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Ron Robinson

The Radio Trance


By Ronald T. Robinson

Any time I make the case that radio is an indirect medium – that is, something other than a one-to-one communicative platform, I get notices that people are becoming thoroughly annoyed. I find this ironically spectacular, as there is no evidence whatsoever to support the one-to-one premise. It's all based on a dogmatic tradition. And it is pervasive. And, it's an ongoing disaster.

The following is the standard retort to the proposition that radio is an indirect medium and not a one-to-one experience. The most common and general response – masquerading as a complete, closed, unequivocal, and unassailable explanation – is essentially put this way: "When a person, either alone or with someone else in the vicinity, listens to the radio, they do so as an individual! Case closed!"

CNN, might introduce my forthcoming response to that assertion as "Breaking News."

Here, then, is the Hot Flash fresh off the wire – for those who remember "the wire": Human beings experience everything as individuals – and at all times. The 37-cent word for that is "subjectivity." When a person is able to make an alternative step and move to a dissociated position or some form of "objectivity," the chasm between reality and experience becomes even wider, not narrower. In other words: This is not new news. It's old news. But, it is useful information, especially for those who have yet to make this significant distinction.

These last few weeks I have made it my business to find out more of what some of the super-duper programmers and consultants have to say on the matter. Essentially, they have nothing to say. And why would they? In their programming world, the one-to-one premise is the rule. Hell, it's The Law! It's a dogma and sometimes it appears to be faith-based. This is so, even given the fact of a lack of any corroborating evidence whatsoever to the contrary – none.

There are numbers of programming heavy hitters who are prowling the Internet through forums, blogs, and online publications. Some are cruising station hallways. Most, after some analysis are, essentially, speaking on matters of janitorial maintenance and furniture-placement (deck chair) requirements. Granted, there are a multitude of stations that would benefit from the application of just such basic strategies. Yet, none of the pundits are, to my mind, addressing the core issues. (My hat, however, does come off to those who are working effectively with talent to bring out more performance potentials.)

I was reading some once-removed comments from a programmer who was urging client stations to whittle their demographic down to one, typical listener; to get inside her head and to figure out what was important to her – what makes her tick. If I recall correctly, the admonition was to find out "what keeps her awake at night." This is a strategy that guarantees a Cat-4 disaster. Not only is it impossible to fully determine a listener's subjective experience – their beliefs, values, behaviors, motivations, fears, dreams, and aspirations – it isn't valuable information. Not unless she was the only PPM-packin' listener we need to have a successful radio station would this be a worthwhile exercise.

Many of us who have been married to the same person for decades have finally come to the conclusion that we will never, ever get completely inside our significant other's head to the degree we might be able to come to any truly, consistently accurate or dependable conclusions. This (above) programming advice is an example of the one-to-one premise being taken to the edge and… thrown off the cliff. Presuming we can actually accomplish this titanic piece of forensic psychology is just a tad arrogant on our part and a massive, simplifying insult to a complex human being – that particular (although purely a fantasized construct) listener.

I remember well, being hired and walking into the control room of a station that was failing miserably by any definition, only to find a large poster of a seemingly confident, well-dressed young woman posing beside her Beemer that was parked outside her stylish and opulent, urban town home, and being told, "This is our listener!" I put a stop to that immediately.

Meanwhile, when presented with the radio-as-an-indirect medium principle, a number of broadcasters freak out and exclaim, "If that is the case, you are telling us we can't be personal! We won't be able to connect with the listener!" Of course, the panicked tone and content of these comments advertise explicitly their assumption that "personal" and "connect" are extremely important concepts.

The assumption, however, is true. Broadcasters will not be able to be "personal." Nor will they be able to "connect." But then, they never have and they never will! These claims have been no more than extremely muddy, unsubstantiated assertions – at best.

Indeed, those who subscribe to the one-to-one, direct communication assumptions are using almost every on-air opportunity to inadvertently intrude on their audience while presuming wild claims about knowledge of an audience's experience. Given that these on-air bleatings are based on prefabricated conclusions and are being made with the purest of kindly intentions, the broadcaster becomes an unwitting participant in the development of their own, waning lack of credibility. This behavior allows for some truly shabby and counterproductive broadcasting – and advertising. I speculate it also contributes to a low-level, underlying, but ongoing state in the audience that I like to call "Pizzdoughedness".

The highest ideal, then, for an individual broadcaster, rather than being "personal," becomes one of becoming: personable – an appealing, credible, understandable and, perhaps, even funny and entertaining broadcaster. Plus any "connectivity" will be as a subjective experience of some listeners who have been influenced properly and effectively by the broadcaster. Let's just hope that listeners who do feel connectivity to the on-air personality are otherwise psychologically healthy people, as anything beyond that leads to one-sided expectations and possible stalking behaviors. (CNN's Wolf Blitzer may not be surprised by my response to his claim, "You're in The Situation Room." No, Wolf, I'm not. I'm standing in the kitchen in my shorts, with my back to the screen and I'm scraping out the bottom of the peanut butter jar with a knife rather than a spoon. It isn't me who is in The Situation Room. Nor is anybody else except for you and the crew.)

I recall when I was originally being trained to use hypnosis as part of a coaching methodology, our instructor had something to say which was startling at the time and has stuck with me ever since. He commented, "I have a couple of things to say about hypnosis even though there is no such thing; it doesn't work and it is 'bad' for you. The main point is this: Hypnosis is less about putting people into a trance and more about getting them out of the trances they have been in – for years." Indeed, the most difficult part of this exercise is not in identifying, explaining, or demonstrating the premises of radio as an indirect medium. The hardest part is breaking through the schema – the mindset, the trance – where people refuse to even consider the evidence, as there is the potential that, as a result, their already-existing beliefs on the matter will have to be trashed and transformed.

So, as a trainer of indirect communications strategies and techniques, and as a radio hypnotist, I can offer a suggestion to radio programmers who want to increase their influence and benefit their business: snap out of it… right now… and feeeel good!

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

(10/26/2013 9:19:00 AM)
BfM2jx Appreciate you sharing, great blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.

- NY
(10/23/2013 1:03:37 PM)
7UNFft I cannot thank you enough for the blog.Really thank you! Will read on...

- NY
(7/28/2012 6:55:31 AM)
This is a limited-time offer, Phil. People are starting to drop quarters in my cup. Unless they start placing some folding money in there or you come up with something credible and useful, I may have to move on down the road.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(7/26/2012 7:56:24 PM)
No meds, Phil. Just a lifetime of broadcasting and a unique education are in play here.
Say, you wouldn't want to offer some contrary evidence along with the sloppy slur, now, would you? I'll wait here.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(7/26/2012 5:06:53 PM)

Before this guy writes another column, check his meds.

- Phil

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