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Ron Robinson

Spots – What A Load


Radio commercials are, practically, the only elements that allow for every station to have an income. That is why the creation of these ads gets a greater amount of energy, time, and budget than any other aspect of the business. (Pause.) I excuse myself here to go outside for a few minutes. Every year at this time, massive flocks of squealing piggies are overhead, winging their way to their Canadian summer nesting areas.

Now, I would be cruelly patronizing to this readership were I to suggest that everybody should now be convinced that pigs really do fly. Of course they do not. The reality is much more astounding and disturbing. They levitate. That’s right. All known natural laws of physics are suspended for this one phenomenon.

Our radio reality is about as absurd and destructive. Here we have a whole industry that is offering only bacon-like substances to our advertisers. We begin with cans of something that is a lot like Spam – imported from offshore, of course. Next we open the cans and mix in copious amounts of sawdust and imported mixtures of fish oils. Then we transfer that into 10 smaller cans and re-label them “Radio’s Advertising Solutions.” Indeed, we step on and cut our product (spots) so thinly, we would embarrass the seediest of drug dealers.

I would be less than candid if I did not confess to being flabbergasted at the discussions about spots that have been, and are continuously, being held when radio folk gather to lie to each other. Nevertheless, where possible, I will confine my comments to the use of professional, technical terms.

While the media world around us has made enormous leaps in various technologies, methodologies, and philosophies, radio continues to spit out the same spots that were written in 1964 – the only difference being in the placement of the decimal on the price points. The professional, technical term for this practice is “Stupid.” I can’t be kinder about this. While the rest of the civilized world has figured out indoor plumbing, we continue to fill our buckets and throw the contents out our windows and into the street. Then we wonder why passersby keep yelling at us.

Yes, I know. The installation of actual flushing toilets can be an expensive proposition, the cost of which can easily be justified as not being consistent with a satisfactory R.O.I. Still, the methodologies and techniques for making radio spots far more listenable and effective are available. (Operators are standing by.)

That our spots are, for the most part, irritating or altogether unlistenable hardly ever comes up for long or serious discussion. After all, most locally produced commercials are no more than authoritarian demands to buy something and to make that purchase right freakin’ now! So charming and influential they are, too.

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing argument about the value of :30s and :60s. All the 60-second spots do that :30s do not is provide the time to make a longer laundry list and more vacuous claims of superiority on the part of the advertiser. I am convinced that, given a chance to think about it and respond to our spots, many listeners would offer some equivalency of “Please consider my shorts as a source of fine dining.” We (radio and the advertisers) do not require a :60. We are not newspaper-of-the-air. All the damage that needs to be done, we can do in a :30.

Besides, radio is a lousy medium to transfer pure content, especially if there is any expectation of audience retention. We do it anyway because we are compelled to do so – sometimes by advertisers but mostly by our own traditions. Most of us still believe that is what we are supposed to do. Here, however, is where we can shine and excel. What we have always done is not how we can be the most effective. Ours is a medium that, primarily, strikes directly into the emotional capacities of our listeners. This is where we can punch above our weight. Until we learn and accept that fact we are just goofing off. That a medium as pervasive and accessible as ours garners only five percent of available revenue might suggest we are not doing a number of things correctly.

I suppose there might be some expectations that a comment or two on the fusterclucks – the ghettoizing of back-to-back-to-back spots around which both advertisers and audiences plan their days – would be forthcoming. I have telegraphed too much already. Suffice to say, though, that any clinical psychologist who listens to the (above) set of universal, everyday radio strategies from a radio manager might immediately start thinking, “Cha-ching! I now have a client for life! This guy is my kid’s college education!” If the pshrink has any nerve at all, she might also ask, “Are there many more like you?”

Lucky for us that radio is still such a pervasive medium and that even ratty spots sometime have at least a modest impact. All of this, by the way, is in spite of our best efforts to supply the very least we can in advertiser services.

The facts of radio include that the creative budget is competing with the toilet roll/bucket budget. There is little point, therefore, in wondering why, nor should there be any surprise when potential advertisers walk by our studios, and the first thing they remind each other is to “Duck!”

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

(9/7/2013 3:41:50 PM)
uRp9T2 A round of applause for your post. Keep writing.

- NY
(2/28/2013 11:09:09 AM)
An edit capacity would be nice, too. :)
Meanwhile, Steve - and this best be kept on the down low - since radio works best when presented by generating emotions in the audience, "irritation" is one of those emotions. Consequently an irritating spot can be quite impactfull.
The downside is: It's not good for the audience overall - relative to maintaining listenership.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(2/28/2013 11:04:30 AM)

- Ronald T. Robinson
(2/27/2013 11:17:09 PM)
BTW, why does RadioInk's silly comment system have such a low limit on characters per comment? What is this? Twitter?


- Steve
(2/27/2013 11:15:46 PM)

Well, the client was ecstatic.

And it ran in high rotation -- for MONTHS.

We all wanted to slit our throats.

And the darned thing apparently WORKED.

Go figure.

- Steve

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