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Ron Robinson

Another Lousy Rumor


There are at least two ugly and vicious, but unconnected, rumors going around. One of these is that a video exists of Torontos mayor, Rob Ford, smoking crack with Somalian drug lords. The other is the contention -- from senior radio leadership -- that management has no responsibility to develop on-air or creative talent.

Now, Im ready to stand on my hind ones to squelch both of these nasty assertions and declare that neither of them is remotely based on any evidence. But, I cant do that. As to the former: No evidence has been presented that even begins to corroborate the allegations of Mayor Ford smoking anything naughty with anybody naughty even after $200,000 was raised and offered as the already-demanded payment for the video.

The latter, however, is going to be a bit tougher to prove untrue. This, because broadcast forensics guys have been visiting radio stations, started declaring them as crime scenes, and amassing such overwhelming piles of evidence, they are referring to the impending trials as laffers.

However, even as a self-appointed radio critic, I am withholding a premature judgment on the known suspects -- certainly not before their solicitors get to trot out the Who me? defense. This delay is only to allow for a perception of fairness, although the offenses are clearly obvious: No talent is being developed. No farm system. No educational opportunities.

Radio reminds me of the hungry hound that, every day, keeps discovering a new tail in tantalizingly close proximity, and proceeds to burn up its energy by chasing its own appendage around the room as if it were a food source. Strange, as just down the hall sits a big ol sloppy bowl of Alpo. But, only we know that. The pooch hasnt a clue. Or maybe it forgets.

Lets then, revisit the proposition. Managers claim it is not their responsibility to develop on-air and creative talent. Although I have been hearing different forms of that principle for decades, it is only when I write it down and contemplate all the implications that I realize I am being confronted by a genuine jaw-dropper. Another way of representing this concept could be as a self-inflicted category killer. The category: music radio.

Meanwhile, I also understand I have no jurisdiction to hand out sentences to anybody. I also appreciate that I might be serving my own purposes a little better were I to be less strident in my criticisms. However, since the combination of the monotonous and continuous state of the music radio biz, the transgressions imposed by our own people on our own people and, more importantly, the missed opportunities being so glaring, I am satisfied this is no time for subtleties or deference.

When Im strolling around in my HR boots, I run into other coaches and counselors who have considered similar situations. They describe those who demonstrate these kinds of behaviors as people who are failing to contact the environment. (Thats just a high-fallutin way of saying that folks are unaware of their situation or the consequences of such, and can, therefore, take no remedial or generative action.)

Indeed, we are creatures of habit. In some contexts, thats a very good thing. In others debilitating. Music radio, as we can all agree, is rife with habits, traditions, and expectations. One of these expectations is about talent arriving fully developed, expert, effective, experienced, knowledgeable and with, at best, a manageable set of questionable, personal issues, quirks, tics, and fleas. There is little evidence, however, to support the idea that this is a reasonable expectation. Talent is not being developed. To the contrary, talent is being either suppressed or taken off the board altogether.

Meanwhile, when Im skillfully twirling my HR lariat, I also understand the tactic of affixing blame is a mugs game. It leaves the blamer in a frozen state dependent on someone else to take the responsibilities and the necessary actions to remove the burrs under the blamers saddle. Identifying significant matters-of-consequence, however, can be a very useful exercise.

Although the proposition is offered as Management has no responsibility to develop on-air or creative talent, I am unwilling to accept that as a universally accepted edict. To do so would be an inaccurate and wholly undeserved insult to many owners and managers. What I am willing to accept, though, is the further proposition that so many managers the ones who do realize that if they dont develop talent, nobody else will are at a sincere and genuine loss as to what to do about it, specifically.

Programmers and consultants have, for years, been doing their best to keep their employers or clients' stations from becoming train wrecks of the classic Hollywood tradition. But, even when relatively successful at that, they have stopped there as if avoiding the carnage was enough. My contention is that we are at a time and place in our radio experience where we are obliged to start making drastic improvements in on-air and creative talent. The practices of emergency repair and deckchairology are no longer  enough.

As uncomfortable as the consideration of new (or perceived as new) innovations can be, it is not unreasonable to conclude that continuing to approach talent in the same ways we have been for decades wont improve anything or make the pain go away.

Radio has been marking time on the same ground for so long, we have pounded a hole for ourselves so deep that, compared to other major media, we appear to be dwarves among giants. We are, in fact, utterly responsible for developing our own talent. And so, Its time, as the dentists of the old West said, to bite the bullet. I promise to be gentle.

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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