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(TALENT) The Pollyanna Principle

11-5-2012
   
In her best-selling 1913 novel, Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter tells the story of a young girl who comes to an embittered town and confronts its attitude with her determination to see the best in life. Its a charming story intended for children, but over time its title has come to represent a superficial and somewhat delusional positivity. Theres a lot of that attitude permeating radio.
 
For these comments, I have donned my coach/counselor-badge, my nerdy, linguistic bow tie and my blonde, split-back, calfskin, bronc-ridin, rock-jock cowboy boots.
 
I recall a personal improvement technique that has been around for quite some time too long, some could argue. This is the one that involves standing in front of a mirror, looking into the eyes of your reflection, and repeating: Every day in every way, I am getting better and better. The premise has always been how this is a technique that, over time, will overwhelm the unconscious mind and start generating attitudes, emotions, and behaviors that are consistent with a desired outcome.
 
Although not accurate, it could be asserted this technique was designed for the enhancement of radio people creative and sales-types, for sure. Not so much for top end management. The technique, meanwhile, assumes that: 1/ The speaker is consciously congruent and not so self-loathing as to accept the concept of an [I]un[/I]conscious portion of their mind; 2/ The unconscious mind is so shallow that it can be rolled over or tricked quickly, easily, and with such superficiality; 3/ Any desired state has been thought through, is well-formed, and is well-articulated; 4/ That the unconscious portion of their mind, upon being presented with drivel, doesnt dig in and resolve to demonstrate to the speaker who that portion or aspect of a persons psyche is [I]really[/I] in charge.
 
It is one thing to stand in front of a mirror and babble inanities at oneself. Its another to do it on the radio where colleagues, managers, listeners, and clients can hear it all. In any other context, what I hear on the radio and in most day parts would be instantly discounted as a lower form of inarticulate babble. Mantras, at least, are delivered with a little more sincerity, or intensity or sumthin.

Little Toot," that precocious choo-choo train, was stridently pulling his frail metal carcass up the hill with a hearty I think I can." But, he had a single, defined outcome in mind getting to the top of the hill.
 
It is of little wonder that radio salespeople, on-air talent, and the rubber chicken bunch those staffing the creative departments may use these mantras and self-help techniques to maintain the idea that going to work today would be better than staying home. Still, theres a tough slog ahead as even The Law of Attraction as presented in The Secret and elsewhere, requires of the student that they muster up the self-discipline to monitor and curtail those thoughts and emotions that limit and/or distort the desired outcomes of the practitioner.

Radio, we can all agree, is a unique, strange, and fascinating medium. It is a medium of the ether the air. None of us are in the business of manufacturing anything. We dont move molecules around to create products made of matter. We are in the business of massaging minds and all we have at our disposal to influence those minds are words and sounds. People in the audience still do lend us their heads and allow us to mess around with them. Given the impact and success we have enjoyed over time and from time-to-time, that really is quite spectacular! Yet, we are experiencing stagnation, if not a scenario of diminishing returns. Imagine that! People give us their skulls to play with and were bogged down!? What!?
 
Unfortunately, it takes more than a series of mantras or me diggin me affirmations to take advantage of radios future potentials. Its going to take a complete re-tooling of what we do and how we do it to attempt to do the influencing and to generate greater successes in the process. That is, unless the status quo is acceptable for the shorter term.
 
Further, I read some comments from senior managers recently about their thoughts on the challenges that radio faces over the next year. So far, they could be bundled and paraphrased as follows: We are going to have to come to grips with the economic realities and the challenges of other media and through teamwork and paying closer attention to efficiencies, at the end of the day, we will be robustly responding to those challenges going forward. (It is highly possible the creative departments wrote those comments and emailed them back to the corner offices.) I guess I should include that a couple folks might have mentioned something about better serving the audience and clients, but that hardly gets enough enthusiastic acceptance to even rate the inclusion. Somebody might actually give a damn about audiences and clients. I guess.
 
Meanwhile and as a resident buzz-killer, I am obliged to point out that radio salespeople might be better-served were they to continue hanging on to and applying those mantras mentioned earlier, as they wont be getting many solutions to take to the street. The on-air presenters might want to join in and also invite the creative staffers who wont be improving either. The jocks will not be getting more appealing and the spots will not be getting more effective. This is partially because these folks are not being trained to get better at their skill-sets. After all, ongoing training does show up on the balance sheets as expenses." That an ROI is part of the dynamic seems to be just out of the grasp of so many owners and managers.
 
This situation also sets up another dynamic. Many on-air and creative people are of the opinion that further training for themselves is not even required. All they need, they will claim, is more freedom and time to operate. That, and a bigger pail of cash.
 
Better perhaps to continue mouthing words at the mirror even when there is that dull, but still painful and just-barely-under-the-surface awareness that there is somebody in there who is replying: Getting better in every way!? Every day!? Are we crazy!?
 
No! This is modern radio we are discussing. It is going to take more than mantras, assertions, or positive affirmations to re-start this medium and to make of it an even more powerful informational, entertainment, and advertising resource. Knowledge and skills are what are required. I might paraphrase Cheech and Chong here with: Pollyannas not here man."

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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