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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

TALENT)Radio's Wasteland


In a recent RadioInk article, noted and respected programmer Randy Lane offered a list of environments in which radio managers might find new talent. It is a legitimate list and going through the process might bear fruit. Senior radio-people, however, will appreciate the irony right away. There was a time when young wannabes were crawling all over each other to get a shot at being on the air. No more.

Meanwhile, Randy?s list included:
Every person you meet (a receptionist, gyms, restaurants/bars, stores, events, etc.)
Conduct your own Radio Star contest
Phone screeners
Local TV stations and newspapers
Your panel of experts
Comedy and improvisation clubs/groups.

Indeed, these environments are inhabited by numbers of clever, bright, intelligent, witty, socially-conscious, and personable individuals ? many with pulses and some with no income expectations. My comment is: ?That?s nice. I guess.? My questions are: Now what? Into what dayparts are these folks going to be thrown? How often will they be cracking a mic each hour? Under what content restrictions will these poor lambs be toiling? How are they to acquire even the most basic of a broadcast communicator?s knowledge and skills? Who is going to bring them up to speed before they embarrass themselves and their station?

Last week, during a family move to a smaller community with drastically shorter drive times and better sailing conditions, I made a 21-hour run. The technical term for this behavior is ?stupid? and I promise to never do that again. The last 11 hours of that trek was through the dark ? a great opportunity, I thought, to pick up some night signals and programming from stations near and distant. What a total disappointment that was!

During the whole night, I did not hear one ?live? voice from any music-radio outlet. Not one. The V/T?ing I was subjected to was disgraceful ? poorly articulated by announcers going through the motions of delivering, almost exclusively, station-oriented, promotional bull****. There are no better ways to put it. The whole radio world within reach for me had been thrown into the ?automatic? mode. It was about as satisfying as snacking on cardboard. And yet, if there was ever a daypart for young or new inductees into the jock ranks, pulling overnights in a Buffalo Groin, Montana or any small-market station would be the place to start. Senior guys know exactly what I am talking about.

Meanwhile, here is what truly troubles me about Randy?s list: There is a presupposition that finding ?talent? in the nooks, crannies, and beside the curbs of society is not only about a great set of sources, but that the mere act of recruitment would be all it took to satisfy radio?s now obvious and critical need for competent on-air talent.

As I have insisted often, heaving untrained talent on the air is not only an act of abject desperation, it is a recipe for a very expensive set of disasters-to-follow. Contemporary programmers are at a loss as to what, specifically, to do about it.

From time to time, a programmer will jump into the fray and pen a number of old adages and platitudes that have, historically, done little more than suppress and shackle talent, in order to achieve some poorly-established form of ?control? and ?consistency.? At the risk of sounding like a backsliding agnostic to the religiosity of radio ? it ain?t workin?.

But first, let us all be clear and up front about radio running strictly on unsubstantiated corporate and programming dogma. The written and (mostly) unwritten rules of radio, as they concern programming and the generation of creative, have made of our enterprise a congregation of rambling, babbling basket cases, waiting for rooms to open up at the institutions. Radio programmers have not come up with anything worthwhile since ?The Drake Format? (and its immediate copycats) revolutionized Top-40 radio. Both senior and newer radio types must be reminded that the purpose of these formats was to generate ?kiddie cumes.? That they accomplished. Nothing more.

Unfortunately, the principles of the format were retained over the years until talent had been, essentially, made unnecessary ? according to the format. The formatics were laid over most demographic programming, and we have an anemic industry as a result.

As an industry lead by corporate poo-bahs who are sporting little knowledge of the enterprises at which they have been placed in charge, we are stark raving, categorically, and certifiably nuts. Only crazy people act against their own best interests so consistently and with such grim fervor.

In my last offering, I pointed out that radio has yet to address its own ?Primary Technology,? that being the development and presentation of the English language ? consistent with the goals of any broadcast communicator to entertain, inform, and influence. Every other challenge that radio faces pales by comparison. Without the skills and knowledge to entertain, inform, and influence with supreme competencies, we remain relegated to our own wastelands.

Radio needs the newbies to be working overnights ? practicing, experimenting, and gaining skills and confidence. Problem: There is nobody around with any real expertise to teach them how to do any of that, with specificity. The Radio Wasteland is a real place. We?re in it. And here we might very well remain.

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

(10/10/2014 12:10:40 PM)
It's okay to cut yourself some slack, mike, as yours is a most valid and important point. Even a "one-trick-pony" does its act extremely well.
And yes, hooking up with that one guy in that one organization means I'm living the dream.
But, it won't do much for radio-in-general.
Too bad, too, as gawd knows we (radio) have been ready for such a transformation for about 2 decades too long.
(10/10/2014 9:40:49 AM)
I realize I sound like a one trick pony but that is the environment in which I work. There is little interest in putting out a superlative product and capitalizing on radio's strengths. Instead the attitude seems to be: Not the best but good enough. At any rate, yes you are barking up a very tall Redwood. As you once pointed out to me, if only one company wakes up and follows your advice, then it is probably worth it.
(10/8/2014 12:26:30 PM)
It's not that I am wrong, mike. I am categorically correct and accurate.
If, however, you might be suggesting that I am barking up a very tall tree - that I can accept.
(10/8/2014 11:30:20 AM)
Sorry to tell you that you are wrong, Ronald. The suit's best interests lie in maximizing their bonus structure. They do not do this by spending money, even minimum wage money, on real live people in the overnights. Remember, it is not just the wage, it is the FICA payments, Workmen's Comp premiums and all those other expenses that tend to add up over time. No, V/T was a Godsend to those who live on (or for) their bonuses. We cannot think about the future; not with bonuses at stake!

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