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Ron Robinson

Radio’s Stalled Development


Way, waaay back in the day, when the sun was still revolving around the earth, sailors were a tad reluctant to venture out past where the eye could see – and for good reason. Nobody was willing to plunge off the edge of the earth into a black abyss because it might be a really swell adventure. And nobody wanted to be ripped and devoured alive by slimed-up, soulless monsters. Everyone knew the facts of what lay beyond the horizon: “There be dragons!”

The nautical community was immobilized by two factors: Ignorance and fear – each feeding off and reinforcing the other. Yes, it would be easy enough to take on a snooty, superior attitude, what with our own ever-so-modern and awesomely enlightened status, and to write those people off as “ignoramuses.” We would be seriously mistaken. Humans have not likely evolved in only 600 years. They were just as relatively smart as anybody today. What they were missing was pertinent information. How long did it take, meanwhile, after some brand-spankin’ new facts were established, for people to pack up and head out on junkets to the Bahamas?

Radio (music-radio in particular) is in exactly the same position as those landlocked citizens of yore. Radio, for decades, has been seriously working the proposition that everything there is to know about radio is already known, and that to even speculate on other possibilities is a foolish waste of time. Granted, ignorance and fear are not necessarily faults. They are normal and natural responses. They are also detriments to research, innovation, and progress. (Columbus had to be extremely more convincing in getting a crew together than by simply exhorting, “C’mon! It’ll be fun!”)

Lack of knowledge and anxiety are alive and fully functional within contemporary radio. The irony is that too many otherwise very smart people are motivated by this position. The compelling evidence for this is that radio has made no attempt to improve the quality of its communicative processes in either on-air or commercial production. Radio relies entirely on one element: sales.

It can be appreciated that, as a result of clinging to this position, radio folk are accepting the status quo as being reasonable and consistent with the natural order of things. After all, the membership of the Flat Earth & Dragon Appreciation Society weren’t gathering at their lodge to challenge their own tenets. Radio people aren’t challenging theirs, either. Again, I am not affixing blame – I am noting the present, accepted standards as the filter through which everything else gets passed, first.

Then, there is the recent phenomenon of radio managers demanding “The Story” be concocted forthwith and marketed heavily to the decision-makers of agencies and potential advertisers. This could be a bit of a toughie as all the radio industry can really point to (with a straight face) is a still very impressive “reach” and some super-stellar advertising successes. These, however, are insufficient for the whole industry to stand and claim as its universal, attributes.

Given the number of radio corporations (of all sizes) and the stand-alone owners of clusters or single stations, a stranger in town would be forgiven if they were expecting to hear a tantalizing, enjoyable, and fulfilling myriad of approaches to radio broadcasting. Such is not the case. Almost everybody does almost everything exactly the same way! There are no significant distinctions made by any of the owners or programmers that would thrust a station or an organization into a position of leadership – never mind dominance. How, one might wonder, is this even possible? The answer, while unpleasant, is obvious: It's a groupthink bound by ignorance and fear.

This is a most unfortunate and distasteful situation for all concerned. Audiences and advertisers remain grossly underserved. Talent goes unhired, untrained, and are unable to be appealing or influential. Sales executives are thrown into the street without exciting and effective product to take to the advertisers. Ownership is forced by circumstances of their own constructing to continuously make decisions that only undermine the potential of their own medium.

In the most recent (and many other) of my articles, ample evidence has been provided to warrant consideration of an entirely new-to-broadcasters model of communications – one that is also consistent with the electronic nature of the medium. The implications of applying an improved set of strategies and techniques to radio are staggering.

Further, I am ever eager to mention the fantastic, long-term successes I have experienced, both on-air and in commercial production. While I do claim a talent and some acquired skills for myself, I point to the applications of these strategies and techniques as the major factors in the successes I have enjoyed in many broadcasting and other environments.

When I am wearing my HR hat, I am constantly aware of the necessity for precise and effective communication with those for whom I am providing counseling or coaching services. Radio audiences and advertisers deserve no less. More importantly, it is the broadcasters who require the precise skills of an effective communicator!

It could benefit owners and managers to note that increases in total listeners and the maintaining of audiences’ attention do have an upside. Providing more appealing programming and more listenable and influential commercial messaging does lead to significantly increased revenues and profits.

However, when anxiety and the lack of knowledge are impacting on attaining exciting and worthy ideals, the situation calls for a serious consideration of how the status quo does not support growth or development. Radio does have options. Radio does not have to commit to massive risks or leaps of faith. Radio can experiment and deal with portions of the available information – piece by piece. Meanwhile, I still like that bit about Columbus’ appeal to potential voyagers: “C’mon! It’ll be fun!”

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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