Blog: Nails Mahoney on the style guide leak

You might have seen a radio group format guide leaked online. It caused outrage and a lot of discussion about the state of radio.

Iain Lee and Danny Baker both addressed it as well as lots of industry veterans on Facebook and Twitter.

I read comments from people on the lines of “This is what’s wrong with radio”, “These people are destroying the industry” etc.

At first I agreed. I love radio and I love the people that create great radio. It’s in my bones. I’ve spent twenty five years travelling and learning radio from amazing radio people. To see it marginalised and turned into a product that loses all sense of intimacy is incredibly frustrating…because we all know what radio CAN be.

Then, I thought of the Mark Twain quote.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”

― Mark Twain

It’s quite easy to moan and gripe and point out what’s wrong. It’s easy to be that majority because we all agree with eachother. But let’s look at it in a different way and try to find out what’s going on here. We can’t learn by agreeing!

The general line since the first person tapped in a ‘www’ to listen to music is that ‘radio is dying’. You’ve heard this so many times. If we believe the hype, then we believe we are part of an industry that has no future. I have not met one presenter who believes that.

So where is this mindset coming from and why? For me, it’s driven by fear. If radio listenership is down and radio is how we make a living, then the natural reaction is to protect what we have and try not lose anymore. The management behind this form guide are driven by that desire – that desire to ‘fix’ it before it gets worse.

Do they ‘know’ radio? I don’t know.

Are they ‘radio people’? I don’t know.

What I DO know is that they are scared. When you are scared of something, you react in one of two ways: stand still or move. By implementing these rules, are they standing still or moving? And if they are moving, is it towards something or away from something?

Maybe they decided to react to falling numbers by going back to basics? These rules really ARE the basics. When a footballer is off form, the coach will say ‘Do the basics well’. That means, get the ball and pass it. Do that well. Nothing more.

Is this the equivalent of a radio group getting the ball and passing it? Is there a bigger plan? Do they have a ‘Phase 2’?

But to be honest – I don’t care about them. They’re not the bad guys (they ARE not bad guys)…they’re just doing what they know. No more. What I care about is YOU. The Radio Presenter. What do you do when faced with this?

I always tell presenters ‘Learn the rules so you know how to break them’. That’s not a flippant, throwaway piece of advice – I take that seriously. Know the rules. This form guide represents the rules. Know how to break them.

“But if I break the rules I’ll be fired”. Yes you will…if you don’t know HOW to break them. Creatively!

Look at Broadway Bill on CBS-FM in New York. His links last 15 to 20 seconds…in and around the length stipulated on this form guide. Have you heard what he can do in that time? He has created an on-air persona unique to him. Only he does what he does. And he does it IN FORMAT! He creates, he innovates, he entertains and he works the rules to his needs.

You want to be creative? Here’s an opportunity to create in a very tightly regulated environment. Show what you can do!!!

Instead of being part of the ‘majority’ and bitching and moaning about management techniques, ask yourself one question: “How can I make this work for me?” Chances are you will move stations eventually. This is not your ‘forever’.

Whatever is thrown at you, ask how you can learn and grow from this and use it in the future? This management team will leave, new people will come in…maybe one of them will be you!

It’s a challenge – guess what? Life has more coming your way. You can either stand still or move towards. Your choice.

By the way, last week on Facebook I asked: ‘What One Thing Would Improve Radio?’ The answers (from radio people) ranged from “Verbal Freedom”, “Leave the presenting to the radio presenters”, “Cut out the inane nonsense masquerading as banter”, “DJs stop talking shite”, “Personalities being allowed out”. Both sides of the argument on display there. Where do you stand?

Before you automatically join the majority, think for yourself. Then do what feels right for you. Just remember, moaning and griping is easy – you will not be challenged for that. Everyone will be on your side. That feels nice. Will it move you forward? Will it help you grow? Or will it turn you into that which you challenge?

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