By Trent Rentsch
After all these years, I am still, first and foremost, a radio groupie. My memory is that the first “high tech” gadget I begged my parents for was a transistor radio, and I would spend hours with my ear against the crappy speaker, absorbing, everything... the music, the news, the commercials, the jokes, all of it. It didn’t matter to me if I was listening to my hometown station, or one of the more “exotic” offerings 60 miles away in the big city of Sioux Falls, SD; radio was a constant companion in my young life, exposing me to new music, news, humor… life.
Ironically, until my sophomore year of college, I never imagined a career behind the mic. I admired those who were DJ’s, with their glib, worldly style, but I couldn’t see myself there. All that changed when a chance meeting with the Assistant PD of the local station led to trying out for a part time position. I found myself in a mysterious, “high tech” world of turntables, cart machines, reel-to-reel tape decks, and… the microphone. The first evening was dismal, but somehow I forced myself to go again… and then, again. Dismal turned to less dismal with time, and while I wasn’t going to be the next Rick Dees, I managed to begin to learn the method behind the madness… and grew to admire radio even more.
That was, a long, long time ago. Since then I’ve worked in markets large and small, DJ’ed literally every day-part in many formats, and was lucky enough at some point to carve out a niche for myself in production. And while it’s been a long time since I stepped into a station, I have continued to admire radio, warts and all. I suppose that’s why I get so frustrated with people who have written radio off.
I’ve been hearing the disparaging remarks a lot lately. “Well, you KNOW radio is a dying medium,” “It’s JUST a radio spot,” “Thank GOD I don’t work in radio anymore!” All of these remarks came from people who began their professional career in the industry, who learned and grew and got paid for it, then “moved up in the world.” All of them still use the talents and skills they learned in the radio industry to make a living today… it seems like they’d be just a little grateful.
For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’ve hurled a few condescending remarks at radio myself over the years. I’m not such a wide-eyed fan that I don’t see the faults in the industry, but while there are many things wrong about radio, there are also many things right about it, and I believe it deserves a little more respect as an entertainment medium… and a healthy, viable advertising option.
Obviously, I’m very biased about the advertising side of radio, so it really stings when I hear someone say, “Oh, it’s JUST a station-produced spot!” With a tone usually used to describe a farting dog. The naked arrogance is, frankly, rude… and a bit ignorant.
I’m amazed at what radio’s Producers manage to Create! With little time, little information and no budget, they come up with wonderful, effective commercials. In the time it takes some Agencies to “assemble their team for a brainstorming session”, most radio Producers can write, voice and produce 10, maybe 20 commercials… and still have time to voice-track the overnight show on the Country station. “THAT’S my point,” scream the naysayers. “How can a commercial THROWN together like that be as good as something an Agency puts together?” Obviously, they’ve forgotten where they came from.
Technology has leveled the playing field on a sonic level. Even the Producer in the smallest markets has access to high quality audio and effects… not to mention the increased speed of producing on a state of the art DAW. Of course, it takes more than good sound to make a great commercial; the words, the message is key. To that end, I think the local Producer has a distinct advantage over a group of suits half a country away. That’s right, I said ADVANTAGE. The Creative at a radio station knows their audience and how to speak to them… no guesswork, no focus groups. They simply take the information that the advertiser wants to convey, and put it in a form and language their listener will understand and respond to. To an outsider, it might sometimes sound “quaint” or even “stupid,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for the audience.
When it’s all said and done, I’m proud to say that I began my Creative advertising career in radio. It taught me to work hard, work fast, and work smart. I learned how to read my audience, and trust my instincts to Create effective commercials and promos. Radio is still the best damned advertising medium out there, and those of you still in the business continue to have my deepest respect. Keep the faith!