Hollered from the rooftops and from under buses for over two of decades, pundits and consultants, disgruntled former employees, and other generally smart people have been ranting and protesting about the critical need for radio to generate massive improvements in programming and commercial production. Response from the executive suites: SFX: Crickets chirping.
Those radio people who have some grasp of their critical-thinking capacities must be exasperated as they wonder: ?What?s is it really going to take!?? More specifically, they may question what has to happen before radio?s ownership and leadership recognize that which to everybody else in the business is blatantly and glaringly obvious: Station to station, presenter to presenter, spot to spot, and promo to promo, our presentations are an embarrassing mash of incompetence, lack of imagination, and effort.
There is no kind way of putting this. Overall, radio executes our model of communication. I can?t even come up with an example of another commercial enterprise that is as dysfunctional as radio, and that continues to stay in-business. Now, I am fairly confident the majority of radio?s ownership and management are not completely delusional. No. Something else is going on, and, for many, it is pitifully insidious. Still, I have this theory ? a position based on one, main component ? and a little speculation.
The component is about ?motivation? or, more specifically, the lack of it. The last 20 years and more have seen an ownership and top-management group come into radio because of the business opportunities provided by a lessening of ownership rules in North American markets. The exercise of scooping up radio properties at prices that would have bewildered the wildest of some speculators saw corporations buying up stations willy-nilly. They did so with the expectation that, since radio was still considered a money-printing machine, all that was required to cash in was ownership. The rest would take care of itself. It didn?t.
Meanwhile, over time, managers with very limited backgrounds in radio have taken over the helms of local and regional groups of stations ? and whole corporate entities. It is obvious that, as a group, these individuals have been ignoring all the admonitions to improve their products and services. To avoid doing so, say the critics, carries dire consequences ? many of which the industry is already experiencing.
The concept of motivation may be a major factor. Generally, people are motivated towards something, away from something, or by some combination of the two. It is possible that neither of those applies to the greatest majority of radio?s management. That is to say, they are not motivated either way. No matter what has been happening in their organizations, these folks continue to get paid. With occasional exceptions, top management has not been made to suffer anywhere near the degree to which underlings and line-workers have.
That on-air and creative staffs have been ravaged and lacerated to the point of losing consciousness due to the bleeding-out process has not impacted the incomes of the very top management. Nor does this phenomenon seem to register on ownership and management as a factor in radio?s ability to just hang on, never mind transform and dominate.
Due to the general and deep lack of expertise and broadcasting skills inherent in contemporary radio management, the needs for exceptional improvements in programming and commercial production are not considered primary issues. As such, they become of little or no consequence. All that really seems to matter for this bunch is sales. Sales first, last, and only. The rest, they presume, will take care of itself ? it hasn?t, doesn?t, and won?t. Nor will concocting and spinning out some kind of thoroughly artificial and bogus ?story? generate any tangible, long-lasting results. After all, it?s just a ?story? ? a fairy tale. Those kinds of manipulations might get somebody elected, but they won?t do much for an entire industry?s prosperity.
Yet, management thrashes around and flounders ? demonstrating great angst about competing platforms, lack of technologies to demonstrate ROI, conversions of digital sales, social media, and ratings protocols. To be sure, this all seems like very busy ? even meaningful ? work. I have no doubt these are all factors being addressed with full sincerity and force. What any of those have to do with the improvement of radio?s products and services is, obviously, beyond me.
As has been mentioned before, if one wants to know what someone believes, they are encouraged to ignore anything being said by the individual (or corporation), and to pay the closest of attentions to their behaviors. Any mystery is immediately solved.
A particularly painful and barbaric practice, originally credited to the ancient Chinese, was a torture known as ?slow slicing.? It always ? unless pre-planned ? ended in a long, agonizing fatality. The West came to describe this as ?the death of a thousand cuts.?
Through the machinations of interests that control other media, radio is undergoing the beginnings of such treatments. Again, upper management and ownership may be so removed from what is happening, they are likely to be unaware the body of radio is being ever-so-slowly, but deftly, eviscerated.
A more important and tragic irony lies in that management and ownership ? through their lack of interest to make the necessary improvements in products and services ? are, literally, helping out. They do this by applying their own self-inflicted cuts and slashes.
I don?t know how much more viscera will slop onto the floor before these folks realize that all that goo has their own DNA.
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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