Rules Aren't Rules
March 28, 2014
This morning, there's a news story about... what? No, not DeSean Jackson. That's for another column. This one is about a guy who went to the movies in Brooklyn and tried to bring in a bag of strawberries because, he says, he's a diabetic and needs to keep his blood sugar levels stable and he doesn't want to eat the Twizzlers and Dots and Sour Patch Kids kind of stuff that they sell at the concession stand. Only they told him he couldn't, because they have a No Outside Food rule, so he snuck the berries in, and they found out and called the cops on him, because Rules Are Rules.
This kind of thing has always annoyed me. I'm fine with rules when they make sense, and I'm definitely fine with following the law. But in some situations, when a company policy doesn't conform to common sense, there's no reason they can't be bent or ignored. Some companies understand this -- Apple, for one, allows its "Geniuses" to make certain kinds of exchanges and repairs for free even if the warranty's expired, because they know it's the right thing to do and will engender customer loyalty. Cops who pull you over for going a little over the speed limit will sometimes say, well, just be careful next time, because writing you up for 35 in a 30 zone isn't worth the trouble for either one of you. The cashier at the 15-items-or-less checkout stand at Ralphs isn't going to call the police when you have 17 items.
And thinking about those rules brought me to radio, because this IS a radio column and I AM on deadline. It reminded me that the industry labors under self-imposed rules all the time. We sometimes call them "formatics," and they often serve a purpose: They can help keep the pace up, they can remind people of the name of the station (still a thing in diary markets), they can do lots of things. Rules can be valuable.
But sometimes, as in every business, we have rules that exist because, well, we don't remember exactly why, or they made sense back in the day and we never got rid of them. Like I mentioned the other week, there's no reason for the rule that women don't belong in drive time leadership roles. There's no reason in a PPM world for every station to schedule stop sets at the same time. There's no reason stations have to have the same lame names in every market -- letter-followed-by-number, or Mix or whatever. There's no reason that talk has to be all political. There's no reason all shows have to begin and end at the top of the hour.
Or maybe there ARE reasons for all of them, bolstered by extensive research. I doubt it, but maybe there are. But so what? They're not laws. They're not foolproof. And, most importantly, sometimes, creativity and self-imposed rules don't go well together. Some people can work well under the constraints of formatics and rules, and some are better forging their own path. But, you know, those people will get a lot of pushback from management, because rules are rules and if we bend them for one host we'll have to bend them for all.
And that's another reason the coming generations of talent will find things more hospitable in other media, whether it's online video or podcasts or streaming or whatever. No FCC, sure, but also no program director laying down rules that don't necessarily jibe with your vision of what a good show sounds, or looks, like. Freedom is seductive, for good reason. If you're a talent and your primary reason for doing this is to satisfy your creative side, you don't want anyone telling you what to do.
Look, if tightly controlled, tightly formatted, follow-the-rules radio is working for your show or station, by all means, keep it up. But there has to be room for experimentation, room for trying things that are different. And the industry HAS to get out of its knee-jerk trashing of anyone and anything trying a new idea. As a veteran of trying new ideas and getting treated as a heretic and idiot for doing so, I can tell you that a hostile environment for innovation will lead to people beng afraid to try new things, and that in turns leads to stagnation and slow or nonexistent growth... which is where we are in the business now. We could use some innovation, and the place to start is to stop imposing restrictions on ourselves. Sometimes, it's okay to let someone bring strawberries into the theater.
I don't have a slick way to segue into plugging All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. So, um, just try it if you aren't already using it, okay? Find it by clicking here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
Next week, I'll be at a convention. And then, another convention. Two in a row. You know how I feel about that. So you know what next week's column will be like. It's always more entertaining when I'm in a bad mood.