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Ron Robinson

Talk Radios Slight Advantage

The criticisms and the alternatives I have suggested over time have mainly been addressed to the purveyors of music-radio. This is not because the practitioners of talk are purposely doing things any differently or that they might be better prepared or smarter than their music-driven counterparts. Staffs from either genre may be impressively well prepared. Mostly, though, the talkies are just luckier!
Recent articles of The Radio Brain Parts I, II, and III, demonstrate the neurology of listening to the radio and thinking about radio as strangely different and significantly so. Failure to take these relatively new (to broadcasters) phenomena and their implications into account almost guarantees that radio will continue to experience only what it is experiencing now:  a less-than-satisfactory present. Failure to make the necessary developments to the manner in which we deliver programming, commercial content, and promotional material on-the-air will assure an equally dismal future.
Depending on a persons read of history, ever since the Pilgrims came over and said, Might as well put a station on the air (Plymouths Only Rock) cause we sure as hell cant go back! I have been demonstrating how radio wasnt then, isnt now, and never will be a one-to-one medium. The ways in which we crash a listeners reality, insult their intelligence, and bulldoze our desires on them are numerous, ubiquitous, ongoing, and considered against potential disastrous.
However, there are those glorious, luscious, and gratifying moments when listeners can just experience listening to the radio without suffering any challenges to their integrity or their contextual identity as unknown members of a radio stations audience. Broadcasters who can momentarily  dissociate can also appreciate the case that attempts at generating a personal connection with a non-specified listener are both a.) a real-life impossibility and, b.) a seriously delusional and deeply troubling position.
Here is how that happens. More often than with presenters on music-radio, the talk-show hosts are in conversation with a combination of a.) associates in the studio, b.) guests either live-in-studio or on the phone and, of course, when invited, c.) The callers-in. During these magical moments of  radio broadcasting, the audience is neither formally addressed nor arbitrarily forced to engage. The audience is just listening. They are listening and responding internally to the content, the emotionalism, and the skills of the speakers. It is during these occasions that radio reaches a bit more of its potential. The term that describes this audience experience is vicarious association. People hear the broadcast and relate to it in ways that are consistent with their own individual histories, psychological positions, and emotional predispositions. It is the audience members who determine what the value is, and what it all means, for themselves.
At some point, however, things take a crude and ugly turn, and that blissful broadcast bubble bursts all over everybody. This occurs when the host  has nobody else left to talk to and begins to speak to the audience as if they were one person. This, rather than an unknown, unspecified number of people with unknown genders, ages, locations, likes, dislikes, educational status, or employment situation. Further missing information includes their racial, religious, political, and cultural histories, and their credulity levels.
Yet, the host launches into an ongoing stream of assumptions and, at some point, often has the audacity to demand a number of behaviors from this unknown individual.
The casts of many music-radio morning shows do share a similar circumstance. Typically, the main stud will be engaged in chatting with the designated, clever giggle chick, each of whom may also be trading wisecracks with the designated sports/info/smart-ass guy. This can be very compelling and terrific radio. But again, when any of them turn to the unknown audience member(s) and starts attempting to connect with that good ol one-to-one magic, another broadcast balloon gets busted. Still, for portions of time, the morning crew/zoo/team/squad/gang/posse/goon platoon have each other to annoy, and, therefore, arent aimlessly, mercilessly picking on the audience.
As for the remainder of the broadcast day and the rest of the announce-staff working as singles: K-pooched. Those poor, unsuspecting devils are twisting in the wind with nobody to talk to except that fantasized, guiltless sod that they dont know from Adam, Eve, or Throckmorton. That fantasized someone becomes the target of every one of the communications being uttered live, syndicated, V/Ted, on commercials, and on promo material. This is how presenters are single-handedly destroying theirs and the stations credibility and appeal with every break. An audience member could be forgiven for wondering, What did I ever do to that DJ to be treated this way!?
The practices through which we have been messing up our communicative approaches, and the number of years we have been doing so, are, to my mind, spectacular! If I didnt believe otherwise, somebody could make a good case that we are engaged in a form of self-sabotage something akin to having a locomotives crew standing on the front of the train and throwing scrap metal on the tracks ahead, oblivious to any consequences.
So, does this mean all the standalone performers need to get co-hosts? No. It means they will have to learn communicative techniques necessary to keep them out of trouble while becoming even more appealing. Do we have to ruin an audience members listening experience? Because these errors are ongoing and pervasive in every format; the cumulative effect of maintaining these and other shoddy approaches will guarantee our medium stays right where it is.
Beyond the differences in content provided by Talk or Music radio, the talkies get a slightly easier pass from a listeners radio Brain and enjoy a very slight advantage. Unfortunately, this is not because of any special strategy being devised, considered, and intentionally implemented. Talkies are just a little luckier.

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