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Ron Robinson

Radio Budgies


I was mistaken. It may be worse than I thought. Over the last few weeks I have had discussions with a diverse group of individuals including radio sales managers, creative agency heads, talent representation, talent, and programmers. While I have long been aware of the positions on radio held by these folks in their respective specialties, I was still staggered. To a man – and a woman – they still have it dead wrong!

As creative departments continue to be trimmed out of the local mix, there is still a faint glimmer that what is left can hang on or that outside agencies could pick up the slack. Even as the odd agency might be engaged and, indeed, produce something worthy of being aired, there is still the underlying, often spoken assumption that, in the first and final analysis, “Creative doesn’t sell!” In other words: An audience of potential customers can only be influenced by pure content – savings, selections, service, benefits, comparisons etc. This is about as likely as a series of cracked ladder rungs continuing to support people who really should know better. There is also a sickening, implied irony.

Those glorious tunes, meanwhile, upon which music-radio is completely dependent, do one thing extraordinarily well – generate fantastic emotional responses in the audience. It is this singular factor that has made music-radio a viable and valued medium for many decades. (That singularity, however, dwindles as other media intrude into whatever monopoly radio once enjoyed.)

The irony is in the separate assumption of radio people that the very responses generated by the music are no longer pertinent when it comes to commercial production or talent presentation. Those of us who toil in H/R couldn't agree less.

Meanwhile, these same folks lean on the contention that for a radio commercial to be effective, conscious recall on the part of the audience is an absolute necessity. The assumption here is: "No other factors are involved in generating behavior other than that which is in the consciousness of a listener." If that were true, radio would have been out of business before the Eisenhower administration had wrapped up. Again, were we to ask anybody what were the last three radio commercials they heard where they went out and bought the product or service, it is unlikely anybody would get past one, if that. Massive fail! Based on that alone, logic demands we hand in our resignations. Instead, we continue to parrot the mantra, the dogma.

Further, there is the very related matter of the number of radio-types (assuredly a significant majority) who sincerely believe the socially acceptable and effective behavior in the generation of commercials mandates the presentation of the advertiser’s “facts.” Snide comparisons to the competition are optional. But, then they blow those niceties out of the water by demanding the listener “come on down and make your best deal today.” Creative Directors justify this ignorant and antagonistic demand-for-behavior by labeling it a “call to action.” The writers have assumed that conscious, rational consideration of the advertiser’s so-called benefits by the listener to be the only factor in play and that this practice constitutes an appropriate and acceptable method of presenting an advertiser’s message. Plus, we compound the insult to our audiences and injury to our advertisers by training our own self-induced limitations into those same advertisers. Now – no surprise – that is exactly what advertisers expect and demand.

A more effective strategy is the one in which writers and producers do everything they can to influence, urge, cajole, tease, massage and, yes, manipulate the audience – all accomplished by generating emotions! That’s the job! This comes with the following understanding – offered here as a fact: Conscious recall is not required to generate behavior. Have we in radio yet to factor this is in? No. Instead, we continue to parrot the mantra, the dogma.

Marshall McLuhan, a wily, Canadian, philosopher-guy, is credited for coining a couple of nifty terms and phrases. 1. “The global village,” and 2. “The medium is the message.” But, he was misquoted on the second. What he actually said was, “The medium is the massage.” He was referencing the innate power that media, particularly electronic media, enjoys – simply by being accessed. That harkens back to my earlier assertion that radio, without this innate power, would have been long gone before “Ike” had packed it in. Does radio take these aspects of electronic media into account? No. Instead, we continue to parrot the mantra, the dogma.

When we were kids, my sister and I enjoyed the standard-issue retinue of pets – a dog, a cat, and a blue budgie my mom named “Sweetie.” By constantly repeating the same sentence, Mom taught the bird how to say, “Go to hell, Bob!” – my dad’s name. Dad came home from work one evening; walked into the kitchen – the location of Sweetie’s cage – and, from a grating, high-pitched squawk, heard, “Go to hell, Bob!” Gales of laughter ensued from almost all quarters. This carried on for maybe a week. One morning, my mom was shocked and chagrined to find Sweetie hanging upside-down from his perch. Nothing more on the matter was spoken.

This is what is occurring in radio as flawed information is accepted, acted-on, and repeated. No fault on the part of those into whom the mantra – the dogma – has been injected. However, an urging to re-think this situation is cordially offered. Meanwhile, the fact remains: While gently swaddled in tissues and somberly laid to rest in a shaded area at the back of the garden in a never-to-rot jam jar, Sweetie is still one, prematurely-dead budgie.

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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