There are few things that offer as fair a warning that bull****-on-a-log is on its way down from upstream than a shambled, raggedy cliché. Anyone involved in music radio who floats past us some platitude or other about the “changes” that have been made and are occurring in the business – along with attempts to spin those changes as being positive and worthwhile – has just taken the concept of change and made of it a mockery. “Change” was never intended to be a primo example of a “weasel-word.”
“Change,” as it is used regularly, is one of those words with many meanings and many nuances; one that works when applied as a noun, adjective, or a verb; gets magically transformed depending on context; and makes for one smoker of a representation when an excuse to justify everything is required.
Even well-meaning and astute broadcast realists – some of whom comprise a smaller portion of the leadership in radio – fall into the trap of tagging the “change” label on to what radio has been experiencing. “Destruction” is more apt a term. In order, however, to consider the matter a little more closely, we might care to be a touch more specific and, in the process, “Give Change A Chance.”
- Owners and managers having systematically ripped out the human elements of radio over the last 20-odd years is, by definition, a change.
- On-air talent – those people whose responsibilities include making a station more appealing – being suppressed or eliminated altogether, constitutes a change.
- Decimated creative departments – categorically necessary elements of commercial radio stations – stand as an example of change.
- Tumbleweeds collecting in the corners of now-vacant news and public affairs departments bear witness to other changes.
- Salespeople whose nametags are done up with numbers instead – with magic markers – evidence changes, yet again.
“The only constant is change.” I believe that was said by the Earl of Roquefort as he was deciding not to round out the pricing for the family cheeses. More to the point: While the adage is universally accepted, it can still be demonstrated how it is not a hard or fast truism when considered in different contexts. The stone into which that line is carved is changing – at an atomic level. For all intents, though, that rock will still be the same rock next week. In other words: no discernible or consequential changes.
“All change is positive.” Sure. I suppose we could go along with that even as it applies to radio – only when considered in archaeological time. However, it is still a given that music radio is being administered by people with a limited amount of time to do what we do here on the ol’ terra firma. Waiting for all these changes that have been foisted on radio – by radio people – to become positive, worthwhile, and developmental can challenge anyone’s patience. Mostly though, the exercise becomes a challenge to our capacities for critical thinking.
The facts include: the so-called “changes” with which radio has been stricken are those that have been leading to a gradual and undeniable demise of a once significant entertainment, informational, and advertising medium.
What strikes me as extraordinarily bizarre behavior, though, is that senior management of radio companies continue to insist that continuing to do what has not been working – even harder – will turn this beast around.
At a recent gathering of the Clan of Radio’s Accumulated Communications Knowledge (CRACK), many of the leadership gave approving grunts and nods to the offered edicts that more, better, and harder sales pitches will do the trick. Others agreed – heartily over their grog – that adding “local” to the programming mix shall, verily, accomplish wonders.
Having become used to delivering bad news, I have no problem in saying, “Sorry, kids, 'local' ain't gonna do it. Granted, it wouldn't hurt and it would be a tad better than the powdered, one percent homo being delivered by the congloms. But, they won't be the changes powerful enough to correct our course.”
Many managers have taken up a pitiful wail of "local-local-local" as if it were a new pharmaceutical that would cure everything including listener disinterest, advertiser rejection, and the heartbreak of psoriasis – all for a 49-cent investment. ("Tell the morning guy to talk about taking a walk in Dog Fart Park rather than about Britney having issues. Yeah, that’ll do 'er. Now, get out there and sell!")
Whenever I am wearing my counselor/coach cap and doing “change work," I am regularly made aware of a generalization that can easily be made about us human-folk. Most people do not recoil in horror or run away screaming when the concept of “change” is introduced. The recoiling and fleeing-parts get triggered when people equate “change” with pain. Many would love to embrace change. Pain – not so much.
Many individuals, by the way, are willing to undergo some level of discomfort when making changes is on offer. But, only if that proffered change is to their benefit. It’s funny how that works. Learning to apply techniques and methods is not really so tough. It takes less study and practice to learn and usefully apply what I propose than it does to learn to consistently drop a three-pointer, effectively strike a golf ball…some of the time. Learning to play the accordion takes much, much longer. The only question there is: Why bother?
“Taz,” the Warner Brothers cartoon character, might be impressed by watching radio salespeople tearing up wild dust storms as they are being whipped into ever greater frenzies of cold calling. Witnessing programmers (Sorry – “brand managers”) thrashing about in their frustrating attempts at finding new and different content – national, regional, and local – with which to entice a (supposedly) salivating audience might also be mildly entertaining. Observing on-air and creative personnel being force-marched with spears to their backs to the edge of the cliff…and over – less compelling.
And so, I repeat. This is not a time for radio to focus on Content. It’s the time to concentrate on Process. That is, the very specific ways in which we deliver our on-air presentations and commercials. We can include promos, too – those delivered either on the air or through other media. These aspects of radio must be established as the ones needing the greatest attention. These are, I submit, the changes that will change everything! And yes, there may be some discomfort in the learning and acquisition of the skills necessary to become effective broadcast communicators – indeed, the process of learning “process.” The benefits, however, can be magnificent. Plus, it’s not as if we have much of a choice. We are out of ammo and yelling over the parapets (“telling our story better”) only opens us up for satire. The decisions we have been making and are planning on continuing to make are the very ones that have been killing us. They only hasten our demise into a peripheral medium. Hell, we’re already a peripheral medium according to many advertisers. But, at least we earned that one all by ourselves.
These last decades of changes have benefited, primarily, upper management and shareholders – and even then, only to the degree that five percent of available revenues allows. Making appropriate changes, however, can add to their prosperity, yet again. (Yes, the ironies are staggering. Those who would rather have this crowd removed and punished may not be amused.) Meanwhile, audiences, advertisers, and staffs have been the ones paying the price and suffering over time. For them, the last decades of adjustments, regretfully but accurately, have been of radio making “chump changes.”
Most importantly, the changes I propose are those that will instigate the generation of superior products (spots) and services (on-air presentations) that we can – aggressively and confidently – go out and sell!
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 www.voicetalentguy.com
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