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Ron Robinson

Wanted: Emergency Confessions


Innovations naturally and instantly garner their share of critics. Sharp stones are strewn along the roads of that territory, especially where disconcerting concepts are being introduced. What surprises, though, is how the detractors retaliate with toxic, but extremely vague, assertions while supplying no evidence.

I have, meanwhile, often been accused of having a “negative” attitude about radio. To the contrary, I am absolutely thrilled and continuously excited about the potential of radio as an entertainment, informational and, more significantly, a powerful advertising medium. Fortunately for us, radio already has a powerful innate influence – no matter what we try do to it.

That I am critical of how radio is being delivered is but promoting the need for, and benefits of, taking this stalled medium to another, higher level of execution. When the fact of radio generating about five percent of available advertising is introduced to the chat for consideration, management emotions engage. That’s when they vacate their seats and charge for the concessions for more beer, dogs, and nachos. Some hide in the lavatories. Doesn’t change much, though. When the boo-birds do wander back, the score has become irrelevant. The home team is getting hammered again. More hisses and catcalls crank up.

Many of radio’s leadership, when confronted with the idea that their commercials – their products – represent some of the worst examples of professional advertising being produced, respond as if they had just been t-boned by a truck driven by a disgruntled employee. When they realize they are neither dead nor injured, they immediately attack the bearer of the news that they were weaving all over the highway, mostly on the wrong side. Lawyers refuse to take their calls.

When a station is so bereft of talent that a major portion of the copy is written either by the sales staff or the clients themselves, there are few reasons to engage in the formalities or expense of a silly jury trial. When the people who actually do write the copy are in a constant state of exhaustion from lack of help or support, it is easy to appreciate how desire and motivation are gone. Or worse – withheld.

Marc Morgan, a learned and respected friend to Radio Ink, has already described the behaviors of much of radio’s leadership as consistent with that of a colony of penguins. Where one goes, they all follow. Where one stays, they all stay. Radio’s leadership certainly enjoys that kind of conformity from employees. But they don’t see that the analogy also applies to themselves. Besides, I have yet to find even the most talented of penguins that could manage or write itself off an ice floe. The best thing to be, when around penguins, is a leopard seal.

Meanwhile, Marc makes a number of other astute observations in his article, here:

One of these comments is about the propensity of radio managers who are grudgingly dug-in on their refusals to acknowledge any past errors – to strenuously avoid "fessin" up. People refuse to admit errors because to do so will, first, diminish or negate the value of past experiences. Plus, as a result, more work will be required. That vast improvements are possible by addressing these issues is not a consideration. An admission of any kind is treated with the same kind of sphincter-clenching terror as that of being pushed out of a smoking C-130 “Herc” without a parachute – even though the plane is still in the hangar. (The fantasy is often far more disturbing than the reality.)

Radio corporations have become little more than engines to generate time sales – The Mandate. Programming and the creation of commercials are approached with the same disdain as the mandatory pollution controls that inhibit all-out performance. That more and more programming is delivered with week-old pizzas in the trunk of a ’79 Lada is of no real concern -- so long as senior managers have a delightfully sumptuous buffet in the back.

When I do a search on “criminal intentions,” I get references to radio’s strategy of delivering poorly executed spot-loads in such massive clusters that warnings really ought to be supplied. A notice of “The following may be unfit for human consumption” would at least serve as a friendly “heads-up.”

So, if I were a little grey alien arriving from an interstellar region, or even a Canadian broadcaster just off the Toronto mayor’s coke-sleigh, here is what I would notice: Broadcasters who pay little attention to the products (spots) they produce in order to help(?) advertisers influence an audience. Spots ghettoized into mind numbing-clusters -- guaranteeing a drop-off in listener attention and client satisfaction. Broadcasters offering as little as possible in their programming efforts to hold an audience and thus, failing in motivating more people to stay tuned in order to be treated to the (alleged) commercial content.

Radio is so tragically overdue for a transformative process. Since the spots are our actual product and programming is supposed to appeal to an audience, I suggest we start there. Yes, creating creative Creative, I will grant, is more an art form, and we would be well served to support those who can, even occasionally, pull it off. Generating effective radio commercial copy, however, is not art. That’s a technical skill. Given our immediate needs -- the most critically necessary skill. It is well past time we taught those skills. This applies equally to on-air presentations, as well. I suspect the sales staff will be deliriously appreciative. I, for one, am very excited.

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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