Putting the “Radio” Into Your Feng Shui


The direct translation of “Feng Shui” (noun) is in Chinese
thought

“a system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and
orientation in relation to the flow of energy, and whose favourable or
unfavourable effects are taken into account when siting and designing
buildings.”

When sitting down and writing commentary analysing the art
of radio, one has to be rather careful in what he or she has to say.  As a growing media analyst in the radio
industry specifically, my teaching has brought me to the front of why we must
criticize as opposed to complimenting the industry.  Why?  Well,
it’s easier to teach from that which you should not do, as opposed to that
which is already, or has already been done.  

I am not saying this is a healthy approach, and to be honest
I am still working on a number of write ups with regard to fair criticism
around the media industry, whether it comes from industry professionals or the
consumers themselves.  However, this is
perhaps part one of that discussion.

When I try to explain the importance of how to make good
radio, I first explain to my students that listeners are not stupid.  This was something I learnt growing as a
novice broadcaster, and something I grew to ascertain as the truth progressing
as a professional.

Why is this important? 
It’s ALL encompassing.  From
making sure that radio you make is authentic, to selling promotions that are fair,
free of risk and fun, to the basic conversation we are going to start here –
listeners know instantly when radio is good, and when radio is bad.

I like to think that the proverbial radio set (in whatever
form) is part of the listener’s lifestyle. 
Just as one would adopt a healthy diet, a fitness routine, become a
comic purist as a hobby, or go to a place of worship once a week – radio finds its
place BY CHOICE, in a listener’s life.

Choice.  For things
favourable or unfavourable perhaps?  A
design or plan or some sort?  Rather
sounds a lot like part forming Feng Shui your life?  Therefore, just as important as good healthy
eating is – so we as broadcasters, should take a listener’s choice to make us
part of the make-up of what they choose to be good in their day – of utmost
importance.  So how do we pull our weight
in the Feng Shui of our listener’s lives? 
Well.  We make good radio.  Moreover, this is where the debate comes
in.  What is great, good, average, or bad
radio? 

Some considerations:

  • Is it content we should concern ourselves with?  What sort? 
    Audio, Video, Digital, Print, Traditional, On air, Off air, Talk, News,
    Music, The Spoken Word?
  • The quality of our presenter(s)?
  • The purpose of the platform?
  • Is the format of the station and each show being honoured by every link?
  • In saying this, how far do we covet each of our
    links within balance and appropriateness?
  • Have we found our medium’s feet in 2016?
  • Advertising? 
    When is it too much?
  • What are the real threats to our medium?  Online? Social Media? Pod-casting?  Pick a lane. 
    Stick to it?
  • Whether the basics of what makes radio great,
    are still in play in this digital era?
  • If so, ARE they still in play? And which of
    those are important to harness for another 100 years as the leading media
    platform in the world?

These are only the first of a incredibly long list of
questions managers and consultants discuss amongst themselves at high levels of
managing our industry – but broadcasters have to be managers in their own
right.  After all, a manager entrusts you
with their listener’s from day 1 show 1, and goes to bed with that piece of mind
that you will make the right choice to make good radio.

We have to also look at this conversation holistically.  That means let’s look beyond only the programming decisions that have to be made on a
minute by minute basis.

Let’s break away from my conversation for the moment and
look at what is being cited as “good” and “bad” ABOUT radio as a media
platform.

Corey Deitz (2015), a radio expert cited the following in an
article “8 good and bad things about radio”

Setting out to write a piece on
the good and bad of today’s radio is slightly difficult for me because I work
in the commercial aspect of it day-to-day and that might either lend itself to
a particular bias or shield me from seeing things as an outside might.  I guess that’s a bit of a disclaimer.  Therefore, aside from those possible pitfalls,
I will try to present an accurate list of what’s right and what’s wrong with
radio.

Some Good Things

Streaming

Radio (commercial and other forms) has wholly embraced the online
world in all ways.  Because of the
technological advances in streaming, every local radio station – even those
severely limited in power – can have a global audience by streaming through the
Internet.  That’s a win-win for the
station, for devoted listeners who are not in the local signal area, for
potential new listeners located elsewhere, and for advertisers.

Social Media

Television used to taunt radio because it had a
picture and radio did not.  Television
always looked at radio as a media stepchild, incomplete by nature.  Well, the Internet levelled that playing field
somewhat by giving radio stations the ability to present photos, video, audio,
and interaction coupled with programming. 
Radio has adapted to Social Media, integrating with all that the
Internet offers, giving radio opportunities to enhance its brand.

Webmasters, IT Specialists, Social Media Mavens,
and More

Although the radio industry has lost thousands of
jobs over the past ten years, new ones have been created where there were no
jobs before.  Stations need webmasters
and IT specialists who can build websites and fix servers.

Some radio stations even turn to Social Media
experts to keep their Facebook, Twitter, and other online accounts active and
fresh.

Automation and Voice Tracking

This is a double-sided sword and you’ll notice
below that I’ve listed this same advance as a negative.  However, first let me tell you why it’s a
positive.

The automation software available today is so
sophisticated, it can keep a radio station going indefinitely.  When a key personality goes on vacation, a
station can play a “best of” from that personalities archives or the
host can “voice track” in advance the shows he/she would normally do.
 I appreciate this only because I was a
Program Director twice in my career and I know what it is like when somebody
calls in sick at the last minute or walks off while on-the-air and leaves the
station unmanned.  I would have given
anything to have sophisticated automation in those situations.

Some Bad Things

The Radio Halls are Empty

So many talented people have been forced out of
radio during the past ten years it’s sickening. Some of this was due to
deregulation of radio law, consolidation of radio stations into bigger
companies, downsizing because of overlapping positions, centralization of
programming, voice tracking, automation, and the recession of 2008.  The loss of all these people over the years
has been a drain on radio’s creativity.

How could it not be?  We will never know what these thousands of
people could have brought to the radio stage each day.  The loss of jobs and reductions of air staffs
has also been a disservice to listeners who just get a lesser product.

Radio Got Rid of Copywriters

Almost every radio station used to have a Copywriter.

A copywriter’s job was to write inventive and
creative commercial scripts so a Production Director could produce it to air.  This helped to insure that commercials
contained all the proper information and were entertaining.  Nevertheless, stations started to slash
Copywriter jobs back in the 1990s and developed this misinformed mentality that
anyone could write a commercial.  Well,
in a sense that’s true.  Anyone can write
one.  However, it won’t necessarily be
much a good one.

Automation and Voice Tracking

Detroit uses automation to make cars.  That’s fine when a company is turning out
thousands of cars that are exactly the same.  However, it’s been kind of a disaster for
personality radio.  Before automation,
radio stations were forced to staff themselves with live people all day and all
night.

This meant a lot of talent and choices for
listeners.  It meant younger talents
could hone their skills in lesser listened shifts and when ready, advance into
more important times of the day.  Radio
was a breeding ground for talented hosts and deejays.  However, today much of the opportunity has
disappeared and careers have been cut short because of the exploitation of
automation and voice-tracking.

Radio Got Rid of Production Directors

Every radio station used to have a Production
Director.  The position was as essential
as any other. The Production Director was in charge of producing the station’s
promos, commercials, imaging, and other audio. 
A good Production Director was worth his weight in gold.  The best ones were artists and they used sound
as a canvas to paint their audio.  The
Production Director also maintained quality control and insured that each
smaller piece of audio that created the flow of a station was flawless and
correct.  Many stations don’t have one
anymore and of course, overall quality has suffered.

In the end, it seems a business is always trying to
balance the role of people versus technology.  In radio’s case, it depends on who you talk to
as to whether technology has helped radio – or hurt it more.”

Let’s take a
look at a point or two from Corey’s discussion. 
The fact that radio is now multi-faceted in terms of the reach we have
using Social Media, streaming etc. is in fact a good thing.  Most stations have treated this more as a bad
risk than a good risk – meaning with good risk, comes great opportunity.  Most businesses in general are not lead by
people who pursue great risk for their companies, so this culture needs to
change.  Prepare for the very calculated risk
of loss, and move to greater heights – and the rewards will speak for
themselves.  Another point is that of
talent.  Deitz cites that so many
talented people have been pushed out of the industry for mediocre
replacements.  This seems to be true as a
trend worldwide.  One article I recently read had it’s title as “Don’t forget, radio is still made with great talent”, making commentary that this might be a secondary priority to most managers.  

Many would like to also confront
those that are placed in a broadcaster’s position based on their social image,
the massive followings, and their brand strongholds on other platforms – but I
don’t think this is entirely fair.  We
need to take responsibility for our own, and that includes looking around our industry
and first getting rid of the dead weight, or alternatively cultivating the raw
talent pool we already have and make them great.  To shoot bullets at broadcasters from film or
television, print or digital that come into our radio world and claim surrender
due to unfair favouritism is a weak move.

I will leave you
with these thoughts Marianne Combs (2011) who wrote a short article
about what makes good or bad art?  We are
in the art and craft of making good radio.  Let us ponder all that has been mentioned so
far, and remember that WE are the professionals, WE are the experts, and WE are
the artistes of this industry.

Combs (2011) writes,

“A recent series of comments in response to a story
on musician Gretchen Seichrist had me wondering, when do you know something is
a bad work of art, as opposed to simply not to your personal taste? Moreover,
who ultimately gets to decide what art is truly good?

As I usually do when pondering an arts related
question, I posted it on Facebook to see what sort of answers I might get (I
count approximately 1500 Minnesota artsy types among my FB friends).

The responses I got were, as ever, thoughtful, probing,
and witty.  Therefore, I thought I’d
share some of them with you.

Since the question is a two-parter, I’ll break down
the answers respectively:

How do you determine good art from bad?  Alternatively, from art that’s simply not to
your taste?
 

Actress Linda Sue Anderson mused: “Supreme Court
Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography “I know it when I see it.”  Perhaps the same is true for “bad” art?”

Poet Kathryn Kysar answered: “Skill and craft can
make it good art, even if I don’t like the style.”

Artist Deborah Foutch wrote:

Art that connects is successful. Sometimes the
connection is beauty sometimes it’s repellent & there is a lot of stuff in
between these extremes but Art that fills the eye, or ears but leaves you with
“eh” feeling is unsuccessful.

In a similar vein, writer Jacquie Fuller offered:

When I think of bad art, I think of Milan Kundera’s
definition of kitsch in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” In bad art, “all
answers are given in advance and preclude any questions.”

On the more humorous side, photographer Paul
Shambroom wrote:

Simple. If it’s in the Museum of Bad Art
(http://www.museumofbadart.org/) it’s bad. If it’s in any other museum, it’s
good (or someone important thinks it is.) 
In addition, if it’s not in any museum at all it might be genius.

Finally arts educator Bonnie Schock suggests, “This
depends entirely upon how we define the function of art in society.”

Who decides what is good art?

Poet William Reichard’s response: “You get to
determine what is good and bad art.  It’s
completely subjective.  You can trust
‘authorities’ to make these judgements for you, but it’s much more fun to make
them yourself.”

Sculptor Jim Larson suggested, “Those who get to
determine great art have skilfully maneuvered themselves into those positions.”

Poet Leslie Adrienne Miller believes “a society’s
artists collectively decide good art from bad over time, though individuals
with authority at any given moment sometimes think they are the deciders.”

Finally Nimbus Theater director Josh Cragun offered
this explanation:

The answer is simple: every single person who
partakes in creating or consuming [art]. 
What is profound, beautiful, or mind-opening depends on each individual,
his or her language, upbringing, experiences, and more.  The idea that something must be universally
acclaimed to be good is a fallacy at best, and perhaps more accurately, a
destructive distraction.

That doesn’t mean that the conversation about what
is important has no value, however.  Our
evaluations of art are reflections of who we are and how we perceive the world
and exchanging these perceptions is one of the most crucial tools we have in
coming to understand both each other and the world in which we live in.”

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