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September 21, 2014

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07/05/99  I Demand An Apology
What do you get when you put a group of hip, 30-year-old, New York City agency creative directors together with a group of good-old-boy suits from Radio? Unrelatability. Disaster. Embarrassment. Shame. Right or not, the big boys in New York are snickering at Radio.
I watched in stunned horror as heads shook in disbelief throughout the room. Others simply dropped their heads into their hands. The embarrassment was palpable.
Radio has spent eight years and tens of millions of dollars building up its credibility in the creative community. Then, this credibility was set back 20 years in one horrific night -- or nightmare.
I sat quietly and listened to the comments around me.
"This set Radio back 10 years."
"What a bunch of losers."
"Let's get this fiasco over with so I can get my award and a drink."
Radio's most embarrassing moment in history happened at this year's Mercury Awards. Decades may pass before they stop talking about the show that killed Radio in the eyes of Madison Avenue.
Harsh? Perhaps. Honest? Always.
Following last year's Radio Mercury Awards, I took a lot of criticism for writing a passionate, heart-felt letter of concern to RAB president Gary Fries. In that letter, I begged the Radio Creative Fund (which the RAB controls, de facto) to reinvent the awards, whose production values had tumbled two years in a row.
The original concept was valid. Hold an enormous black-tie event at the Waldorf. Give out the largest cash awards in the advertising industry. And, put on a great show with a lot of glitz in the hopes of changing the perception that Radio is a second-class medium. It was working.
But, this year's Mercury Awards proved that Radio isn't a second-class medium at all. It's in a much lower class. We reinforced the perception that Radio is inferior.
It's almost too painful to recount the horror of having the event moved from a world-class, crystal-chandeliered ballroom, which hosted a thousand people in formal attire, to a tacky, hammered-looking supper club that barely held three hundred. And, at least half those seats were empty.
It's even more shameful to relive the botched start, a 10-minute pause of dead air. People squirmed in their seats wondering what was happening.
Then, there was a tedious piece of poorly recorded audio which featured a group of judges sitting around talking, while an embarrassingly bad slide was projected onto the screen for an eternity. Attendees stared in disbelief, then the snickering began. I can just hear the planning committee meeting: "We're an audio medium, damn it. We don't need video or production values."
Though host and WKYS morning man Isaac Hayes tried to save the show with his infectious personality, it was like trying to stop the leak in the Titanic with a wad of gum.
In fact, The Mercury Awards went down faster than the Titanic, and I fear they took Radio down with them. We are the laughing stock of the creative community.
"Please don't trash the event, Eric. Offer constructive solutions," said one chagrined board member.
I'm sorry, guys, but I did that last year, and you didn't listen.
Reinventing the awards next year may be like running Ross Perot for president again. I'm not sure people would show up if they resurrected Sinatra.
The Radio Mercury Awards just isn't cool anymore, and cool is pretty important to creative directors. In fact, it's critical.
For the first time in my career, I was ashamed to be in Radio.
Gary, you owe us an apology.



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