The Next Necessary Step
Although not unique to radio, but pervasive anyway, many managers will read the following and, with a distinct hubris, declare they are the words of an arrogant (fill in the blank). However, I also offer the following observation: If I were a master mechanic, a dentist, a carpenter, or maybe a plumber who declared I could fix their leaks, these same managers might respond with, “Okay. How much?”
Most of us enjoy being recognized for providing something that others appreciate or enjoy. And so it was when I received a glowing, emailed response to the blogs I have been offering here. An indie operator with a number of stations in his portfolio praised me for stating explicitly, in a somewhat entertaining fashion, what so many other broadcast professionals have been thinking for years.
While I do appreciate the accolade, there is nothing I have written here by way of general criticisms that are particularly new. What is new is the Rx – the alternative therapies – I have been offering to generate a healing and a rebuilding of our unique medium.
My new friend was also quite candid and seemed to be implying that he wasn’t really quite sure what his next steps – if any – would be to enhance his position in his markets.
The known and available strategies are not particularly satisfying either. Management and ownership have been trained to be phobic of anything that looks, smells, tastes, sounds, or feels like an “expense.” Their response has been to search out any factor that smacks of an expense…and to destroy it.
Talent and programming insist that a return to talent staffing levels similar to those of a distant, romanticized past is the way to go. Even I, as a fully paid-up member of the radio talent corps, am aware enough to realize that both of these strategies are recipes for disaster. Wiping out the talent base in the on-air and creative departments has decimated any potential for radio to struggle back to a fighting stance. Arbitrarily bringing talent back into the mix, however, would be a dangerous and expensive precedent, as well, especially when the talent would be, for the most part, no more effective or skilled than at any other time in our checkered past.
Those who pine for staffing levels of days gone by might be served by considering the following: Even back in the day, the vast majority of contemporary, music-radio, on-air talent was comprised of robo-jocks – those individuals who had been weaned on format radio. These performers operated under severe limitations provided by programmers who had already distorted the essence of the Drake Format and had chiseled the jocks down to, in some cases, reading from 3x5 liner cards. Strong, unique and compelling talents were only slightly more prevalent than they are today. The situation was one of a hermetically sealed, internally competitive radio environment with no outside media screaming for and getting attention. Radio made up and played by its own rules. Those rules, in fact, haven’t applied for over 15 years.
In response to my new indie-friend, I made a number of suggestions:
“Until guys like yourself are willing to take on the task of re-training their staffs -- both on-air and creative -- they will be moseying into a gunfight, with moldy dinner rolls. Good and sincere intentions recognized, significant improvements to dominate a market that has been watered down by the biggies and, to be candid, equally diluted by shoddy broadcasting from most of the indies, will have to be undertaken.
"My model-of-training includes four full weekends of intensive, "live" group training on the techniques and strategies of a “broadcast communicator” with constant monitoring and mentoring in the three weeks between each training. This is in order to allow for practice, experimentation, and attaining some competence before new material is addressed. (Compliance and application would be a condition of continued employment.)
"A represented sales staff would be included as they would need an appreciation of how this medium actually works and a confidence that their colleagues in programming and creative are in a position to deliver appealing and influential products and services that can be assertively taken to the street.
"I acknowledge that the managers with whom I have been having contact have yet to arrive at certain positions. It's not the one where they aren't already aware that significant changes are necessary. They are the ones where they wonder if or have a suspicion that those specific changes exist -- or if they are actually available. They do and they are.”
Meanwhile, radio now has no other avenue available. Until we begin applying the techniques of a “broadcast communicator” in our on-air and commercial presentations, we are well and truly hooped. Perhaps the consolidated mega-corps will continue to dumb-down their properties to the point where vanilla syndications and voicetracks are pervasive -- a weak and pathetic example of “McRadio.” Indies, sensing the tremendous pressure, may be likely to clone the strategy. If so, there goes “The Radio Story.” Actually, the book on music radio’s story has been closed for some time.
While cobbling this article together, I snapped on one of the contemporary music stations here in Toronto -- North America’s fifth-largest market -- just in time to hear a 60-second break from a major market talent. A break in which I heard “uhh” 10 times, “you know” six times, jumbled, rambling syntax, vacuous content, and a ditzy tonality from an unknown (to me) individual who was also literally telling me what to do! That was so disheartening.
Meanwhile, how the telling of this story could be discounted as the ranting of an arrogant (fill in the blank) still strikes me as a sadly destructive and twisted exercise. It is here that I am reminded of a pertinent lyric: “At the end, we all die crazy.”
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. Visit Ron's website www.voicetalentguy.com
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