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Ron Robinson

Radio Pow-Pow-Power?


While suppressing one of those sighs Charlie Brown issues after another of his failed attempts at anything, I respond here to a recent article in Radio Ink. Once again, that aged, bitter chestnut was dragged out the one about radio not being able to tell its own story. The headline to which I am referring is the following: Top 40 Power Quote: Consumers Do Not Know About the Power of Radio.

Elsewhere in the piece, somebody said, "I sincerely wish that we could take the brightest radio creative people, lock them in a room and not let them out till there was a list of credible ideas on how to market radio. Keen-a-roni! The only results of that exercise, I submit, would be that the cloistered, bright radio-people would have gone ape-snake crazy and starved to death, and radio would be no better off. All that wasted effort expended on unrealized expectations because radio still doesnt have a compelling story to market! Yes, there are some glittering flukes, a few advertising jewels that occasionally pop up, and some titillating anecdotes getting passed around. Thats about it.

Before addressing the most important element, let me respond to the first conclusion. The headline reads: Consumers Do Not Know About the Power of Radio. What consumers, I wonder, are we talking about? Listeners? Advertisers? Both? It doesnt matter, anyway. Listeners can be excused as people who have absolutely no need to know about the power of radio. Advertisers dont have to be intellectually aware of, or schooled in, this suspiciously alleged power either. All they want are demonstrated results. The rest is sales-speak. And that pretty much wipes out the list of people who need to know about this so-called power. All right, not quite the entire list.

The people who do need to know about this vaguely referenced and wholly unexplained power of radio are the broadcasters themselves the owners, managers, sales staffs and talent-base. They do not know.
- They cant offer a written description.
- They cant articulate it.
- They cant demonstrate it.
- They cant exploit or market it.
- They cant teach it. And,
- They refuse to acknowledge they not only dont know; they are also unwilling to learn what they need to know.

Those who do make the attempt at an explanation find themselves flailing around with non-specific, patronizing platitudes becausethats all they have. Some wisely avoid the discussion altogether.

Meanwhile, it is easy to tell when an organization is operating under some form of negative stresses or opposition internal and/or external. Being unable to provide viable alternatives to enhance their own position or that of their clients they are supposedly serving, they are obliged to trot out a litany of good works. In radios case, these will consist of the efforts a station makes for the betterment of the community in which it does business. Laudable, to be sure. Necessary? Perhaps. Mostly, however, these activities serve as a weak smokescreen, partially concealing the fact the station is under-performing for its advertisers. Some might argue that the same applies to its audience. Now, Im not suggesting this is either a cynical or intentional strategy. But, it does crop up often enough as to generate some curiosity.

These, by now, severely stultifying topics of improving radio and telling radios story still rear up regularly. Pundits, cheerleaders, and the desperate line up to ring out the same tired and frail Rx suggestions including expanded playlists, more local content, more live on-air presenters, less dog-piling of spots, etc. All worthy, but still providing minimal impact. Managers weakly stifle obvious yawns. This, because one can reasonably assume they already know everything they need to know. All will be solved, they insist, by kicking a few more sales reps butts. Effortlessly overwhelming the lowly, more pious radio-monks, they holler: Its a numbers game, stupid! Go!

Those of us who are lifelong broadcasters were, except for the last 20 years or so, operating in large bodies of fresh, calm waters. We could paddle our canoes with no concern for weather or waves. We had healthy fish to fry and clean water to drink. We could swim and frolic anywhere. However, the waters have since become polluted; the fish stocks depleted, and weather patterns become erratic, generating more powerful storms. Bull (Zambezi) sharks have encroached in numbers from the oceans. Plus, now thar be crazed, scurvy pirates preparing to board. The message: We need a bigger boat!

Even the most creative of radio-types will be hard-pressed to supply a strategy for marketing Radios Story. This, again, because radio does not yet have a story. We wont be getting one, either, until and unless the leadership have an explicit understanding of the power of radio. Until then, any attempts to communicate this desirable but, so far, nebulous tale will be feeble, and also be rendered ineffectual.

Gloriously lucky for us, then, that radio does have power! Unlimited power! But, it is an innate power a power that is embedded within the medium because of its electronic process-of-delivery. Until we fully understand the particulars and nuances of those dynamics, we will never be in a position to exploit this implicit and extraordinary opportunity. Either way, the implications are serious. (Operators are standing by.)

Over 20 years have passed since the corporate occupations and subsequent surrenders plenty of time for all involved to have this thing figured out. Instead, what radio has acquired over these years is the ability to fire blanks noisy sometimes, but generally harmless. As I mentioned in an earlier article, this is what comes from cult-like principles being applied. Strict adherence to radio dogma is mandatory. No evolutionary evidence and principles are yet allowed for consideration. Meanwhile, Charlie Browns shoulders droop in resignation as he sighs and mutters, Aw, rats.

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