For more than 30 years, music radio has steadfastly refused to upgrade its talent base in both the on-air and creative departments. No concern. No remorse. I am befuddled. One could speculate that a penguin-style, group psychology may be in play here. Given all the suspiciously dogmatic limitations imposed on it…music radio might be a cult!
There are few positions, if any, more powerful than a faith-based one that arbitrarily, and under threat of severe penalties, forbids any contradictory considerations, assertions, or evidence. “This is true and that’s the way it is!” is a cult-like statement that is neither slightly amusing nor mildly convincing to non-believers. The position, though, is hermetically sealed against all challenges from the membership.
Similar to a cult, music radio has been in lockdown with its own dogma for generations. Radio hasn’t made any, and I mean zero, improvements in broadcast communications during the course of my entire career. Only the technologies have advanced the medium – provided at moderate expense by outside suppliers. Further, an evolution of any kind is rendered impossible because, again, “That’s the way music radio is.”
There have been occasions – while sporting my H/R beanie – that I have been engaged to de-program actual cult members. While an arduous task, I did have a significant advantage in that the individuals with whom I was working had already come to a conscious, intellectual conclusion that they just might be dealing with a less-than-satisfying or useful set of beliefs and values. My task was to assist them in diffusing the pervasive, emotional baggage that came with membership, and to enable them to resist and/or eliminate the old responses that resulted from stimuli (triggers) still in their environment. Tough go, but successful.
However, music radio owners, management, and, yes, performers as well, have yet to arrive at even the primary, intellectual positions. Those being: Radio is something other than a “direct” one-to-one medium or a “demand” medium where members of the audience (“The personal listener”) can be ordered around. It would take a cult-like obedience for any broadcaster to accept those traditional mythologies as true. This is particularly so when no supporting evidence can be presented that cannot, easily and rationally, be discounted, dismembered, and discarded in mere minutes.
I do get frothing, outraged denials along the lines of: “I sure as hell am not part of any cult!” Been there. Got that. My response remains: “Evidence. Got any?”
In recent comments, Radio Ink publisher, Eric Rhoads, speculates on the future of the spoken word in radio. He suggests there may be a possible, maybe necessary, strategy for music radio to survive and prosper by going the route of more talk-oriented formats. The inference I gathered from Eric was that music radio was skating on ever-thinning ice. A reasonable outcome, however, of music radio making changes to some kind of “talk” format would be the proliferation of even more “yappin’ & crappin’.” (Albany with three sports stations!?) Plus, obtaining a credible talent base to staff these new enterprises will unlikely be a simple “shazam-poof!” event.
Music radio, does have a more useful and easier alternative – one that allows for greater or new prosperity. But – and this has always been the rub – the alternative entails resigning from the cult. Also included is the acceptance that presenters in both on-air and creative departments will have to be upgraded and retrained in the skills of working in an indirect and implicative medium. While I prefer “training and coaching,” another appropriate word is “reprogramming.”
A slight digression: Although I represent myself as an interloper from the Great White North, I am beholden, specifically, to four Americans. Two of them were L.A.-based radiomen who mentored and supported me as I was learning more advanced levels of the radio trade-craft. The other two were professorial PhD-types who trained me in the linguistic, neurological, and experiential distinctions that I have been demonstrating, discussing, and promoting over the years. These distinctions were intended to be applicable to H/R, coaching environments. That they also married up to radio presentations spectacularly was as exciting as getting my Chevy from Santa. The first two men taught me radio chops. The latter pair rocketed my coaching and on-air effectiveness. They also directed me out to where buses don’t run – miles from the “Laz Chanz Gaz” station. Even so, I am mightily beholden, and grateful to all of them.
Still, a pervasive, irritating question remains: What can music radio do next? So long as the non-evidentiary, habitual, and faith-based adherence to irrational radio dogma that includes the presuppositions and assumptions we all know, continues to be accepted, we can expect only more of what we are experiencing now. An irony here is that music radio diligently dug in and seized up at around the same time as the Internet was just kicking in. Music radio has yet to respond to that formidable threat. Warning signs were, and are, everywhere. Yet, R&D isn’t even on radio’s “to do” list. Je suis bamboozled.
Meanwhile, another important element in which I was trained is about adjusting, removing, or replacing deeply held beliefs and/or values. A person’s or organization’s ecology requires there must be better, more useful and acceptable beliefs and values conveniently available to replace the old ones. Failure to attend to this dynamic creates a vacuum-of-sorts that will be filled with something else. Unless chosen wisely, the “something else” could be as equally damaging. Enter a different, sinister cult.
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 www.voicetalentguy.com
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