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Ron Robinson

Radio’s Missing Priority


I have little doubt that radio executives have long since tired of the constant wail for more “creativity” in on-air content. Their ire and irritation would be greater still from hearing the demands for greater creativity in the writing and production of spots. That nothing is being done to correct both of those issues borders on the criminal. But, it gets worse.
There is an even more important element of broadcasting in play at every radio station in every market. I am unaware of any exceptions. While “creativity” in radio can cover a lot of territory and is hardly specific or universal in its accepted definition and use, there are no readers of this piece who are confused about the concept or the contexts in which “creative” would be, to some degree, worthwhile.
There still remains, meanwhile, a solid, bedrock position from too many in the business that “creative doesn’t sell.” While a ridiculous notion, some, particularly sales executives – and even agency-weenies – do latch on to that one. When questioned for an even somewhat reasonable justification for such a statement, they will respond with some combination of: “Advertisers won’t buy ‘creative’” and/or “Audiences won’t respond to ‘creative’.” These can be labeled as more unsubstantiated dogma – but, real enough.
“Creative,” by anybody’s definition, is absolutely a required component for every radio outfit if they are to have any hope of competing at the top of the pile in any market. Without it, stations will continue to perform as most currently do – flat, listless, uninviting, unappealing, ineffectual, boring, sophomoric, and predictable wastes of frequencies. Yet, as mentioned earlier – it still gets worse.
I will never back away from the position that “creative” is an absolute essential element that must be included in the broadcasts of any outfit that entertains any hope of improvement in effect, appeal, billing, and prosperity. However, the number one priority of every broadcaster – and a priority which has never been addressed by any radio organization ever – is offered here as “clarity and precision in communication.” This is astounding! An outsider would be forgiven if they had been assuming all along that this is what broadcasters would have been concentrating on primarily – with total effort – from the very beginning of radio as a commercial medium.
What is a more spectacular revelation is that radio-people – from the executive suites to line-staff – have never even considered there was a colossal chasm between what was being said on-the-air by broadcasters and what was being understood and acted upon by audiences. Massive assumptions have been made all along – with disastrous results. Radio stagnated decades ago and is now in the process of backing up – to the degree that it may yet be overwhelmed. Real, immediate, and drastic steps are required.
Yes, I read the trades, too. This deal, that deal, more accumulations, amalgamations, and syndications, more blood in the hallways from attempting to become “more efficient,” possibilities of better rating reports and all the rest of the developments that have little to do with the overall health of the industry or of a single station. The old refrain about walking past the graveyard and whistling in the dark comes to mind.
Clarity and precision in communication must be introduced into our broadcasts either before or during the development of the content and creative potentials of a station. I make the argument that [I]unless or until[/I] there is clarity and precision in our communications, most of the effects of any more “creative” would be lost on the audience and advertisers.
I was on the road a week ago and, as an exercise in abject frustration, I forced myself to listen to 800 miles of extraordinarily shoddy, commercial radio. I monitored stations in major, medium, and small markets. While the majors were getting away with their pandering versions of “meager, corporate-slick,” the mediums and smalls were just, to put it tersely, floundering and irrelevant. I cringe when I project into the future with the realization that tomorrow’s talent will be coming from these stations.
The more crazed and deluded of radio’s apologists, meanwhile, keep harping on the fact that music radio still enjoys strong penetrations into their markets. With what degree of attention being paid to these broadcasts, no one can say. Even so, my fear is that radio still enjoys some level of listenership because most radio listeners are also lazy listeners. When the dashboard becomes easier to manipulate or people become more desiring of many other audio options, our days may, very well, be numbered.
Clarity and precision in communication cannot be written off as just a sloppy, milquetoast, philosophic ideal or unsubstantiated theory. Rather, it is an achievable position or state – gained through the application of precise strategies and techniques that are extraordinarily effective when applied in the radio environment.
While there are many more, two of the main factors not yet in play in radio come from first realizations that, 1.) Radio is an indirect medium – not a direct medium; and, 2.) Radio has no authority over its listeners. Yet, we still all ramble on as if radio were a holy, one-to-one experience and that we have the right to tell our listeners what to do. Applying these and other, nasty and horribly incorrect assumptions nails our feet to the floor.
An extra inputting of “creativity” – of some kind, in some environments, and to some degree – will do little harm. I doubt strongly, though, that such an injection will be making all that much difference. I am also projecting that most managers have an innate sense – an ongoing intuition – that this, unfortunately but accurately, defines the case. “What profitable use,” they may wonder, “to spending more on ‘creative’?”
The first way to go, then, and the only viable avenue still left open to music radio, is down the road marked Clarity and Precision in Communication.

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