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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TALENT)No Radio For Rocky


As a younger jock pulling afternoon drive and playing in a band on weekends, I had enough coin in my jeans to drive around and hit all the fast-food outlets. I was doing the spots for an independent outfit that sold tons of burgers ? at way under market price (and quality). So, easy access to a lousy diet was never an issue. This foody?s radio expenses, like his burgers, would choke a horse. Our station was Top 40 ? budget locked in.

?Rocky?s? was the exception ? a glorious exception. Rocky?s was a hot dog vendor about a mile outside of town ? a short distance from the imposing main gate of the prison grounds. The young, local guys were all warned of this hoosegow of horrors and cruelty, and of the emotional scars resulting from serving ?a deuce-less? ? two years, less a day.

Every night, meanwhile, a twitchy truce was in place under the brilliant floodlights and glowing neon at Rocky?s. Hot-rodders, bikers, high school teen-queens and the ?bad girls? with their greaser, boot-fighting, shiv-packin? boyfriends all gathered and mingled. Also in the unlikely mix were the suburban kids in their moms? Corvairs and their dads? Pontiacs and Fairlanes. Even the capped and sweatered MGB, Triumph, and Austin-Healey bunch ? they with tuning tools in the trunk ? would attend. People drove out, and for the last hundred yards, tantalized noses led them to the parking lot, there to pose, preen and dream, and to scarf down Rocky?s foot-longs. 

There was no guarded secret about Rocky?s dogs. They were always served on soft, hot and moist buns. A mix of sweet, green relish and finely chopped onions was arbitrarily slathered on the bun under the weenie and again on top, but behind the counter. Ketchup, mustard and napkins were on wall-counters by the ?fishbowl? ? the smudged front picture window. No mystery menu there.

Rocky did not spend a dime on advertising. The building and parking lot would have had to be massively expanded to handle any extra business resulting from advertising. There was nobody in town, anyway, who didn?t already know about the place. It had been around for, like, forever ? certainly well before anybody ever heard of an ?A&W? or a  ?McD?s?. Besides, ?market domination? was never part of Rocky?s lexicon. He liked to talk about shutting the hot dog stand down in November and heading out for 5 months of boating, fishing, diving and debauchery in Key Largo.

Meanwhile, the other fast-food franchisees were maintaining the radio station?s position of having ?a license to print money.? Stations then were still fully staffed with ?live? presenters in all day-parts. The creative departments were topped off with individuals constantly hunched over their IBM Selectrics, typing the hype and getting it into production. The production department was run by two guys ? one a talented, technical whiz, and the other a reformed prison graduate who still used Brylcreem. We also had a weekend dubber.

Although we didn?t discuss it openly at the station, it was clear that some retailers didn?t need to advertise. There weren?t many of those, but they did exist, and Rocky?s was the prime example. Rocky?s was an Already Famous And Uniquely Outstanding Enterprise where all the others in the same or similar category were definitely not.

Advertising, then, asked the required fee that is charged to businesses who are not already famous and uniquely outstanding. And that includes most retailers. ?But, wait! There?s more!? (This is very exciting information for radio.) Those businesses that never reach the pinnacle of being known as already famous and uniquely outstanding in their categories begin to slide when they reduce, or worse, quit advertising! That?s great for radio.

Local, commercial stations are enterprises that are neither already famous nor uniquely outstanding ? not known for abilities to produce appealing and effective commercial messaging. They don?t do it because they can?t do it. They don?t know how. They don?t seem to want to know how. Commercial production has always been offered as a no-extra-charge add-on to a time-buy. Commercial production has always been a throwaway, and it has always sounded like it, too. Still does.

It started at a time when ripping copy out of typewriters and reading 20-60 spots on any given day were parts of the tedious, by-rote chores ? un-invoiced work that had to be done. Anything more than a straight read over a single music track was considered a waste of time and a drain on everybody. ?Creative? discussions were usually reserved for bitching sessions ? after work!

Those of us who were weaned on quarter-inch tape and razor blades were cutting our teeth in (comparatively) limited, production environments. We have an appreciation for what was involved in generating a complex production-piece. It was often done on our own time, what with daily, meatball production being what it was?and still is. That technology has improved massively has made little difference.

Elsewhere, a few contemporary managers are beginning to crow about the industry ?embracing change.? They are vague about what those changes might be, or how to, specifically, accomplish them. I have yet to read how the generation of superior commercial messaging has become a priority. I understand that. This is because, again, they do not know how. They do not know anybody who does know how, and they are reluctant to invest in finding those who do. Likewise for most on-air talent. Sorry.

I read how some managers are starting to add ?live? talent to their rosters again. Practically ? and I am troubled to have to say so ? this is a very risky strategy. There is no evidence that ?live? means success. Fact: The majority of on-air staff are unqualified and ill-prepared as broadcast communicators, and are likely to be more, additional ?tune-out factors.? Success is still possible in future. Today, though, we sure ain?t no Rocky?s.

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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