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Ron Robinson

Talent Can Em Or Keep Em


There can be but little remorse left in this business. Anybody who has been in radio management over the last 20 years has been squashing talent at a dizzying rate. Thicker skins have evolved and the (normally) human trait of empathy has been severely suppressed. It is now a habit, typing up the following: and we wish them well in their future endeavors.

While I can appreciate how this practice came to be, I have no difficulty in pointing out how this strategy of culling the talent corps has been more akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater and the tub, sink, toilet, shower, vanity, and all the faucets. What remains is a trashed and useless room with a shattered mirror and an irritating echo -- no place to seek comfort or relief.

The first error corporate radio made was in believing the tainted research that started coming out in the late 80s and early 90s (supposedly) demonstrating that what audiences really wanted was: More rock less jocks. Music radio, in particular, went from being an entertainment, informational, and advertising medium, to being strictly an enterprise from which to draw as much profit, with as low an expense base, as possible.

An enormous portion of all three aspects of radio have been systematically cut or curtailed. Emphasis was placed on sales activities and, in time, the word was out: Radio was a questionable buy, especially if an advertiser came to the table without prearranging commercial production and a buy-strategy. Today we are burdened with the fact that even major market stations are ill equipped to supply the necessary writing and production services to fill the actual needs of those unprepared clients.

Overwrought creative departments that have already been sliced to a skeleton staff have been relegated to the same position as assembly line workers who have lost much, and sometimes all, input into the generation of their products. As a result, the products suffer. I might also remind readers that radios products are the spots. Everything else is about gathering and holding an audience to be exposed to those commercials.

Meanwhile, I still have an appreciation of another dynamic that was part of the reason for crippling on-air and creative staffs all those years ago and why the practice continues. They (the staffs) werent all that good! Indeed, while each station did have its stars in the departments, those talented performers did not represent a majority of the players at any given station.

Back to the present. Radio, having already obliterated its talent base, is now, in my view, obliged to attempt to either recruit or train those people who can, over a longer-term, hold and influence an audience. Likewise for creative departments. Actually, the priority belongs in the creative departments. If spots that influence are not being generated, enhancing audience ratings becomes an expensive practice that might provide some bragging rights but not necessarily any greater revenues or advertiser satisfaction. That is, unless the station can get into a position where regional or national buys are assured and commercial content is supplied.

However, the continuing proffering of maudlin, syndicated, and V/Ted programming, along with wholly inadequate commercial writing and production materials, make up the shoddy ingredients that are paving our road to irrelevance. There are even fewer excuses for those stations whose live on-air performers can do little more than provide a smidge of poorly delivered and (arguably) patronizing local content.

There really is only one reasonable and cost-efficient strategy for improving the lot of any single station or larger organization: Training! On-air and creative staffs must be educated and trained to become superior broadcast communicators talent that will consistently produce more effective and more appealing materials over the long term.

Hiring talent that, if they werent gracing the stages of comedy clubs located on the back roads of the country, would be hauled away and institutionalized, is only a strategy for creating a disaster. These are dangerous choices for programmers. These are the performers who dont wear very well on a day-to-day basis, and who would be striking terror into the hearts of management and advertisers. Better, I submit, to have better-trained talent who can maintain and influence an audience over time negating the need for EMS staff standing by to minister to station management.

Im asking for a small indulgence here as I digress a bit. I do stand by my harshest of criticisms of music radio. But, those are also offered with the inclusion of more than a trace of disappointment. I lament for the lost opportunities. I feel for the wasted careers of the talent who are being arbitrarily crippled or altogether discarded. I even empathize with those in management who are being forced into delivering squalid justifications of these shabby results because of a necessity to observe fiduciary obligations.

Besides, the real reason these guys arent attracting the big dollars is because they dont know what to do next. Even so, it may still be worthwhile to cut some radio people a little slack. The very idea that proven strategies and techniques for making massive improvements in the quality of on-air and commercial presentations are readily available may still come as a shocking, if not unbelievable, revelation.

Still, it is incumbent on everyone in radio to consider and challenge the proposition that there are no alternatives. Failure to do so will only guarantee an undesirable and continuing status quo. As to whether to keep or can talent, a better alternative is: Keep who weve got and make em better. Still a tough choice.

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

(5/22/2013 4:58:21 PM)
The good news, Al, is that there are ways off the rocks and on to smooth, enjoyable sailing. The key is in having someone who can handle the tiller and knows navigation.

The bonus is: It will only take a relatively short period of concerted learning, practice and the applications of new techniques and methodologies. We'll be alright.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(5/22/2013 4:20:43 PM)
Agree with Mr. Robinson. Again, in this age of Cumulus and Clear Channel corporately programmed stations with one person doing many stations and turning out horrible radio, by cutting talent etc. And these owners wonder why nobody listens to radio anymore. For shame how they have ruined a once great business.

- Al Gordon

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