When I monitor music-radio stations, I am reminded of airline crews who are wandering through the cabin telling everyone on board there was just a minor glitch, everything is under control, and all passengers should remain calm. A few in window seats behind the wing, however, are watching as engine parts melt and fall away in flames. ?Oh, nurse?!?
On the surface, and if one is paying attention only to the trades, radio is doing swimmingly. Things are mostly jolly ? according to the cheerleaders, pundits, and apologists. There is still a lot of penetration; listening hours are pretty good, and bankers and loan sharks are not threatening to foreclose on corporate loans anytime soon. Stations are being bought and sold and inventories are still moving. Expenses continue to be chiseled away. We?re good. No. Really. We?re good.
If only corporate radio could black out the window seats, none would be the wiser and the sham could continue unabated and without challenge. Any good magician knows that ?misdirection? is the most important part of pulling off the act. Up until recently, radio has been able to pull a Buick out of a rabbit?s butt. Unfortunately, more of the audience, and in radio?s case advertisers as well, are catching on, realizing there is no magic here. Shoddy trickery is, instead, revealed.
Plus, it needs to be pointed out that radio doesn?t have much of a modern/contemporary act. It continues to stage the same old tricks as it has for decades ? and in the same old ways. Audiences and advertisers are beginning to figure this out and are arriving in ill humor with baskets of rotting vegetables and gourds of well-constructed epithets.
Over the last year, radio has been terrified by a number of issues, including the serious limitations of possibly being eliminated as the first-choice media on car dashboards. There is also the disappointment in the performance and returns from online streaming. A number of managers of my acquaintance were boldly enthusiastic about streaming. One even proclaimed, ?This is going to save our bacon!?
Assuming these and other technical matters are dealt with satisfactorily, the results will be that radio will have only delayed a significant demise from sooner to later. What with the burning, melting engine, the scene of the crash will only have been moved to slightly further downrange. Solving the technical issues will only keep us right where we are. Status quo maintained, for a while. No more than that will have been accomplished.
I fondly remember my dad reading me the ?funny papers.? One of my favorites was ?Mandrake, The Magician.? He and his scantily sidekick, Lothar would fight crime and immorality the old-fashioned way ? with brutality and hypnosis. When Mandrake gestured hypnotically, experiences of reality changed drastically.
Radio doesn?t know it yet, but we also have access to the same powers as Mandrake. And we don?t need Lothar?s backup muscle either. Further, this power is embedded in, and enabled by, the exquisite and elegant use of radio?s powerful ?prime technology? ? language.
This, to me, is a magnificent irony. We (radio) have put zero consideration, research, or effort into finding out how, specifically, to take advantage of this fantastic resource. Truth be told, radio has gone out of its way to suppress the use of the language to the point where the next, logical step is in finding ways to limit on-air speakers and deliverers of commercial content to whistles, snorts, and grunts. Since radio is an audio-only medium, even though it looks so cool we can?t even gesture hypnotically.
We can still, however, exercise influence. We can still be more appealing. We can still be more effective for our clients. We can stop performing our main featured attraction as the lost cause it is ? ?More of the Best Music? ? a ridiculous and insulting claim and a horrible strategy for accumulating and holding audiences. Besides radio, there are other just as easily accessed platforms for streaming tunes.
A spaceman from the planet Doink, or even a guy from out of town, could be expected to, if he wanted to hear professionals exercising their command of the language, go immediately to a radio station. After all, these would be the professionals. I can imagine his disappointment, if not contempt, at finding a cesspool of incompetence mixed with bravado along with demonstrations of a deep and pervasive lack of respect for, and indifference about, audiences and advertisers.
Meanwhile, as a counselor, I am ethically bound to abstain from forcing anyone into an intervention, therapy, or coaching. However, when they do agree to participate, at some point in the preliminary conversation, they will ask me if I use ?hypnosis.? I explain that my approach and responsibility is not to put them into a trance. It is to get them out of the trance they are in already!
The analogy goes that life is made up of a series of ?trances? ? the guy-trance, the girl-trance, the submissive-employee trance, the boss-trance, the husband or wife trance, the dad trance, the mother?s-son trance, the driving trance, the three-beer trance, the bad-habits trance, the self-destructive behavior trance, the eating-sugar-until-we?re-fat, sick, and crazy trance, the particularly dangerous radio programmer?s trance, and so on.
While I can?t claim to know how, exactly, we arrived at this extraordinarily self-destructive positional trance by refusing to take into account the power of the delivery of our primary technology ? language ? I can speculate. Maybe, a few decades ago, Mandrake got with some radio owners and management and? gestured hypnotically. This may have been the time when their minds went ?tilt.? From then on, they may have transferred the same trance onto future generations of radio executives. Now, I can get them out of those trances. But, they have to ask me first.
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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