Buzzwordium and the Radio Spectrum


Broadcasting is a business of trends. Trends in music, technology, research, chatter, opinion, whatever. It is a reflection, and often argued, an arbiter of trends. As trends come, so they go. The hot new format of the present is the ragged has-been of tomorrow. Because the successful broadcaster needs to have an innate understanding and ability to forecast trends, we often fall victim to trends and sometimes become inescapably trapped inside the vortex of the latest hula hoop. Don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with tracking a trend(s) to create more successful programming. I postulate that because as programmers we are so acute to trends, we often fall prey to trends that have nothing to do with creating a more captivating, compelling and on-target product for listeners and advertisers. Let me digress…

A Limited History of Buzzwordium in Radio

A number of years ago during the final, and some would argue, the fatal blow to radio broadcasting, one of the trendy phrases that was often bantered about in radio group conference meetings nationwide was “synergy.” Corporate mega-properties in these radio groups were told to have “synergy” with each other to command the radio market against the few remaining independent and other corporate radio groups and to use their corporate group weight to undermine the competition and dominate the radio market. Unfortunately (just) one of the outcomes of this “synergy” was to create uncompetitive radio properties, anemic from the rivalry and fire that catapulted these radio stations into dominance in the first place. Out with a whimper were aggressive on-air and covert campaigns to thwart the competition. The last bastions of any aggressiveness in playlists fell off the cliff like lemmings. Personalities and the cultivation of talent, always the factor that separated the “men from the boys” in the radio world, became nothing more than a nationwide also-ran.

To the weak-minded and corporate sheep, “synergy” stood for gathering the troops and corporate/group-minded might into an unstoppable juggernaut that would slash and burn the competition in a final blitzkrieg tantamount to a broadcasting Sherman’s march to the sea. To many, who could see beyond the buzzwordium of “synergy,” it rang hollow. “Synergy” would actually come to mean things such as: Slashes in staff and more work spread among fewer and fewer employees, the constant chasing of quarterly double-digit profits for the corporation despite future consequences for the properties or corporations along with the coming strength of sales management dominance and a demise of real programmers who could add sustainable bottom-line profits to management.

Buzzwordium as Defined or Not

Buzzwordium, is a sister word to Unobtainium, handwavium, phlebotinum, and flangium. In the engineering and/or geek world, unobtainium is any extremely rare, costly, or physically impossible material, required to fulfill a given design for a given application. Unfortunately, a clear definition of “Buzzwordium,” much like the undefinable and unobtainable “Unobtainium,” is easy to imagine, impossible to procure.

One of my least favorite new “Buzzwordiums” has to be the phrase, “Going forward.” It’s intended to mean “There’s no looking back” or “The future is clear.” What “Going forward” really means is, “We as the leaders of this particular group have decided, despite any facts, opinions, ideas, concepts or arguments to the contrary, that this is the direction the group will take. If you disagree or raise any objections or even contemplate a dissimilar idea or concept, you will become anathema to the group and will in turn become apostate.”

Social Media as Buzzwordium

Social Media, whatever that is, for good or bad is the current winner of the majority of Buzzwordium rampant in the broadcasting industry. Let’s just take a look at a quick list the current topics on-line today at the alltop.com radio page. Here’s a sample:

I’m sure that all of these well written articles contain a ton of useful information that most programmers should be aware of, however, it’s important not to get too spun-up in the latest Buzzwordium chicken little falling sky trend taking in the information as gospel just because it contains mucho Buzzwordium. I once worked for a guy who would post a little sign on or outside the studio door of every station he was involved in that read:

All That Matters Is What’s On The Air

It’s easy to get caught up in Buzzwordium and take your eye off the ball. Radio is a medium of content. Spread the talent or programmer too thin, thinking about posting on Facebook, Twittering, worrying about streaming threats, technology or whatever, and the product suffers. A widget is a widget. Technology is cool, but without a product it’s jut a dumb box. As Steve Job’s said, “Real artists Ship.” Real programmers and great talent really only need to worry about one thing, what’s on the air. The other stuff is important, but it’s the product that really matters.

What’s the lesson? Don’t take all Buzzwordium at face value. The latest trend(s) may have value to you as a programmer or talent, don’t ignore them. But never forget that the real target is your product. All that really matters is what’s on the air. The rest, is peripheral.

Post Mortem Social Media Rant

The alleged current number of Facebook users is somewhere in the number of 400 million. It’s not completely clear what the actual number of active  Facebook users is. If you subtract the duplicate users with multiple screen names, users who have signed up but abandoned the service after a day or a week, users who have tried to delete their accounts but can’t or even users who have shed the mortal coil but their Facebook accounts live on in absentia, who knows. Sure, Facebook is big, as in really big, but certainly not nearly even close to the alleged 400 million mark. Take this into account with the findings of a recent study from York University that the majority of Facebook users are narcissistic and insecure lot. The active users rated lower on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and the higher in the Narcissism Personality Inventory. I think it’s safe to assume that the Facebook hula hoop has a very large group of users whom actively use the service for shameless self-promotion, multi-level marketing and keeping track of their children’s bowel movements. Facebook is the buzz chasing the buzz chasing the buzz.

On a personal note, I decided to delete my Facebook account a few months ago. The deactivation decision was partially due to my concerns over privacy but mostly due to the fact that I came to the conclusion that Facebook is just plain dumb. Sure, I made contact with a few old friends that I actually enjoyed hearing from, but the vast majority of my Facebook “friends” were acquaintances or friends that honestly, I had reasons to loose contact with or never had much in common with to begin with. After I dropped my Facebook account, I was interviewed by Bill Murphy for his podcast and he asked me, “Why did you do that. Are you trying to drop off the map into obscurity?” After a bit of thought, I believe that more people should. There was a reason most of them were obscure to begin with, they are just not all that interesting. Please do, drift off that is.

Remove the narcissistic parents announcing their kids latest dump or the insecure Facebooker screaming “look at me, look at me” posting a picture of their take-out or their latest exciting (not) venture, it’s obvious that the the majority of Facebook users are simply self promoters. Business users screaming “Hey, be cool by coming come to my event” or “My band is the best!” and narcissists pondering, “Yeah, I’ll go, it will make me look cooler!” Maybe in the end, Facebook will be a big ol’ win-win-win, where the promoters, the narcissists, and the semi-sane minority will all have it their way. An endless cacophony of self serving promotional drivel.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at his website