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Indifference At The Choke Point

8-28-2013
 
Through the years of slaving over a hot microphone or toiling at typing the hype, most of the intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and outrageously funny people I have met have been in radio. Many of those were in management! (ba-dup-bum!) So, what is it that stops these folks from clearly recognizing the state of our business -- and stepping up to bust down walls and fix it?

What follows is not an exclusive belief of mine. Radio Ink publisher Eric Rhoads also identified it in an earlier editorial. I can, however, muse on how pervasive this particular position really is in radio. My experience suggests that it is dangerously so. This state is hardly ever considered, as a position that can and still does have a crippling, long-term effect. That being indifference/complacency.

Most of us have learned some knee-jerk responses when we are presented with affection or derision. Its when we run up against indifference that we scramble about for behaviors that are appropriate and useful. Its safe to project that where complacency resides, innovation is the first element that gets kicked over the side. Music radio is especially rife with this scenario, where the (alleged) innovators suddenly find themselves treading water where there be unsympathetic and indifferent sharks.

I face an irony, depending on which hat I am wearing. If its my H/R hat, I get to challenge -- with impunity -- any position a client presents. My clients may not enjoy the experience, but we have already negotiated a deal where they have agreed to participate fully.

With radio management, its a different story. They have no qualms about delivering, subtly or straight out, the following messages, whether challenged or not:

1. Youre here to sell me something and I dont care what it is -- Im not buying!
2. There is nothing about this business you know that I dont already know.
3. Ive got mine and youre not going to mess with it. Notice my boat in the photograph facing you on my desk. Im getting a bigger one.
4. I have all the influence here and I am unwilling to give any of it up, particularly to somebody I dont know and over whom I dont have absolute control.
5. I am, already, a busy person. Whatever it is you are pushing at me, I would have to put even more time, effort, and resources toward it. That aint happening.

Those are not examples of statements that reveal an individual who is so ensconced in indifference and complacency that any consideration of development, improvement, or innovation is perceived as counterproductive. They are statements from a person whose personal position is being challenged. Indifference and complacency are still, however, the baseline positions. The personal position, however, does impact on the corporate results. One need not read the tealeaves or consult the stars to predict an eventual, if not imminent, demise in the enterprises these individuals are leading. Like large, crippled ships, many of them with already-blown boilers, they only seem to be underway -- because of accumulated momentum. (see: Isaac Newton.)

Barbed criticisms notwithstanding, I remind myself that we all -- in some contexts -- are as guilty of indifference and complacency. An admission, however, still doesnt grant a free pass. To the contrary, these attitudes have been slowly wrecking our business for decades. It may not be long before we talk about radio having passed from a death of a thousand cuts, mostly self-administered. Blood trails are everywhere.

Meanwhile, as I write this, its a chilly evening for baseball in Oakland. The TV coverage flickers on low volume behind me. The As are playing the Blue Jays who are all hustling for a chance at securing a spot on the roster for next year. Still, all the regular support-staff are there: the coaches, trainers, medical staff, and the bus driver. He hunches over slightly beside his coach, cupping his hands in practiced fashion after flipping up the collar of his jacket to break the wind, and fires up a filtered Camel -- grateful for honest work with a trustworthy organization. If radios general managers were running ball clubs, none of that support staff would be employed, and the athletes would be responsible for arranging their own rides home. But, we dont have their budgets! say station managers. That regrettable circumstance is because were not so good at what we do!

What is also unfortunate is that a radio manager under the influence of indifference and/or complacency may not even notice the distinctions being drawn here. Anybody who prefers the status quo over, say, a poke in the eye from a pointy stick can be forgiven for wanting to avoid the latter. That many are applying their own tools to sharpening such a stick may not even occur.

Even as radios talent-base continues to be among those who have yet to realize there is so much more to learn about communicating through an electronic medium, I believe. In the meantime, I can identify the choke point. It is not, especially in corporate radio, with the local PDs or GMs or the on-air and creative talent. The most restrictive choke point is in the executive suites -- the executive PDs and top management. Are they not somewhat insulated by their relatively high levels of income? Are they not complacent and indifferent about considering the needs of the audiences and the advertisers in order to maintain their own positions? Are they not equally, and most importantly, indifferent to the wails for support, assistance, or some freedom-to-innovate from below?

Indeed, indifference and complacency are the invisible, tasteless, odorless gasses that may choke out an otherwise undeserving, but still extremely vulnerable, sub-species -- those of us in radio!

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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