Current Issue:

Current Issue

On The Cover:
Cumulus Chairman Jeff Marcus

Click here to subscribe to Radio Ink.

Radio Ink Writers

Ron Robinson

Radio’s Last Chance?


There are few challenges screaming back at anyone in this industry who puts forward the proposition that consolidated, corporately owned radio has made of our business – our vocation – a shambles and a charade. What’s worse is that, for many, the very idea that things could be so much better and rewarding doesn’t even occur. Grim.

There are, however, a number of broadcasters in a position to make massive improvements – to their products, services and to their bottom lines. These would be the owners of stations in medium and smaller markets.

Many feel they are obliged to lean on the potential benefits of supplying local content with “live” locally embedded talent. While laudable, and an improvement of a sort, I must report it is a weak proposal. Many broadcasters argue that implementing more local content would be a boon. I suggest the end result would be surprisingly disappointing.

Meanwhile, I put it to astute readers that owners of stations in medium markets still have, at least, the potential of flexibility in their circumstances. There are fewer, if any, rings to kiss for this crowd. The downside is these owners are also operating with the standard-issue sets of dogmatic, communicative traditions that have been passed along through time like a bad case of the mumps. No wonder so many stations phone in “sick.”

Although an unstable generalization, I offer another point by suggesting so many medium market PDs are already infected with the equally sinister “biggie virus.” Here is the bug that rampages in the skulls of those programmers who attempt to emulate major market stations. It’s an insidious little sucker and it drives the ambitious to distraction – so badly do they want to be just like the big city blowtorches.

I am hoping we can agree on this first element. If not, I’m still going to insist that even the newest, abridged Holy Book of Music Radio Formatics is, a.) a work of total fiction; b.) out of date anyway; and, c.) ineffective. I remind the more junior practitioners of music radio that on-air presenter-formats were introduced as Boss Jocks were being originally cultivated. This, primarily, was a way of disciplining the talent who would, otherwise, be losin’ their minds and runnin’ their mouths on the radio. But even, in the process, as PDs were becoming under-achieving control freaks, they also acquired the authority to threaten and punish with impunity. The premise caught on and, like the malaria virus, hangs in there forever.

Before continuing, I want to express my appreciation for the circumstances of the managers, PDs, and talent who toil in the environments that are so typical of corporate, radio organizations. These too are people with family, friends, bills, aspirations, and at least a cryptic understanding of ethics and morals. But, like any kids who have ever found themselves in a schoolyard at the bottom of a dog pile, the ability to scamper about, never mind breathe, is severely restricted by the sheer weight of the inconsiderate frolickers stacked on top of them. It’s a pretty good analogy for those managers toiling under the collective weight of their own corporation’s executives.

Here then, is the strategy – what it is going to take for a medium market radio station to run roughshod over any competing organization while drastically improving their stations’ appeal to audiences, effectiveness for advertisers, and its own profitability.

It will be necessary to arrange for personal trainings of key members of the staff – likely in smaller groups. This is because a station can’t realistically deliver larger groups to the training room and still stay on the air. Also, the training is so comprehensive that a full week is barely enough time to teach the techniques and methodologies for understanding, and to practice them to competency. This approach also allows for these individuals to become the station’s resident, knowledgeable, and skilled in-house trainers. My program is called “Advanced Communications for Broadcast Professionals”. It could also be called “How To Influence Radio Audiences Without Burning Them Down.” Either is appropriate.

I require a representative cross-section of station staff, including, 1. At least one senior manager – an individual who will acquire an understanding of the training and who has the authority to insist on the continuous implementation of the programs covered;  2. One or more PDs are required to attend. Preferably more as they will also have the primary responsibility to re-train the on-air staff and the creative departments; 3. Senior on-air staff – attending in a staggered sequence; 4. Heads of creative departments and a few writers will have to be in attendance. These are the folks who will also be leading and guiding others while generating far more listenable and influential commercial product and station promos; 5. Representatives from the sales staff will participate and be taking a number of new techniques and commercial strategies to the street. They may, where useful, be educating their clients, and will appreciate the new weirdness back at the shop. One week then, for each, mixed group is the time frame.

Immediate and substantial improvement in any station’s performance is beyond desirable. It is necessary. Radio’s presentation-dogma – the traditions – have been on the slab, and should have been declared “dead” decades ago. The Kool-Aid is losing its potency. Plus, the deck chairs have been shuffled so often and so violently, they have become piles of busted sticks attached only by tattered shreds of material flapping in an icy wind.

Indeed, medium- and/or smaller-market station owners may be the last, but sill best hope for this entire industry. That is, IF they are willing to take the next, logical step – mandated, comprehensive upgrading through training, implementation, and continuous practice to the level of automatic competency in actual, broadcast communications skills. This constitutes the “D” part of R&D – a component utterly lacking in the communicative aspects 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