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Saturday, January 17, 2015

(TALENT) Radio's Back Burner


I insist again: I didn't roll up in, or fall out of, my own turnip truck. It's a rental. My expectations for massive improvement in the radio business during 2015 are grim. Anyway, a short revue of a few elements that would make radio a more interesting, more useful, and more profitable enterprise might be in order.

During my many years as a personal trainer/counselor, I have encountered any number of (seemingly) strange and bizarre behaviors. All of them came with equally strange justifications. Until there have been successful interventions, those behaviors and the rationales for them will continue, and will seem to be as natural as breathing. So it is with radio. Now-ancient broadcast behaviors have become traditions and accepted parts of radio dogma ? unassailable by any challenger from any quarter.

It's a good thing we don?t have a well-developed radio industry and are living in an Egyptian society of thousands of years ago. In a conversation with a GSM about a month ago, I, again, offered the premise that radio was nowhere near a "one-to-one medium" and will never attain such a position.

Based on his recoil in horror ? a state that quickly transformed into anger ? an observer might have been convinced I had just told this manager that "Ra" was a useless, conjured-up and toxic entity, and a concept that only served to make mewling, gullible, dependent slaves of believers, and despicable enemies of non-believers.

But here, nevertheless, is another, unacknowledged fact of radio broadcasting: Radio has always and continues to be understood, and presented as a "direct and active medium." This is a catastrophic position at which broadcasters have arrived. Radio is neither of those. Never has been. Never will be. The failure to make such distinctions (and others) has resulted in radio becoming mired in our current status, that of the fifth-rate medium.

Radio has already exhausted itself of programming, creative, marketing, and sales options. It has been the same pig with the occasional change in lipsticks ? for decades. radio has been an "indirect and passive medium." Until those primary and fundamental distinctions are understood, and the alternates applied to everything radio does, the likelihood of attaining required improvements is?nil.

The main bind is in the radio industry's partial understanding that a radio signal enters an individual audience member's ears and mind ? singly. From this one understanding was born the one-to-one assumption, and in turn, the assumption, in its totality, was elevated to the status of "dogma." The dogmas has become "truth" ? unassailable and unchallenged.

Of course, people hear radio as individuals. Every experience in life is always a subjective experience. I repeat: We, that is, all of us, experience everything as individuals ? always.

Since that is the case, the question for radio becomes one of: Are radio communications accepted by individual audience members as accurately targeted, connecting, confirmed communications for themselves, as a particular, singled-out individual? In other words: Does an audience member accept the one-to-one attempt?

The answer is: Not a chance. Not at the level where language is understood, responded to or re-generated ? the unconscious portions of our brains. If we left it up to our conscious processing, a serious amount of time would be required to generate the warning or announcement: "I think I may fart." (Sorting out the rules of grammar, syntax, and surface structures for intended meaning is a formidable, conscious task. By then, the gas would have already passed.) Unconscious processes take care of it all ? automatically.

Plus, because language and all electronic media are processed at the unconscious level, the challenge to radio's disastrous approach is never offered consciously. Consciously, the strategy keeps on whiffing right by us all like thieves in the night. Thieves, by the way, who are continuously stealing our baubles, bangles, credibility, income, and influence.

This (unconscious) train wreck occurs every time a radio communicator hits the microphone, and delivers a comment to "you." The use of "you" on the radio is akin to driving my rented turnip truck into a large cage of shipping-ready chickens. Nobody really cares all that much, but the carnage is still total and terrible.

The practice of vocalizing "you" is a poorly disguised and shoddy attempt to "get up close and personal" with an audience member, and is so pervasive that very few of my radio colleagues and acquaintances have ever given it a second thought. But, it still is like giving a 16-year-old, 80-pound, nubile cheerleader a loaded, 5.56 mm chain gun with an urging to "Just keep it pointed out that way, Muffy."

So far as this concerns radio communicators, "you" is the killer app. Killer, in that it murders other possibilities of clean, understandable, congruent, and influential communications. Here, then, is a literal example of what happens when an exuberant, on-air communicator yarbles to "you": "Forty-six degrees outside with Bolt Upright on Deerfat 103.3, and I?m so glad you?re listening!" Conscious audience response: "Huh? Whatever." Unconscious audience response, however: "Huh? This doofus doesn?t know me, or know that I am listening, and he still tries to shine me on. Bite me, dork!"

Perhaps the following will serve as another, even more precise explanation: It?s not that the "you" doesn't connect to a listener. It does ? only for as long as it takes to say it. It's what is contained in the rest of the communication that, summarily, blows almost everybody off ? a colossal fail! Radio can no longer afford to have transformative insights and strategies spoiling in a pot on a cold, back burner. The challenge to iHeart and others is: Do they know anything about this ? at all?

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the 60s as a performer, writer, and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counsellor. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed. Check out his website at

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