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Sunday, March 15, 2015

(TALENT) 3-Way Toxic Relationships


There are no acceptable explanations. Radio has formed and retains toxic relationships with two other parties ? advertisers and audiences. Thousands of times a day, radio produces "direct response" ads ? spots that challenge audiences with gross demands for behavior and more content than can be retained. Advertisers and audiences tolerate it all.

As corporate radio has gutted the on-air and creative staffs from their stations ? also causing smaller outfits to get into lock-step or perish, only the easiest-to-produce and least influential advertising is being presented. This practice has been around for so long that I would venture to say that most radio participants may have no memory of when things were any different. (To be fair, things were not that much different.) The point is that radio has made no significant improvements in the areas of on-air and commercial presentation in decades.

It comes as no surprise to any readers of this piece that those same spots make up the most innocuous and irritating bilge being produced for radio. They are everywhere. They have no home. They affect and spoil radio stations every time they go to air. They burn audiences down. They perform for the advertisers at a minimalist level and at high costs ? given the ROI. But, few are talkin'.

Certainly, there are folks on both the radio-side and in the advertising community who cry out for ads that are "out of the box" or are "rising above the clutter" and are also more effective. Unfortunately those materials are generally unavailable at a local level and too costly when bought from agencies. The most important part is that when they are made available, it is extremely questionable whether they influence an audience enough to make the investment valuable. Again, few are talkin'.

Although an interesting and laudable position, seeking for outstanding spots has drawbacks. One of them is in the assumption that radio folk, and/or advertisers, would know an outstanding spot if they heard one. Like the car dealer I mentioned earlier, a response of  "These commercials don't make me want to buy a car!" while ridiculous on so many levels, is also not an unreasonable response, particularly when the dealer has no idea how radio works and what is required to influence an audience. I mean, the guy is a car dealer! He's no media guru. And it's unlikely he is dealing with one from the local station.

In the case of the demo car dealer spots I am offering to anyone who requests them at, these spots are operating at a number of conscious and unconscious levels. They depend on frequency and longer-term runs to impact properly. Of course, it is important that radio folk get that. My confidence is low.

Another thing is that, when presented with such a campaign/series, radio folks tend to panic ? partially because of the spots themselves, but more from the realization that this kind of radio advertising is so very difficult to replicate. What happens if an advertiser becomes insistent on just such approaches? The station rep is then well and truly pooched. She knows there is nothing in her satchel that even comes close to "out of the box" or "above the clutter." As a third party listening to this observation of radio's status quo, one could reasonably wonder why the folks who make such decisions aren?t up on morality charges ? never mind indictments of gross business mismanagement.

I am reminded of Dr. Joseph Lister, the surgeon who introduced new principles of cleanliness that transformed surgical practice in the late 1800s. We take it for granted that a surgeon will guard a patient's safety by using aseptic methods. But this was not always the case, and until Lister introduced sterile surgery, a patient could undergo a procedure successfully only to die from a postoperative infection known as "ward fever."

Before his objections and declarations about surgical sterility, doctors would move from one patient and dive in, wrist deep, to the next ? a sort of "meatball surgery." His colleagues discounted him incessantly.

Radio is in a position where all it can do today is a form of "meatball production." Audience members and some advertisers, for the most part, survive the exploitation and meager services. Others do not. Both the best interests of the clients and the audiences are being ignored. As in Dr. Lister's case, his colleagues had little time for, or interest in, his extraordinary claims. Based on behaviors, radio has no interest in anything other than what they already produce.

Plus, local radio stations are in no position to deliver anything other than meatball production ? low quality meatballs at that, already past their "best before" dates. Fortunately, for now, both audiences and advertisers are having no effect on these radio practices.

The 3-way toxicity of our current state is, indeed, being ignored. There is another possibility and, to my mind, it is actually the most prevalent. I believe radio station managers are completely unaware of the significance of this situation. Those few who may be aware, however, are at a loss or restricted from doing anything else.

Do audiences really get "the best selection, the best service and the best prices in town" from an advertiser? Do advertisers really believe it when their radio rep claims "?and these commercials will be remembered"? Do reps really believe it when they say it? Do radio station managers really believe they are operating with the best interests of audiences and advertisers in mind?

Even as I appreciate the requests for the demos of my own examples, I will say I am underwhelmed by the response. This lack of interest only solidifies my case. And that's another example of the toxic relationships. "Improvement" is a good thing. Really.

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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