues are down! Bodies must be sacrificed! they bellow. Of course revenues arent skyrocketing. Other media are cleaning our clocks and eating our lunches. We can all cheer up, though, as there is a reason: We are categorically incompetent at so much of what we do.

Music radio, especially, hasnt made an improvement in 30 years. Some would assert longer. The technologies have certainly made grand leaps, but those were outsourced. Further, it was the application of the technologies that made the watering-down and dumbing-down of radio even more expedient. Syndication and V/Ting would be the most obvious examples. The rapidity at which embarrassingly shabby commercials can be produced would be another.

That ownership and management has joyfully ripped the guts out of the key programming and creative elements of radio is not an issue being challenged. Its a given. Everybody in this racket knows it, but few are willing to openly admit to it -- or their own part in the exercise. Apparently, even though I contend otherwise, Pollyanna may still loiter here.

Indeed, the argument has been made that those (usually) undesirable elements of greed, entitlement and avarice are factors in radios impoverishment and obvious lack of development. Some suggest that senior execs may just be waiting for their nests to be more fully-feathered before they bail. Others have washed their hands and pointed to fiduciary obligations." However, when fiduciary duties are offered as an excuse-du-jour for failure, one could be forgiven for inquiring, Say, what!? How does that work!? I mean, in your mind!?

Now, I am also obliged to conclude the following: Radio-people are refusing to learn!

One need only consider other enterprises where learning is the second priority -- right after providing quality products and services. So much so that many companies invest a significant portion of their revenues in ongoing education and R&D activities. Yes, they do. Its in all the papers.

Having had this discussion for a very long time, I have often heard the standard and now-expected retorts. Encapsulated, they take the form of: Bull****! We are, too, willing to learn! We have sales meetings an everything!

Meanwhile, I am determined to make a somewhat more seditious and disturbing observation. A statement that radio-people are refusing to learn is way too easy to generate and only invites challenges. My years of personal counseling and coaching, however, have taught me that people can be extremely sophisticated when deluding themselves. We are, indeed, complex and sneaky mammals when serving the purposes of protecting and reinforcing our already-held beliefs and values. When it comes to digging our heels in, we have no equals.

The unfortunate portion of this submission is about the lack of awareness of our own positions the deeply-held, core positions. As all of this also applies to radio people, the position can be represented as follows: Radio people believe there is nothing new in radio to learn! Nothing, that is, which can be considered as core or significant.

Again, the evidence for this assertion lies in the utter lack of applying developmental programs in how we present our medium an absence that has lasted for decades. Radio-types really do insist: There is nothing new to learn in radio. In other words, that radio is a closed field."

I have been around long enough to remember when optics was also considered a closed field." The only advances being made were in the technologies that were used to grind lenses important enough, to be sure. But then a guy came along and said, I call it a laser. Maybe we can do some stuff with this.

Radio has words and sounds as the only ingredients available to generate the messages we want to provide. Thats it. Thats all. Yet, radio has presumed the language we use is a low, common denominator an element that is pervasive and as common as dirt. As such, the language we use becomes undeserving of any particular attention. This is the case, even as we suppress, manacle and otherwise enslave our performers and presenters. Radio people have yet to realize that language is the most complex technology ever developed by humans! (Running algorithms on the possibilities of language nuances would even melt my Mac like an aliens acid-blood burning through the bulkheads.)

If any astute reader defaults to a desperate but still satisfactory-in-the-moment conclusion I am promoting a proposition here that we all become as formally literate as, say, a news presenter toiling for the B.B.C., they would be profoundly mistaken.

Radio listeners respond to the words we use including the syntax, vocabulary, the attendant tonalities, speeds, tempos, emphasis, and other factors. They generate meaning from those words. They have their own models-of-the-world through which to filter and derive some semblance of order from the communications. They respond to those messages automatically and unconsciously, first. Whether they respond in a manner consistent with our own intentions is always a topic available for constant consideration. But, we havent, dont, and wont engage in those considerations.

I am still spectacularly amazed that radio people have no idea of how, precisely, our medium impacts on a listener. Its not as if the information hasnt been available for decades. That listeners and/or viewers of electronic media are unconsciously responding by engaging extremely unique, powerful, and separate neurological processes seems to be lost on this industry as are the consequences of ignoring these processes. We are, however, experiencing[ those consequences!

This is so unnecessarily tragic for us! Until or unless we have a fuller appreciation and knowledge of these factors and the alternate methodologies and techniques to exploit them we will continue to treat radio as a direct, one-to-one medium. We will continue to make all the critical mistakes that such a dearth of understanding assures. We will be delivering our messages in ways that confront and challenges the listeners realities while we are continuously insulting them in the process.

Radio is an electronic, indirect, one-on-unspecified, medium. Thats me talking and this is more than a wild, unconsidered opinion. This is a provided fact that has, so far, gone unchallenged by anyone with any contradictory evidence whatsoever. It is time we learned to accept that of radio and deliver it as such.

There are very few of us around who are able, as peers or colleagues, to provide the necessary education on these issues in a radio environment. And why would there be more? It is a non-existent market so long as radio-folk remain in a state of abject denial, continue supporting each others delusions and arestill refusing to learn.

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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