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Ron Robinson

Re-Learning The Game

6-8-2012

"Startled awake in his tent with a terror that was no remnant of any nightmare, he inhaled and gagged on the thick, putrid stench of entrails and excrement. Peering outside, he could barely make out a human form, minus the arms below the elbows -- stumps flapping aimlessly. The animal was enormous. Only then did the sound, and the realization crash simultaneously in his mind. He was hearing the screams that come only from someone being eaten alive. And now, the Buckinghams on Oldies 96 with Kind of a Drag."

Granted, that might be a tad questionable as a choice of content for dry cornflake, music radio. Yet, the (above) does serve as a genuine example of "Theatre of the Mind." For those relatively new to the medium, thats the element of music radio that has been completely missing since being replaced by "Less Talk and More Commercial-Free Music Than Anybody." Plus, it was also extremely rare during the daze of "All Hits -- All The Time." So, a lot of readers can be forgiven for going, "Huh!?" Indeed, the T.O.T.M. component has gone missing from both the commercials and in the talent presentations for quite some time.

New Rule: Anybody who talks up Theatre of the Mind to a potential advertising client had better be able to provide locally produced examples of it. Otherwise, better for all concerned if they breathe through their noses on this one and stick to the ol Reach and Frequency-dodge. Those marvelous little agency-produced spots for stations to run touting the benefits of using radio as an advertising medium, dont count. Thats because they will likely be among the very few elements aired on the station demonstrating the concept.

Although many would have caught on instantly, it still might be prudent to point out how the (above) little vignette is also an interesting example of the use of sensory-based language. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch were all represented in the piece. The suppression of on-air talent over the years in delivering pure content has put a grinding halt to just about any attempt at being more expressive. That the provided content is usually mundane and that the deliveries are banal, patronizing, and insulting are separate issues. PDs have said, "Less is more." I say, "Less is less."

As we agree, people are experiencing the world through their senses. This can be as a direct connection to the environment or as a result of whatever it is we might cook up in our skulls. And I can say from my own adventures as a personal coach that the stuff people are concocting in their minds would make another persons bad acid-trip seem like a walk in a perfumed, garden solarium. Still, those are the components that drive and support our behaviors, values and beliefs. It doesnt matter that someone else may have stuck those components into our minds or whether we unconsciously or consciously made those sets of arrangements for ourselves. They all work in proportion to their number and intensity. I submit, therefore, that any on-air presenter who engages these modalities is providing a far richer, compelling, and superior experience for the listener. A reasonable assumption might then be: The degree to which a broadcast communicator can engage those modalities -- those senses -- will, to a significant degree, determine the subjective value of any listening experience.

While I claim to represent a new paradigm for broadcast communications, there is still the matter of how to best get that paradigm into the system. As we know, there are four choices available to ownership.

1. The Consultancy. Generally, a "pro from Dover" is summoned and long, furrowed brow-discussions commence. Intense monitoring of the station ensues whereupon reports are generated along with visual aids. Historically, the major options placed under scrutiny include: the relocation of deck chairs, a change in fabric of the deck chairs, the cost of baling wire and putty for some of the chair legs, considerations of the color of the new varnish that may be necessary for a couple of the more faded chairs. Allowances and contingency plans are made for the termination of those who might make any scraping sounds during chair relocation. That the ship is in a constant 20-degree list to starboard does not enter into the considerations as, by then, everybody on board has their "sea legs" and finds walking around at a rakish angle to be quite ordinary. Invoices are inserted and nobody takes any responsibility to actually address the deck chair issues. Everybodys "six" is covered.

2. Teaching. This is a strategy for covering the most amount of material in the least amount of time and at the lowest cost. Often, it will entail a one- or two-day gathering of the clan whose collected butts will be stapled to chairs. The teacher, another Doverite, will then present an inordinate amount of material and will only stop for breaks when the attendees eyes are rolling or closing altogether. Other signs of students being overwhelmed by information -- most of which is not fully understood anyway -- are those drooling like a Saint Bernard or collapsing out of their chairs. Then there are those who come to devastating premature conclusions about the material and attempt to sabotage the rest of the classs time by exclaiming how they refuse to participate and will be sticking to the old way -- even as it isnt working. (This, by the way, is an almost reasonable position, particularly when the presented alternatives are confusing and the student is left disoriented and confused.) Meanwhile, and come the following Monday, 90 percent of the material has been completely forgotten, distorted, or discounted in some ways and the folks find other work-related matters more pressing. Nothing gets implemented. But, the teacher picks up a nice check and everybody on the management side has a "six" that is covered again.

3. Training/Coaching. Engaging a trainer/coach from somewhere other than Dover is where things get messy -- but only for a while. Training is about people learning and, more importantly, demonstrating their newly acquired abilities and in real-time. Training is systematic. It continues and does not stop until the participants can demonstrate their technique. Training takes place after commitments are made -- from the participants and from station leadership who commit to the implementation of the new strategies and skills. Unlike a "seagull seminar" which is a teaching "event" and one in which the teacher flies in, dumps all over everything, and flies right back out again, training is an ongoing "process." During training, old paradigms are challenged and new ones are demonstrated, learned, and practiced until a skill-set develops. This is the preferred and most effective strategy. Wet feet wont move it along. Meanwhile, everybody agrees to being held responsible and nobodys "six" is covered. Nasty.

4. Therapy. Although there are very few of us who can pull this hat out of the rabbit, there are enough occasions presented where this element of a coaching/training process comes in mighty handy. These opportunities also demonstrate an individuals capacity to make extraordinary adjustments in their strategies and behaviors. Very satisfying, this, and sometimes a necessary component of a training/coaching program.

Indeed, new, practical, and applicable "truths" can be generated. However, as Gloria Steinem has said: 'The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off."

In the meantime, music radio, as it applies itself to talent presentation and spot production, continues to do the least it can with less -- and less-skilled -- talent. The effort could aptly be described as: Theatre of the Oh, Never Mind. We need to talk.

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 www.voicetalentguy.com



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