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Wednesday, June 6, 2012
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Answering a Radio Industry Exec's Bad Call

I've seen this fellow's writings a few times. Mostly they are in support of radio (from his perspective), as any industry executive's writings should be. I've rarely agreed with him, but never felt so out-of-joint about his comments until reading a recent post titled "Quit Complaining About Voice Tracking." It's time for rebuttal.

First the formalities: From the "About" page at his web site, Spike Santee is a Sr. VP at Cumulus Media where he has RAB Certified Radio Marketing Consultant, RAB Certified Radio Sales Manager. and RAB Certified Digital Marketing Consultant listed at the top of the page.

Checking the rest, I'm unable to locate reference to his having experience on the programming side, so I'll invite a correction if this next statement is not true: It doesn't appear that Spike Santee has spent any significant time behind the microphone, or has experience building a radio "program." I emphasize "program" because he gives a great deal of advice on what an air personality should be doing to accommodate voice-tracking. I assume one would need to have years of experience behind them to give advice about producing radio shows in this manner.

"...'the next round of budget cuts' are going to be based on who does more for less, just like the last few rounds." I've never met Spike Santee. He's probably a very cordial, intelligent, affable individual. I do, though, find his advice appalling.

Voice tracking is a major problem in the radio industry. It can be directly tied to reasons why radio is losing relevance, and why radio is in the revenue straits that it finds itself in today. It is also one reason why the quality of programming has degenerated to such low levels.

Let's get right to the heart of why I found reason to rebute his article. It comes from the opening sentences: "Iím going to scream if I hear one more complaint about voice tracking! Voice tracking is not the cause of poor Radio programming any more than the wrenches, screw drivers and other tools in the mechanicís shop caused your car to break down."

In my opinion, these words could only have been written by someone who does not understand the difficulty in creating radio programming - nor are they words that could have come from any person who's been given the responsibility for creating the product that the radio industry (and people like Mr. Santee) sells.

Voice tracking sucks the spontaneity out of radio. Voice tracking holds near complete responsibility for destroying the farm system the radio industry was built on. Voice tracking is not "change" for the good of the product but for lowering expense of product.

Talent are given too many stations to voice track to have hope of "using the technology" for bettering the program - which is a claim only a person who's been on-air can relate to.

Here is one item within the long article by Mr. Santee that I'd like to directly address: "Long before voice tracking became the bane of local DJs, many of the best and most successful national shows were using voice tracking technology extensively and you and millions of listeners never knew it." Not to call this (as one would do in a card game) but please supply proof of what was just said - 'cause, from my knowledge, it ain't so.

Voice tracking was started by Randy Michaels as a way to cut costs. That's fact.

Mr. Santee's "Recording a contest bit off the air is voice tracking!" is missing a valuable point. What he describes is building a promotion, an element of production. You can also successfully argue that pre-recorded bits which air personalities regularly did in the glory days of radio were not "voice tracking," but building program content to be inserted within a live program.

I take great offense to this next comment from Spike Santee, spoken only as an upper-level radio industry executive could: "Volunteer to voice track more than one station within your cluster. Donít make a lot of noise about wanting to get paid more, you can do two shows in less time that it took to do one show when you were doing it live so look at this as an investment in your future security and employability."

His follow-up statement to the above is as absurd. "Doing two shows, developing two personalities moves you to the top of the bossís favorite hard working employee list. Youíll be somewhat immune when the next round of budget cuts come because youíll be doing twice the amount of work than what the complainer is doing."

Here's an observation; "the next round of budget cuts" are going to be based on who does more for less, just like the last few rounds. And, with each new round, quality of talent plays less of a part in the decision.

All that's happened since consolidation began is that the radio industry has succeeded in driving down the value of the personalities radio builds its product around. Following Mr. Santee's advice will only drive a talent's pay/value down farther.

I'm wondering if Spike Santee would be as agreeable to doubling-up on his workload for the same amount of money, as his advice dictates.

The radio industry will never return to what it was. For that, Mr. Santee is correct in saying "Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is coming at you fast."

Where this entire argument lies from my perspectives, though, is in how we have a SVP of the second largest radio group urging talent that their future depends on doing more for less - and believing that voice tracking is the magical technology to make it happen.

Voice tracking is helping radio lower itself to the levels of most every other audio media today. It is destroying radio's value proposition advantage.

If you never sat behind the microphone you won't be able to relate to this concept. Quit complaining about voice tracking and you've thrown in the towel, helping the radio industry to become just another apple in the basket. Eventually, that's going to destroy what people like Mr. Santee depend on; a quality product to sell that's different because it's live, local, and relevant.

Here's where I am bewildered: Considering the damage voice tracking has done to radio's value as a local media, you'd think someone in Mr. Santee's position would be one of the first to complain about it.

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