Programming By Reading Minds

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(By Ronald Robinson) They are still at it. They can’t help themselves, and they just won’t stop. Recently, I have been paying closer attention to the pontifications of a number of radio programmers – people who really should know better. They are to the point where much of their rhetoric could be classified as “wishful muttering.” They continue to insist they are putting (alleged) facts to (alleged) truths.

The problem with this approach is that no “facts” have been conclusively demonstrated and that “truth” is offered as that which is self-evident and unassailable. Or else! It is a dangerous and doomed approach, and it begins with the non-existent capacity of programmers to mind-read audiences. Similar to a number of megaphone toting, sandwich board-wearing street preachers, they (the programmers) get up on their apple crates and commence to hollering – trying to yell over the ambient din.

I recently read the comments of a well-known programmer who opened by claiming he knew what audiences wanted! That’s mind-reading on a macro scale! I can reasonably say there are times when I don’t know what’s going on in my own mind – and some of the people I know would attest to that. I hardly, if ever, know what’s going on in my wife’s mind, and she will confirm that, too. How then, could I even begin to read the minds of thousands of radio station listeners? Station audiences, I suggest, do not operate like a bee or ant collective. Station audiences are made up of individuals and nobody, and I mean nobody, is successfully reading their minds. (Anybody who can demonstrate such a skill has a nifty little cult in his or her future.)

Meanwhile, as to programmers’ mind-reading claims:

Mind-reading “fact” #1: “People perceive your personality as an interruption.”

What!? Which people? Which personality? When? Under what circumstances? Based on what? Even when that is the case in some contexts, some of the time, the “fix” is not camouflaging or suppressing the presenter.

Mind-reading “fact” #2: “Music radio listeners don’t like sudden changes.”

What!? How would programmers know this, if not by mind reading? “Sudden” in what way, specifically? Others can effectively argue that a programming “jolt” is a more useful element.

Mind-reading “fact” #3: Listeners appreciate the running of music beds under a presenter’s deliveries.”

A music bed under the presenter is supposed to accomplish what – make the station sound like it is seamless and flowing? How, I wonder, is that even useful, never mind appealing? I have been hearing this ridiculous strategy being applied for some time, and here is what happens: The talent’s pacing is locked-in and crippled by the arbitrary tempo of the music bed. Seamless? Appealing? How about mechanistic, irritating, and insulting?

Mind-reading “fact” #4 “Listeners will learn and enjoy your station’s most excellent programming strategies – designed with them in mind, of course – after repeated listenings.”

Well now, doggie! There’s a ton of mind reading and wishful thinking, delivered on a flatbed trailer. It’s also a representation of long-held radio dogma that “flow” and seemingly “seamless” delivery is absolutely essential to the survival of the station. Programmers continue to light candles at that shrine.

I have had a number of PDs charge the control room when I have misplayed a tune out of rotation or when a spot-firing mechanism crapped out, or when I missed the button altogether and created some dead air. I mean, these guys arrived at the board absolutely beside themselves, apoplectic, and on the verge of self-detonation. I guess they were convinced that listeners were punching out of the station like rats caught in a warehouse fire. I wonder: Are such mortal sins still severely punished?

Mind-reading fact #5: “Audiences will be more interested and engaged when presenters say more by speaking less.”

What!? I don’t even know what that means! (Actually, I do.) But, until communicators are taught how, specifically, to accomplish that, the edict is just more frustrating white noise.

Another mind-reading assertion: Audiences are so gullible and credulous as to actually be positively motivated by any of these innocuous strategies. While there might be a little something-something to the former proposition, these are hardly worthy or useful premises on which to program a contemporary radio station.

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 counselor. E-mail him at [email protected]

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Ron Robinson
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 counselor. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed.

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