Red Robinson: The Future Of Radio



By Red Robinson

July 23rd, 2014

The recent retirements of CKNW talkers Philip Till and Bill Good raises the question: where are radio’s up and coming young stars?

I was asked to talk at the conclusion of another successful night at the Arts Club Theatre production ofRed Rock Diner about radio today. I said if I was a young man today I wouldn’t enter radio. The reason is simple: it is truly a dead end street. Each year BCIT‘s broadcast division graduates about 30 students. Why? There are 90 talented radio people who can’t find work in the industry because they cost money. Corporations want to hire only entry level people and it sounds like it when you turn the dial. These young people have energy and enthusiasm, but soon learn that there is nowhere to grow. so they opt for film, video production or a technology career. Can you blame them?

When I entered radio in the mid 1950′s the airwaves were filled with personalities. Each one had a distinctive sound and personality: Vic WatersWilf RayAl Jordan and Jack Cullen not only brought personality to their shows, they were working with creative ideas.

Tom Petty’s song The Last Deejay says “The last deejay says what he wants to say and plays what he wants to play.” Those days are gone as so-called consultants step in and tell you how you should perform. I liked the old era where if you got listeners in numbers you kept your job, but if you failed to get listeners you would find yourself out of work. I loved the challenge.

Now, for the most part, it’s how you play the game to keep head office and the consultants happy. They pick the music, supply one liners on cards and generally create your show. This is why radio today sounds like the various shows have gone through a cookie cutter. Booooring!

SONIC’s Kid Carson is allowed to create his own product and CFOX’s Drex has great potential if someone would let him have the reins for a while. QMFM’s Nat and Drew are proven entities and the move from Z95 has not curtailed their performance in any way. TEAM 1040′s Bro Jake is now a sports jock and a great self-promoter. Most of the other on-air performers don’t get promoted on television or on buscards the way they do in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I bet you can’t name 10 radio performers in the Vancouver market.

We need radio professionals calling the shots and not someone from a meat packing plant in Ontario. I have actually been told that radio and television are the same as all other businesses. Pardon the pun, but that’s plain baloney! These are the people who took the “show” out of show business. Most media in this country is controlled by five corporations and most of them are in Toronto. Decisions on radio and TV stations located west of Toronto are much like the colonies of the past: what’s good for Toronto is good for the nation. They seriously think that the Raptors and the Blue Jays are our national teams!

If baseball or football played by the same rules there would be empty seats in stadiums across the land. Can you imagine a game with no major, and I might add expensive stars? Well that is radio today. Even the stage has people trained and standing by if the star of the show falls ill. When you don’t invest in talent, it won’t exist. Why has this happened? My answer is people who don’t understand the dynamics of broadcasting and are only interested in pleasing the shareholders… and the people on top are the major shareholders.

By cutting back on-air talent and sales you can save yourself into eventual oblivion. But the corporations look at everything in quarters. There is little long range planning. Of course this makes money for the corporations and the shareholders.

And sadly, they aren’t about to change the game plan.


  1. If you go into radio these days, you must be a masochist or very uninformed, as you’re going to f*cked over a lot and make next to no money for your entire career.

    I know BCIT has to make money somewhere, but it’s disgraceful that they keep pumping out 90 graduates a year through their radio, TV and broadcast journalism programs, when there may be a dozen jobs available in the industry upon graduation. I can count on one hand the number of people in my graduating class who are still in the broadcast industry.

  2. Obviously you wouldn’t count yourself on that hand. I’d suggest attitude earned that spot off the hand.
    4 of the 40 that I graduated with are working today 20-30 years later) but if I look back at the two years – quite frankly that’s all that really deserved to make it for the long haul. 8-10 years ago there were 8 – of which they left by their own accord.
    Attitude, hard work and being in the right place at the right time (along with a brain on your shoulders) will make for success.

  3. Oh yeah, the broadcast at BCIT program is a subsidized program – your tuition does not cover the full cost of the program – other students are towing the line from the “profitable” programs.

  4. “Attitude, hard work and being in the right place at the right time (along with a brain on your shoulders) will make for success.”
    True most places, but radio?
    I wanna live in YOUR world. 😉

  5. Interesting article! Yet you use Toronto as a scape goat: national radio isn’t dictated from Toronto. Come on man! That’s just Toronto bashing (again). Let’s get it straight: radio is dictated from board rooms which may be located in Toronto. But does it really matter where the board rooms are located? They all look the same. When 5 corporations control the media what else could you expect except?

  6. So much hostility, pique, ad hominem virulence and (dare I say) sour grapes, always surround this whole question of radio, and how it has developed over the years.
    One “school” bemoans the influence of consultants and other bottom-line oriented interference in what some regard as entertainment and show business, while the others celebrate the evolution of broadcasting into a pure revenue driven industry feeding shareholders.

    When I was a kid, many years ago, I would hunker down under the covers, and listen to rock-and-roll, call-in, request radio (like KAAY in Little Rock). That was the era of the likes of Wolfman Jack, etc. (It still brings a lurch to my heart everytime I see American Graffiti, listen to the soundtrack and remember the culture of cruising in the local main drag.)

    Kids would call in and request their favourite tunes, talk about where the “gang” was going to hang out that night, offer greetings to their heart-throbs and where the local parties were.

    Local, interactive radio.

    I guess, when you think about it, it was really the Facebook of the 60’s. Perhaps we don’t need that kind of radio anymore.

    Look, I know we old farts were making buggy whips and spitoons, and all things change and progress.

    But like Red, I would never advise any young person to go into radio (and I’m a dad, and a grandad). Of the many hundreds of aspirants being pumped out of these self-serving “broadcast schools”), a handful might ever be able to make a career out of it, and even less will ever land a morning show in Major, medium, or even minor market footprints.

    Many on this forum exhibit contempt for us naysayers, but I suspect most of them are probably the people who hire neophytes for the economic benefit (temps though they don’t know it yet, at least until they have experience, rate more pay, and then they’re gone, and a new flock from BCIT, Columbia or other dream machines provide them with cheap replacements)

    Red has been around for a while. Maybe he might know something…..

    PSR has provided a forum for “annonymous.” Change that, kay?

    I’m thinking, after more than a half a century in this business, are “suits.”

    But I’m out of the business now, thank god.

  7. If baseball or football played by the same rules there would be empty seats in stadiums across the land. Can you imagine a game with no major, and I might add expensive stars? Well that is radio today.

    The radio business will likely keep the status quo, as long as broadcasters make money. But if radio and tv networks start going bankrupt or lose money, then they will simply fold.

    And maybe that is what it will take to bring the business back to reality. Don’t hold your breath that will happen anytime soon.

  8. Red Robinson, Mike Cleaver, Airadio and others:

    Thank you for regurgitating the darker side of the broadcasting business, which we already have known about for years.

    Instead of not recommending broadcasting as a new career for young people, how about getting at the roots of the crime, namely getting or forcing the CRTC to hold a public inquiry on the mismanagement of the whole radio business, and then, you guys can SHOW UP at that hearing and say what you need to say.

    Otherwise, anything that you say to broadcasting owners, a public forum like this, is a waste of time.

    Dont hold your breath that a public inquiry will happen anytime soon.

    I have yet to see a commercial CRTC licence that a) forces an owner of a radio licence to pay a certain wage, or hire a certain level of employee. (ie superstar veteran, along the lines of Red Robinson or a Dick Smyth)

    Imagine if the BC Labor code (which does not apply to federal jurisdiction radio and television) forced businesses to hire the most expensive help, imaginable, and could not lay off employees with more than 10 years experience.

    There wouldn’t be much businesses around, all of them would go bankrupt.

    The idea of hiring the cheapest possible labor around and then exploiting the workers has been going around since the days of Jesus.

    It’s just human nature to “screw unto others” and not limited to broadcasting.


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