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(TALENT) The Radio Brain -- Part III


Very few words aptly describe these TV commercials, one of which would have to be “spectacular!” Celebrities hanging off the rafters, throngs of extras, costumes to rival an old Busby Berkeley musical, lush, multi-layered audio, a plethora of static, steady-cam and dolly shots – all woven together to capture, enrapture and draw in the audience for 26 seconds. Only then is the product/service or brand revealed.
Advertisers who are continuously investing millions of dollars in production costs alone for these spots are not doing so that their agencies can enter to win prizes at the local Ad Show and Quilting Bee. They do so because it is a strategy that works! The radio equivalent costs a measly few thousands of dollars – whenever that happens, which is rarely. (The cost does not include the cheaped-out, hinky jingle package.)
Through my entire career, I have yet to find any radio folk who can argue – in reasonable and rational terms – how these massive production pieces are of any value or how they work. (The chance they might hold a listener’s/viewer’s attention awhile longer, however, is a valid attribute.) Nor have I found anyone who can address the practice with equally rational arguments about why they might not work.
Enter: The Radio Brain.
Radio people are going to have to learn that processing certain patterns of verbiage, pure content, and information are done most efficiently when accessed through the spoken word in an organic (non-electronic) environment or when read from “hard copy.” These processing behaviors are automatic, dominant hemisphere (left-brained) activities. When someone is listening to the radio, the left brain may just as well hang out a sign that reads: “gone fishin’” because it sure ain’t mindin’ the store.
Meanwhile, the Radio Brain is taking in unique forms of language, feasting on any emotionalism being offered and gobbling up any scenery that is built and provided through sensory references. Very little in the form of reasonable or logical pieces of information are even considered – never mind the hope that this info will also be stored away in some subconscious vault.
Sophisticated advertising agencies that are designing electronic media campaigns for the more heavily-funded political groups, already know there is little point in arguing in reasonable or logical terms when emotional bombast and fantasy-laden constructs are far more effective and easier to justify, especially when the “facts” won’t fly.
Meanwhile, a little context might be helpful. Human beings started by grunting at each other, slapping vegetable juices on caves in the form of crude paintings, and trading naughty stories as long as some kind of skin or parchment was available – thousands of years ago. The brain hemispheres have adapted to that, essentially constant, environment.
Then, one day, no more than a few generations ago, a whole new phenomenon was introduced into human experience – the transmission of sound through an electronic medium. That’s the day the sub-dominant hemisphere (right brain) chimed in and said, “I got this!” Broadcasting was born, seized by a pack of wild, roving wolves, and has been feeding on the population ever since – unchecked and undisciplined,
While many broadcasters continue – more out of habit and tradition than through education – to argue using what, at first, seems suspiciously like reasonable and rational approaches for the inclusion of most “content,” in programming and in commercials, our failure to provide massive returns for our advertisers does suggest otherwise. What those results suggest is that we (radio) still have a great deal to learn about how our medium actually works and what we can do to better exploit the potentials.
An understanding and appreciation of these new (to broadcasters) elements of neurology, psychology, and communicative philosophy will be essential for radio to break out of the doldrums in which it has been loafing for more than 30 years. Also necessary will be for broadcasters to acquire an understanding of the techniques and strategies required to take advantage of these innate, but, so far, unexplored qualities of broadcasting. Next comes the will to implement the techniques and strategies. These are no small challenges.
Ignoring this information, however, will guarantee the following: radio will continue to approach its audiences the same way it always has. Radio will continue to approach the advertising it generates for its clients in the same ways. Radio will continue to get the results it always has – audiences and advertisers losing interest and loyalties. It will continue to garner no more than the 5-7 percent of available advertising revenues it can claim for itself today. Radio will continue to become a less-than-exciting medium to consider as a challenging and worthwhile career. Radio will continue to trot out the cheerleading corps that are an embarrassment to all concerned – like being forced to watch old, fat, drunk men on the dance floor stumbling around and getting down with their “bad” selves.
The general state of radio is not a well-kept secret. Amongst other media moguls and professional purveyors of their own communicative trades, radio is at the brunt of too many easily-constructed and cruel jokes. There are those in the radio business who have spent more time learning how to massage and manipulate data than being educated in how, specifically, electronic media impacts a population.
Again, the invitation stands to print this piece and read it as “hard copy.”
Irony: When radio people are considering our own medium, we think about and generate language to express our thoughts about a right brain-accessing medium by processing information through our own left brains. In other words, radio people experience radio differently than does the casual listener. Alert: The Radio Brain and medics with top-drawer medications are standing by.

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