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No “Cool” Required

8-1-2014

Recently, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan, said, “Our industry needs to be cool again.” Those reading quickly generate some subjective idea of what he means. To take him literally, though, and move on the premise directly would be a spectacular mistake. Distinctions are required – music-radio being infamous for doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons to the wrong people at the wrong times. Not a stellar record.

“Cool” is not something that can be downloaded as an app. Nor can it be shipped in and bolted on. It is a designation awarded by audiences. Further, the moment anything or anybody is defined as “cool,” one can take that as a sign the individual (or the station) has peaked. It will then be necessary to re-up the efforts and defend the title.

Given that, I am going to vigorously argue against all attempts to become cool, cooler, or to add “coolness.” Besides, “cool” has yet to be defined. Other questions would be: Cool, according to whom? Cool, compared to what? Cool, when? Cool because the station is doing what, specifically? Cool at what cost? Cool, increasing revenues by how much?

Now, if Mr. Smulyan be willing, I would urge him, as he continues to make these kinds of references in his travels, to reframe them to match what (I think) he really means: Radio stations must become more relevant and extraordinarily interesting to its audiences and much more effective for the advertisers. That result might just be the coolest. While the evidence suggests no such dynamic is in play, in the stars, or in the cards, my hope is that could become the desired outcome for someone, somewhere. No dark or guarded secret is it that we are failing our potentials disastrously by providing only minimal and mundane audience and advertiser services.

Radio hardly needs more barbarians at the boundaries, what with the siege engines lined up smartly – outside of arrow, trebuchet, and epithet range. Our leadership has acquired great expertise at systematically sabotaging and gutting us from the inside! We might be left with but one decision: how soon to surrender. For some radio-folk, a valid option is to go full-boogie Benedict Arnold and accept the tenuous future of a righteously indignant and remorseless, hardcore traitor.

I do note, with some enthusiasm of my own, that more pundits are challenging the unwritten taboo against openly criticizing management of the medium, and are launching a few trial balloons of their own over the territory. Perhaps they do this in the hope of positive responses. Perhaps they do so to test the accuracy of anti-balloon batteries protecting management bunkers. For whatever primary reason, it is a worthwhile and necessary activity. Also, it would be safer to run these missions using commercially available R/C drones with GoPro cameras mounted underneath. I, as well, am definitely unwilling to play the part of “live target” in such lethal environments.

Meanwhile, I am not close to senior management or major players in the consolidated wreckage that is corporate radio. I have to be cautious about assuming these same managers are aware of their own malfeasance, or have a willingness to ‘fess up about their part in crippling music-radio trebuchet as they have these last decades.

It is, indeed, going to take the contributions of a number of capable people to generate any real, lasting and/or pervasive improvements within the industry. As others have mentioned – with unchallenged certainty – most of the skilled, cool people have been, or are in the process of being – blown out. “Efficiencies” are often provided as the main justification. How that vapid excuse ever made any sense to anybody remains mysterious. It would be just as easy to say (with a straight face) they were cutting costs in the hope that profitability would remain. On hearing either, brains still erupt and eyes show “tilt.”
 
Another reality radio must consider is that any attempts at trying to attach elements of (so far, unspecified) “cool” to an operation, even if successful, would not automatically provide more or better results for advertisers. The point being: What was the point…?

I have been exploiting this space and my editor’s patience continuously to urge radio-folk to become aware of and apply offered alternatives to the standard representations we make to audiences, advertisers, and, as importantly, each other. I am reminded of the nature of tribal societies – of which radio is one. Commercial music radio became tribal many decades ago. This is evidenced by the pervasive sameness of radio stations everywhere. Station chiefs and medicine men – all, I presume, believers themselves – have determined the dogma by which we must operate and have closed ranks – and all discussion. The other stations, our so-called competition, are equal participants and completely complicit. Everybody’s in on it, knowingly or otherwise.  

My regular, painful exercises of self-flagellation – the monitoring of stations – demonstrate the overwhelmingly innocuous and self-defeating sameness of this medium. The size of ownerships makes no difference. The monster congloms, medium-market ownerships, and the stand-alones are all operating/presenting same-same.

I doubt strongly there is even one substantial ownership group that has come out, or even declared internally: “This sucks! We’re no different from all those guys up and down the street. We copy each other so quickly and so pervasively, we don’t even know who came up with these mindless, useless, and goofy strategies in the first place!”

I remember my Canadian history where the French Catholic Church sent priests to convert the natives from their heathen ways. The good friars would be captured, skinned alive, and roasted on an open fire – yes, just like so many chestnuts. It was only because of overwhelming numbers of foreigners, superior, alien technologies and the resultant decimation of native populations that the church finally prevailed. So, as a single, stand-alone operator, I believe I’ll wait for invitations before I engage. Cool? Groovy.

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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