Author: McNeal, Brian

Don't Ask – Don't Tell !

Grandad always said, “Be careful what you ask for!” and I guess that may be another way of looking at this. Maybe what Grandad should have said is: “Diplomacy may be better than honesty sometimes”.

For all the years I've been in broadcasting this one thing has never changed: People record songs and expect them to get played on the radio. Even before stalking laws were enacted some of these people were overly guilty of that concept – approaching me and other broadcasters in the grocery store, the mall, at nightclubs etc. with the always confrontational, “Why haven't you played my record yet?”

Broadcasters get a small taste of what famous actors go through in order to go out in public and dodge the barrage of Paparazzi. When we see these folks coming, it's amazing how fast you cannot run and hide. No matter what is attempted, they somehow find a way to rudely get right in the middle of your activity – even in the middle of conversations with other folks. Some even get to the point of hostilities with angry words and slanderous remarks.

Of course it should go without saying that they will call you up on the phone during your air time on the radio and if that's not enough, they'll attempt to stack the deck with about a dozen of their friends all requesting the same song – as if we'd think somehow that would indicate the song is popular and we'd better play it if we want to satisfy our audience.

So the question becomes how to handle these things when you're on the broadcaster side. My policy has always been “honesty and candor”. I've always felt that the artist and/or band's fans are the ones that need to tell them how great the music is. That's not the broadcaster's job. But in reality it seems as if that is what they want to hear and that is the only thing they want to hear.

Honesty and candor haven't always generated the results I expect when using those tools in cases like this. In spite of what the person may say, they really don't want to hear the real reason broadcaster's don't play their music.

I don't want to go into all the selection criteria used to decide who get's played on the air and who doesn't as that would take a minimum of a college semester course just to cover the basics and another two or three semesters to go over all of the scientific analysis methods. But let's just agree that there is a selection and not everyone can make the cut.

I sometimes wonder if broadcasters held a public forum similar to the NFL draft and put up all the contenders and then announced the first and second round picks to the audience, would that help those who don't make it to understand maybe even a little bit of the fierceness of the competition and why they don't make the grade.

In two different surveys, one with a large number of broadcasters and another with a large number of bluegrass musicians, I asked the questions, “How do you handle telling the artists that they won't be played?”, or conversely, “How do you want to be told that your music doesn't stand up and won't be played?”

In both cases, HONESTY and TRUTH rang out at 100 percent. Absolutely no one said they'd like to hear anything less. However in my experiences when actually dealing with the reality, I think the survey respondents are not being honest with themselves. At least in the case of the artists. I don't know any broadcasters that really want to lie to the artists and tell them the music is good when it isn't. But I have heard numerous horror stories about the backlash when the DJ is honest and the artist didn't agree with the opinion.

In almost every case when I've been up front and honest that the music (in my learned opinion) doesn't meet the selection criteria, I've damaged the artist/broadcaster relationship. Even though some will be congenial at the time, it's the months and years after that tell the real tale.

That's why I'm adopting a new policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. If you don't ask me how I like your music, I won't tell you something you're not prepared to hear.

Thank You!
Brian McNeal
Prescription Bluegrass Media
Posted:  7/26/2014

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