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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

(TALENT) Without Within


How radio will be accessed in the near and distant futures has been a major topic of conversation and concern, and, in many cases ? concerned conversation. While transmitted signals will be around for the foreseeable future, other platforms have already come into play. To what degree should ownership concentrate on what platform(s)? Even the gamblers are grumbling.

The fight to claim the dashboard, I submit, is already a lost cause. But, it is not just because radio will be tossed in with all the other audio sources, and will have to be accessed on purpose and with the technical knowledge of how to do that on the part of drivers and passengers. It is because radio will not be as appealing as many other sources that will be equally available!

I just finished a couple of 10-hour road trips and, unlike the last time, I stayed away from spending a lot of time monitoring stations. Even when I do sweep the dial, I do so with the (foolish by now) expectation that I might find something worthwhile and enjoyable. It is a fool?s errand and I am the fool. It never happens.

I did, however, latch on to one signal that was a stand-alone, mom-and-pop operation. (This was confirmed later.) The evidence was that there was no corporate formatting in play and that the on-air host was rambling, babbling, and falling all over himself ? after each cut. During this daypart, the station was presenting Country Classics. Maybe the corn-pone delivery should have come as no surprise.

Now, for the weirdness: The show was almost listenable!

As a professional broadcast communicator, I recognized the shambles that was the station?s commercials, promos, and on-air presentation. I noticed the lack of structure and purpose in the spoken portions. I was fully aware of the linguistic violations being perpetrated on an otherwise undeserving and innocent audience. I understood the number of lost opportunities to appeal to, connect with, entertain, inform, and yes, even influence the audience.

Meanwhile, despite all that, and even as the talent was making attempts at trying to sound like a bona fide ?Country DJ,? there were still sparks of charm, frailty, fun, interest, and enthusiasm ? along with the singularity that comes from a unique personality who is on the air with regularity and is, of course, ?live.?

This report is more about the total lack of all these human elements in most on-air presenters working today ? a consequence of being forced to work shackled in programming chains and in being kept on-script for short moments. This report is about how radio has cleared out almost all of the organic, human capacities and potentials to communicate that exist elsewhere ? anywhere but on the air.

Now, the question about whether I would recommend this individual as a hire could be asked. My answer would have to be a resounding, clamorous, and unequivocal ?No.! Of course not.? Not unless I was to train him first!

Having drawn that line, I can still admit this presenter did provide some elements of an extremely valuable and rare commodity: Companionship. Broadcasters mumble about ?companionship? as much as they prattle on about radio?s ability to deliver the hallowed, but still impossible, ?one-to-one? experience. These assumptions are no more than oft-repeated hymns and liturgies based on undemonstrated, unsubstantiated radio dogma. In other words: Nonsense worthy only of warnings, criticisms, and ridicule. Boos, hisses, and catcalls would not be out of line.

With only rare exceptions, radio is treating its audiences and advertisers to the worst of the worst. If someone were planning to do the shoddiest job possible of communicating to large audiences, radio would serve as its only required benchmark.

When an on-air presenter who is so dysfunctional, untrained, unskilled, and unaware of their own malfunctions can still offer something actually worthwhile to an audience ? even for a little while ? it is time for radio?s ownership and management to rethink and readdress what it is we are supposed to be doing for a living. I mean, an honest living. I insist that this individual was not a medium representative of the station?s target audience. No mean audience is that unsophisticated. This guy was the poster-boy for ?dumb and hokey.?

Given those examples of the state of most of radio today, owners and management have every reason to be concerned about the proliferation of platforms for accessing audio sources. The possibility of losing what was once a semi-captive audience behind the wheel is another missile that has been targeted, launched, and flies as we speak.

Our (radio?s) primary responsibility is to begin the knowledge acquisition and training necessary to make of our medium a more effective, more listenable, more appealing, and more influential resource for both audiences and advertisers. The alternative, based on the status quo, is to either bland or hokey ourselves out of relevance. Wait a sec? we?re already doing that!

How platforms and dashboards and such get sorted out is, essentially, beyond the control of anybody in this business. The irony is in the fact that what we could control ? our capacities for superior communications ? we ignore. In some cases we will go so far as to ridicule the very possibility of exercising such control.

Our challenges are less about what is transpiring on the outside, but rather what is not going on within.

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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