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Making The Case


I ask my radio colleagues – even when they aren’t bothering anybody: What do the aerodynamic principles of sailing have in common with radio? After some consideration, the quizzed often request an easier category or a different show. I can report the most common answer from those who do reply consists of two parts: 1. “That’s a dumb question.” and, 2. “Nothing.” I hit the buzzer and exclaim, “Incorrect!”

In seemingly unrelated news, radio folk – leadership, on-air, creative, and sales – continue to maintain a death grip on the unsubstantiated, yet powerful assertion that radio is a direct, personal, one-to-one medium. This position still exists because of a lack of knowledge of contradictory evidence or a refusal to consider evidence that is available. Further, a conclusion that acceptance of a contrary understanding could negate an entire career of paying homage to radio dogma on the matter. This is also a position that sabotages any possibility of future learning.

Broadcasters who hold the position point to the fact that when a person hears a radio station, they do so as an individual. This proposition-as-proof gets delivered with what, I suspect, is the same certainty as those who only centuries ago insisted the world was flat and that any who ventured too far out to sea were assured of dropping off the edge – based on no evidence whatsoever. Those who came back, it was explained, did so only because they didn’t venture out far enough. The logic was held sacred by those who espoused it. Nevertheless, it was drawn from a lack of information. Radio, similarly, built its models of communication well before most of the evidence had arrived.

Likewise, while it is true that listeners do hear the station as individuals, the one-to-one proposition is still hung out there on a single, thin strand. Of course people hear the station as individuals! Are there any human experiences where that is not the case? Even those who are a part of a group are experiencing as an individual. That subjective reality, I have never challenged. The distinctions, nevertheless, do not yet seem to have caught on with broadcasters:

1.) Even as broadcasters insist on the “one-to-one” premise, can they also identify, specifically, who that “one” is? No. (No allowances here for “the personal listener” – a universally accepted, self-induced, and tragically destructive, delusional concept.)

2.) Is there a direct connection with a feedback loop between the speaker and the radio listener like, say, that provided by a telephone? None.

3.) Are there listeners who accept that whatever being said is directed at them – exclusively? Not any stable ones. The exceptions are the addled and confused listeners, of which there are some. (“When I listen to you, I know you are talking only to me.” This is a deeply disturbing admission.)

4.) As the second-person term (“you”) is being applied, does that get the attention of individual listeners? Yes. Every time.

5.) Is what being said pertinent to or true for every individual listener? No. Almost never.

6.) Does this practice (“you”) challenge the immediate, subjective reality of just about every listener? Almost always.

7.) Does this exercise on the part of broadcasters do more to generate credibility with the listener? Or, does it challenge an audience member’s credulity? Our credibility is at risk of being seriously wounded every time we open a microphone.

8.) Does a listener being interrupted with a “you” and then plied with innocuous, useless, or utterly irrelevant material get anything useful? Nope – just pisses ‘em off.

9.) Is isolating a listener through applying the “you” and then telling them what to do a good practice for fostering the advertiser's/talent’s credibility or aid in developing an ongoing, loyal customer/listener? No.

10.) Is this practice (“you”) a well-considered broadcasting strategy or a holdover from some other experience, perhaps like that of the original telephone – a device that allows for at least some semblance of a direct connection. Alexander Graham Bell spoke into the first telephone and said, “Mr. Watson. Come here. I want you.” Watson, who was named, specifically, understood the message could only be for him – exclusively. That was the first electronic, vocal, one-to-one message. Radio has never been able to do that.

Meanwhile, back in the glory days of sail-driven, sails and rigging were designed to accept the force of the apparent wind on the sails, and the boats were pushed along. There were severe limitations on the directions and speeds at which a craft could navigate.

Later, when triangular sails were introduced, amazing things became possible. Among them were quicker rates of speed and the capacity to sail in a greater range of courses off the apparent wind direction. A low-pressure area was created on the leeward side of a sail and what resulted was a pulling or sucking phenomenon that, in combination with the pushing, increased the performance of any vessel under that design of sail. Some research into “Bernoulli's principle” could be handy – and relieve me of the more detailed lecture, which I am unqualified to present.

Radio, unfortunately, is still caught up in an epoch similar to those days of the square-rigged ships. We only push. We have, however, every opportunity to join a modern era by learning how to pull, as well.

Maintaining our status quo will assure us of remaining adrift while waiting for advantageous wind conditions. Radio is an indirect medium. This distinction is only the first of many that broadcasters are invited to learn and apply. Our current state will continue until we acquire superior communication techniques – how to pull as well as how to push. Otherwise, we remain a medium that just “blows.”

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

(9/13/2013 11:58:02 AM)
rKx5hW Fantastic post.Really looking forward to read more. Cool.

- NY
(9/5/2013 10:09:43 AM)
LX3bkv Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic blog post. Awesome.

- NY
(3/28/2013 1:14:38 AM)
Let me be a little more accurate here, Radiomike.
By transferring from Second Person ("you") references to Third Person references, our communications become consistent with what radio already is - an indirect medium.
Besides that which is the most important element, Third Person references are unlimited in number where there is only one "you".

The detailed explanations can be found in a number of fields including Transformational Grammar - a real snoozer for all but the keenest of afficianados. Fortunately, we (radio-types) don't have to know all that to execute the principles any more than a slugger needs to understand physics in order to put bat on ball.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(3/27/2013 4:32:56 PM)
"Suck" is what we already do, Radiomike.
The principle, meanwhile, is quite simple to articulate, but somewhat difficult to execute... at first.

It is as follows: By trading in all Second Person ("you") references for Third Person elements, radio becomes an indirect medium.
And that's it for today's freebie. :)

- Ronald T. Robinson
(3/27/2013 1:44:11 PM)
So you want us to "suck" too? Is there a concrete principle to apply here?

- Radiomike

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