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Saturday, November 15, 2014

TALENT)Programming. The Dead Profession


I had occasion, when one of our out-of-market owners visited the station to apply some ?seagull diplomacy.? (Fly in. Crap all over everything. Fly out.) I was to answer the most patronizing question I have ever had put to me. He asked, ?What do you have to do, Ronald, to be the best afternoon drive-guy in the market?? My response: ?Show up.?

I had to believe he was aware of the day-part?s numbers and the sold-out logs ? tons of AAA nationals. My P.D. sat there like he was body-wrapped in duct tape, wearing a ball-gag, and his ears stuffed with cotton wadding. Maybe he?d been hit with a tranquilizer dart. I thought, ?I?m working for a goof, and my P.D. is a fawning sycophant.? It?s not a pleasant revelation when one realizes they are better educated, more skilled, and have better manners than their employers or managers. I confess the episode was a fiery blast that took more than the blush off my radio rose. I became painfully aware I really was out there ? and alone.

In fairness, I will report I appreciated this P.D. having the good sense and the courtesy to stay out of my way ? and my face. He did recognize I was a grown-up and a professional who was delivering boxcar numbers. Even though I can come off as a world-class jerk in these articles, it is only the righteous indignation shining through in all its radiant beauty. I really was a pretty good guy to have in the building who also played well with the other kids.

When stations were carrying a full roster of on-air talent and a squad of writers and producers, a P.D. had at least one, absolutely necessary duty ? that of herding cats. It was a thankless job, too, that included putting out bushfires, getting between vicious, feuding factions, heading off charges from the front office crazies, and instantly replacing jocks that had gone AWOL after a particularly hard night of drink, drugs, and/or debauchery. Harshly policing the format became a convenient method to get at least some relief, a bit of payback, and to re-establish the alpha position.

Some guys can tell stories of learning a few worthwhile elements from their P.D.?s. For the most part, however, the program directors had the position foisted on them arbitrarily or were people who wanted to throw some authority around. The worst were those who were abject failures as jocks, but still found the business intriguing.

Today, programming is no longer a profession. It is a position. The title-holders have been relegated to little offices/closets beside the washrooms, and are peopled by those who are now dealing with the term ?brand manager.? They understand their actual duties when they have to keep handy the pail, brush, and a jug of Ty-D-Bol.

I can, without fear of consequence, challenge, or argument, assert that programming is, indeed, no longer a profession. If it were otherwise, audiences and advertisers would have the option of choosing any number of completely different radio outlets to support or buy. They do not.

The fact is, monitoring any cluster in any market will be all that is required to determine what every other station in every other market is going to sound like. Same-same everywhere. These are not results generated by unique, imaginative programmers. This is the evidence left behind by corporate managers with severely limited knowledge and skills. Their plagiarized platitudes and edicts are carried out by exhausted, unmotivated, beat down, and stooped-over souls down the line ? the brand managers. This situation is disgusting and indefensible. I might also mention it is bereft of profit potentials. Further, relief is nowhere on the horizon.

Occasionally, I will read some vacuous fluff offered by a corporate programmer, delivered as if their comments were as precious as a designer?s cardigan sweater meticulously knitted by hand from virgin lamb?s wool. The trouble with virgin wool is, when it gets wet, it gets heavy?and it stinks. Programmers no longer have anything of use or significance to say.

When organizations advertise for a P.D., they will often include the necessity of the applicant to have skills to ?coach your people.? To do what, specifically, the ads never say. Where, I wonder, are the learning opportunities for talent when they are on the air for only a very few minutes per hour, mostly parroting station propaganda? The days of making at least some creative hay have been over for 20 years. Even back then, very limiting and binding formats were the standard.

I always avoided heavily formatted CHR outfits because wild, rabid wolverines ? an apt analogy ? usually managed them. I would only work for AC outfits that operated with the understanding that big profits came about, primarily, with the efforts of big personalities. Today, the on-air foisting of vocal robotics from unskilled performers is the pervasive approach of current music-radio leadership. I wonder, then, why the industry still pretends that P.D.'s have actual jobs. They certainly do not have the green light to innovate or experiment. Nor, it could be argued, the skills.

Not one corporate radio entity is willing to take one cluster or even one station and make of it a ?skunk works.? This would be where so-called ?weird and wacky strategies and concepts? could be field-tested. In any other industry, R&D is a necessity and an accepted expense. Radio won?t chase a 20-dollar bill with a dime. People hear that.

I appreciate that a pertinent question would be: ?What weird and wacky strategies and concepts are we talkin? about?? Having to ask demonstrates management doesn?t already know. Only another broadcaster who could respond with a full set of strategies, methodologies, techniques, and a solid philosophy would be qualified to make the necessary adjustments. Otherwise, it?s a somber parade of ashes and sackcloth because ?programming,? as a profession, has expired. Maybe it is just lost. Yeah. That?s it. Misplaced. Lost.

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

(11/11/2014 10:54:08 PM)
In an attempt to supply some perspective, mike, when you got started ("some twenty years ago"), the pool was already being drained and talent was being forced to get out to the end of the high board.

Their choices,then, were a.) Jump, or b.) Wait for the big shove. The PD's of the day didn't even get to hide under an executioner's hood.

(11/10/2014 12:07:21 PM)
Good article, as usual. When I first started in Radio some 20 years ago, it did not consist of robo jocks. There were real, live people in the studios 24/7. Yeah, the newbies were relegated to the overnights where they couldn't do much damage but the rest of the gang was encouraged to show some personality. Was everything that went out over the air stellar? No! But at least they had the chance to try new things. Not anymore! As you say, Ronald, it all sounds alike nowadays! Ah well!

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