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Ron Robinson

Rational Radio


The title of this piece is a roaring oxymoron -- on many levels. I ask readers to consider but one of these, that being the assumption that radio is an ideal medium to present pure information and rational argument to influence audiences. Those who do accept the premise as accurate have entered the race. Just prior to the heat, they have borrowed the starters gun and shot themselves in the foot. Fans erupt. Betters scramble.

During recent weeks, a number of radios leadership -- large chargers, iconic personalities, corporate heads -- have consistently insisted that all radio really needs is to, somehow, get a neat-o, nifty story making the rounds. That would close the wounds and, so to speak, get everybody back in the competition.

A hole blasted in the foot -- whether as a result of an accident, self-applied, or otherwise-inflicted -- takes more than a metaphor, an analogy, an outright fairytale or a blissed-out mantra to correct. Indeed, some members of radios leadership have been falling all over themselves to promote the (possibly) imminent unleashing of some version or other of Radios Great Story. Included are the assumptions that somebody must certainly a.) have the knowledge of what that story might be; and, b.) have available a magnificent strategy for delivering this (alleged) mighty and redemptive yarn.

Unfortunately, what they have been engaging in is similar to blowing enough smoke over the landscape to cover a third army flanking of all of Europe. This tactic neither wins nor loses battles, but it does delay a reckoning until another day -- another can kicked down the road.

Radio isnt available as a particularly useful, never mind compelling, medium through which to deliver factual, rational, or reasoned material. The presentation of facts and figures, and the introduction of cogent argument, are but wasted efforts that are usually lost on a radio audience. (A more detailed explanation follows shortly.) However, the following examples might begin to demonstrate the point more clearly.

Most in radio know the so-called right wing, conservative, Republican, religious, patriotic factions of American radio presenters OWN talk-radio. All of this is going on as the so-called liberal, leftie, Democratic, socialist, semi-secularist, smarty-pants weenies are busy looking for hosts, stations on which to run, advertisers, and audiences.

The known cadre of syndicated, conservative blowhards and their local acolytes are continuously tickling themselves pink while fanning embers into emotional flames and feeding the fears of so many paranoid bumpkins -- including those already mangled by any number of ideological bear-traps. This is compared to the other syndicated purveyors of (lefty) audio slush -- the hosts who, by piling up facts and figures, could put a somnambulist back to bed for a really good nights sleep!

While radio-folk know that one faction, pretty much, controls the vast majority of the talk-radio airwaves, few can explain how. Since a few clues were provided earlier (above), the explanation begins now.

Radio has a completely different neurological impact on listeners when compared to a bus or billboard, a printed page or a personal, live, organic, real-life, one-to-one conversation. Listeners -- through no choice of their own -- are processing a broadcast through their sub-dominant hemispheres. (This hemisphere is occasionally referred to as the right brain, as opposed to the dominant hemisphere, or left brain.) As any Internet gaming-junkie will confirm, there is very little processing of pure information going on here, but a whole slew of pattern-completions and emotional experiences.

This is the case for every electronic signal we process. Its not so bizarre either as there was no such thing as an electronic signal during the days of our great grandparents -- no phone, no TV, and nobody on the radio talkin dirty, playin the hits or attempting to scare the bejezuz out of us with paranoid fantasies and spectacular conspiracies. All that came later. Humans havent had even the beginning of a chance to evolve coping strategies for the electronic signals bombarding us at all times. (Some argue the signals are make us progressively crazy.)

The really smart people have been plying and tempting us with facts, figures, reason, and argument -- on the radio! Weird choice. The righter-wing, meanwhile, have been haranguing us with nonsense, filtered facts, and unsubstantiated innuendoes -- for years. They have been doing it with powerful, emotional presentations, sometimes to the point of hysteria, and have been generating amazing results! The so-called big brains on the left sniff condescendingly and then question where their support went. One wonders: Who here are the actual dummies?

Another unique example: Religious broadcasters get a radio-congruent, cheap ride on an audience as their presentations are so emotionally charged. Even Martin Luther is quoted as saying, Reason is the Devils harlot. Marty didnt have a clue about radio.

With an understanding and appreciation of this principle, radio can also re-consider everything else we do: spots, promos and jock presentations. Play me a spot loaded with facts and figures and Im listening to a waste of money. Only, I submit, when radio wises up and gets with this primary, emotionally-based program (and other, even more subtle elements) will we have an actual story to tell. The solution is to begin learning how to work this medium congruently. The weakest alternative consists of making up more outlandish fairy tales which, to have any affect at all, must be delivered on the radio with outrageous emotion and strenuous enthusiasm. I also offer one more limitation, at my own expense. These words are delivered on an electronic page. Now, thats irony!

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