Clutter? Ya Think?

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There was recently much buzz in the trade press about clutter on Radio. This revelation was about as shocking as announcing there are peanuts in peanut butter or corruption in government. Of course Radio is cluttered, and it’s primarily due to the never-ending desire of owners for increased revenue.

Back in the early days of Radio — when the F.C.C. was only concerned with eliminating interference between licensed stations (its original purpose) — there were essentially no limits on the number and length of commercials that could be broadcast. It was only common sense among programmers that allowed them to understand that listeners wanted entertainment first and would tolerate only so many ads before turning the dial.

When the government via the F.C.C. mandated limits on commercials, those limits were generous: no more than 18 minutes of ads per hour. Most Radio broadcasters eventually became much more conservative, with some stations airing only nine ads an hour. Alas, this is now history.

Today, commercials are back with a vengeance. While some music stations still air a modest number of commercials, they air them in one or two breaks that last for up to six minutes — an eternity for listeners.

But talk Radio has become the worst offender. In an effort to obtain maximum revenue, the number of 15, 10, and 5 second ads has become overwhelming. And any programmer who thinks this overload of ads doesn’t affect listening should sit in the back seat of any commuter vehicle and watch how fast the channel is changed when the break begins.

Unfortunately, clutter knows no bounds. It extends to the mindless chatter of the majority of local Radio “talent” in almost every market. A mentor during my early days in the industry revealed a pearl of wisdom: “Most DJ’s confuse talking with personality. They aren’t the same thing.” This mentor stressed the rule of focusing on one thought per break — the next live broadcast or the current contest or a teaser for the next song coming up…but never all of them, or even two of them. Just one.

When a broadcast professional leaves the industry, he will soon start listening to Radio as an ordinary consumer. Now, he hears things differently. The many program elements he tolerated as an insider have suddenly morphed into… well, clutter. There’s no other word for it. And it’s why alternatives like Pandora have found a prominent place in many listeners’ media mix.

So, yes — there is far too much clutter on Radio. Now the real question: what’s Radio going to do about it?