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Ron Robinson

Radio’s Other Dirty Word


Unless one is willing to accept the tripe propagandized by radio’s elite, larger chargers, there have been few if any satisfactory or convincing arguments put forward for the continuing of the first of the dirty words -- that being “consolidation.” I accept the position that, as a result of consolidation, the following groups have suffered: audiences, advertisers, programmers, middle managers, on-air and creative staffs, along with office support people.

This industry is rife with stories of (alleged) malfeasance directed towards audiences and advertisers and cruelty directed at employees. The weasel-worded justifications supplied by upper management only make witnessing, or worse, participating in the ongoing destruction of the efficacy of radio such a tragic experience. The evidence can also lead one to conclude that corporate sociopaths still have a home base to which they can gravitate.

As to the other dirty word, “Innovation,” if we are not careful, is on its way to becoming accepted as one of those terms that immediately generates a snicker from the cynical and a gut-churning angst in the hopeful. Rather than a label that is applied to an immediate and dynamic process of exciting and worthy changes, “innovation” is offered by radio management as a term of definite/maybe possibilities. “Innovation” is presented as having a similar use to that of a conjurer’s visual distraction. In our case, it is applied as a sleight-of-mouth technique -- one that momentarily neutralizes the quizzical.

This is no time to lapse into a nap-inducing discussion of the linguistic connotations of the word. By definition, innovation is “the act of introducing something new.” And since our technologies have been delivered as outsourced material, we can skip that and rip directly into programming.

But first, it is imperative that we acknowledge that, even when radio folk cry out for innovation, these same folk cannot describe in any detail what exact innovations they want to apply, what form they might take, under which circumstances they would be applicable, who would be the applicators, or how, specifically, they would be applied. By disregarding those mild hiccups and stutters, I’d say we are about ready to roll.

Further, and as I have mentioned before, I believe there is a disturbing majority of senior managers who sincerely believe There is nothing new (no available innovations) out here that apply to radio and, therefore, nothing to learn! I promise I have been listening to senior managers making that very claim for decades. They do so with a straight face. Sometimes I also get snarls and dog-lips. Everything to be known, they already know.

The last semi-real innovation applied to music-radio was the introduction of The Drake Format. Even as it was a methodology to acquire “kiddie-cumes” and was viable for less than 10 years, the twisted, mutant offspring of the format still subtly permeates music radio today. Many programmers aggressively insist that contemporary formatics are just dandy. But, like the argument against evolution, the evidence leads elsewhere. The DNA lines right up. The jury is now elderly and has nodded off. Only the remaining, chronically certain -- those with vested interests -- have something to lose. Namely: business! Modern, micro-biological technologies, however, have only recently revealed that the DNA of the Drake format also contains a vicious, viral component – one that eats programmers’ minds and the bodies of the talent! Programming concepts that were flawed decades ago are still being handed down like trays of sanitized manna.

Meanwhile, any future radio innovations of any consequence will still have to be coming from programming. Unfortunately, this facet of radio lost its luster a long time ago. My prediction is that music radio will not be enjoying new successes of any real consequence until all concerned parties make a most important and necessary distinction.

To survive, an organization must be willing to adjust its dogma. That, or risk becoming radicalized and/or discounted. Radio has its own sets of dogma that have been locked-in for generations. We continue to believe that radio is a direct, one-to-one medium. And oh how we do cling to the position. To the contrary, radio is an indirect medium with an unspecified audience made up of unknown individuals. All our programming and commercial approaches, however, presume we are effective as a “one-to-one” medium. This is not only flat-out incorrect, it is a self-defeating position that lays waste to any further credibility we might be earning from our audiences and advertisers.

For as long as I have been offering this -- the first of a multiple series of innovations -- there has never been supplied a cogent defense of the standard, operating premise. Howling and wild, supportive claims have, of course, been shouted from the corporate boxes as well as the cheap seats. Evidence or explanations have yet to be provided. The proposition stands: One-to-one is a bogus and destructive programming concept.

Until we move on that one innovation, we will continue to do everything that has to do with programming (on-air and commercial production) exactly as it has been done for decades. And we continue to generate the same results – thoroughly unsatisfactory. For us, given our current state, that situation is beyond dirty. It is downright obscene.

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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