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Saturday, January 10, 2015

(TALENT) Coal In Radio's Stocking


Eventually, I realized that Santa was more than a nattily attired, suspiciously jolly, but still magical celebrity-entity. He was also a very close cousin to Orwell's villain of "1984," Big Brother. Nevertheless, both of them -- capable of reading minds -- are able to identify "thought crimes." Radio managers, therefore, are thoroughly exposed. But, they are also unrepentant. Santa, I am told, has not been amused.

Santa "knows when you?ve been sleeping," etc. Then, there is the creepy, seditious part. "He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake." According to Santa's rules, radio station owners and management are so, like, totally doomed to gifts of anthracite -- for years to come.

Unlike that really swell, prince-of-a-guy George Bailey ("It's A Wonderful Life"), who had his chestnuts pulled out of the fire through a clumsy and inept form of divine intervention, too many radio folks kept on behaving badly, and got another scoop of coal in their stockings this year.

Radio's management has had another whole year to become more aware and experience a kind of Ebenezer's epiphany and redemption. Instead, they continue to lay waste to their own organizations while making the necessary content required to properly serve their audiences and advertisers sparser still. A pot of colorless, insipid gruel on a lukewarm stove continues to be the only motivation for the remaining minions.

I was in a Chevy dealership a few weeks ago. (I own an Uplander ? with issues.) Their facilities were outstanding ? an automotive palace with all the accoutrements, including a receptionist who might have been named "Valkyrie." Since I am new in town, I queried the GSM about his more recent experiences with radio. I might have known better and brought a camp stool and some beef jerky. He let out a barrage of criticisms ? peppered with language unfit for most young moms and all of their kids.

First of all, he resented spending money on radio ? if only because all the other dealerships were doing likewise and so, he was, pretty much, compelled to go all copy-cat and join the crowd. Few, if any, are familiar with the benefits of anything other than the audience-insulting and irritating "yell and sell, buy or die" direct-response approaches. He was at a loss as to how to do anything else and, as our conversation continued, he revealed he was very suspicious of anything other than "direct response" approaches ? even though he hated them.

He continued to spew vitriol at the stations for bringing in copy examples or full demos that were (to him) totally unacceptable. In fact, he no longer gets examples from the stations, just occasional calls from station reps with the question, "Wanna buy some spots?" In the meantime, the market is rife with dealers' principals embarrassing themselves by screaming laundry lists, claims of superiority, and demands to "Come on down and make your best deal!" All of this in public, right out here on the radio ? in front of the auto-gods, relatives, neighbors, colleagues, peers, and potential customers. (Their kids tell schoolmates their dads are plumbers.)

All participants, therefore, got a fresh round of coal this year -- the dealer, the sales rep, station management, and the creative department ? in deserving portions. The dealer gets a chunk for not having done his own research into what does and doesn't work in broadcast advertising. The station management, especially, gets a larger chunk because they have yet to do their own due diligence and educated themselves on the same matter. (This is unforgivable as it is they who are obliged to know these things.)

The creative department gets a smaller chunk as nobody has bothered to train these folks either. They are, however, still responsible. They keep typing the hype and grinding out the same copy as their gone and forgotten peers were yanking out of their Selectric typewriters in 1964. Likewise, smaller chunks are in order for the sales reps as they, too, have yet to be trained on even the basics of how their medium works and how to make it work. Nor have they challenged standard operating procedures of the industry.

The evidence for all of this is in the number of pure "content" or "direct response" ads being rammed on the air, right now. Describing so many of these commercials as downright awful in their writing and presentation is to use a kinder, gentler, almost politically correct terminology.

A small digression: I toiled for an outfit that owned a number of stations across the country. All of them ? as policy ? disallowed the production of anything other than single-voice spots. There were no "slice of life" or "theatre-of-the-mind" attempts tolerated. Fortunately, I was operating under a performance-only contract and wasn't required to read the bilge that got dragged through production every day. (I did afternoon drive and got out of the building. No Kool Aid.)

Again, station owners and management have had every opportunity this past year to consider new strategies, techniques, and methodologies that will fundamentally and significantly improve the quality of programming and commercial production. I, and others, have been clear and specific about some of the solutions.

No teachers have been, or ever will be, totally forthcoming. We do marvel about how much "free stuff" owners figure they are entitled to. Actually, we don't wonder. We know how much they want, and there are two answers: 1. Based on lack of interest ? none of it. 2. All of it ? free -- just in case some of the materials can be implemented by memo. Further, radio recoils from outside training expenses like vampires from garlic.

The coal market remains strong. Supplies are good. Demand is high. I'm guessing "thought crimes" must leave remnants of psychic, invisible, criminal dust -- or sumthin'. It will be easy for Santa to pick up the trail later in the year.

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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