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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

(TALENT) Boss Radio


For decades, the standard retinue of on-air and commercial phrases has included the likes of: "Do it today! Buy now! Come on down! Save 30 percent! Don't miss it! Check us out online! Call now! Wait!" An impressive list of others exists. The on-air usage of this approach to audiences is ubiquitous.

Advertising agency-type weenies call those audio nuggets "calls to action," and on the surface, most would agree that seems like a more than acceptable bit of labeling. I mean, has anybody in a radio audience got up and complained? Advertisers like the approach ? as if telling people what to do is agreeable to the audience's cranial parts as well as a persuasive advertising methodology.

Just off the top, if any broadcaster can explain how ordering people around like they were one of the family's K-9 chowder-hounds is a worthwhile exercise, I am willing to be corrected. Fair warning though: I have heard most of the justifications. The gem, however, is the one where a radio-type, when challenged, will say something along the lines of: "Our audiences are so stupid, we have to tell them what to do." Others have justified the approach as necessary because "Getting them [the audience] to do stuff is like herding cats."

I understand this authoritarian strategy has been around for like, forever. I also understand the masses have not risen up to storm the station's location, insulted and indignant about being prodded like so many cattle being lead down the final chute.

Most broadcasters have never given this situation any thought at all. That would include owners, managers, the on-air and commercial types, and the janitors who program the outfits. No surprise, this, as the majority of radio folk also still think they are dealing in a one-to-one medium. That broadcasters can't crack through to that reality may be a befuddlement to me for some time.

Meanwhile, there are a limited number of circumstances where someone can actually demand behaviors from someone else. I am thinking a cop could do it. A boss can do it. My mom could do it ? for a while. Some in the guv'ment might pull it off. A spouse probably has the best chance of all.

A fair question, then, would be: If nobody is complaining, why even make an issue of it?

While the dynamic reasons go a little deeper, I could start with the suggestion that telling people what to do on the radio is rude, bullying, insulting and does nothing to either gain rapport with them or make the speaker any more credible or personable. People spending time in the joint are constantly being told what to do. And if they don't there are consequences. One might be forgiven for thinking that those revelations alone would be enough for radio to consider other approaches. But, this is radio, after all ? where habits and dogma rule.

As to deeper rationale:
Language, especially when delivered through an electronic medium, is processed, first, by our unconscious minds. Individuals are unconsciously grinding up what has been presented on an ongoing basis, and making every attempt to derive meaning from what has been heard. But, and this is important, any meaning a person generates is strictly subjective. Their "meaning" may have little or nothing to do with the intentions of the speaker.

Since being told what to do over the radio is a pretty innocuous piece of business, the unconscious doesn't even bother to present that material to the conscious. Thus, minimal complaints are brought forward. But, over time, a resistance is building ? to such a degree that the unconscious begins to reject the spoken material altogether. Still, listeners do complain about how much they hate the spots and can only come up with generalizations about why ? if the topic ever comes up.

Since we are also listeners ourselves, we already know we talk back to the radio on semi-regular occasions. Our retorts hardly ever show us at our emotional or articulate best, either. I have, however, been known to shout out, "Consider my shorts as a source of fine dining, you dolt!" Mostly, though, I get rude and crude, especially in the car.

Language and its nuances are hardly ever considered as important by the vast majority of radio's presenters ? both on-air and out of the spot departments. In fact, most of the language presented on the radio can be described as base and brutal ? the lowest forms of human communication. Attaching all those ridiculous "demands for behavior" only provides more perfect opportunities for audience members to become indifferent to those communications or to reject them altogether.

While radio management is scrambling to squeeze more money from its advertisers, it seems to hardly ever occur to them that an upgrading in the services they are providing might be the real responsibility.

Radio is very fortunate that audience members don?t have the capacity to reach through the speakers, wrap their hands around the presenters' throats, and throttle the livin' bejezus out of these arrogant mutts.

"Boss Radio," some years ago, was an interesting positioning moniker, especially given the precision and intensity of the presentations of the format. But in this context (contemporary music radio), nobody, and I mean not one person on the air, holds such a position that they can claim authority over anybody in the audience. Yet, radio still operates as if ordering us around is a useful, appealing, and successful strategy. Radio is not my boss ? or anyone else's.

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 believes that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed. Check out his website

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