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(TALENT) Victorious Vicarious

4-7-2014 

The majority of music radio managers won’t even give their PDs enough rope to hang themselves. Nor do they seem to have the acuity to recognize the “call for help” in their PDs’ requests for “just a little more rope.” Then, maybe they do, and they just want to avoid the mess and the paperwork. Some PDs may as well be janitors. Some already are.
 
The job description in every ad for a station hiring a PD includes: “to mentor and coach the on-air staff.” Given the skill-sets of most on-air folks, PDs are not up to snuff. In fact, they are operating out of 30- to 40 year-old, handwritten manuals that have been left in the drawers of the last three generations of program directors – stained, smudged, and littered with phone numbers inactive since the Reagan administration.
 
Closer examination of these documents also reveals that none of them are originals. Rather, they are scanned copies of carbon copies of tablets carved in soap. Yet, they have been delivered to every PD on the planet and been accepted as the Last Word on how to program a music radio station.
 
In my most recent blog post, I repeated the concept of “vicarious association” – a phenomenon that audiences occasionally experience when listening to the radio. It can be described as an audience member who, because of the structure of talent’s broadcast, is listening in, eavesdropping, or is once-removed from the offerings of the presenters. This is an automatic occurrence when there is more than one performer on the air at any given time who is speaking to someone else in the studio or a caller-in.
 
I have mentioned the concept a number of times, primarily because, to my mind, it is the most important element that works in favor of the presenter(s)! Applying the principle has never been an intentional strategy. It is, still, one fine, happy accident. A further benefit to a listener is that no responsibility to be or get engaged is either explicit or implied.
 
It all falls apart, though, when one of the performers starts addressing the audience. In practice, the presenter will, almost always, be attempting to address a single individual in the audience. Glass shatters and bricks crumble. The little mind-fantasy goes “poof.” The happy accident only occurs when there are a number of talents bouncing off each other. Many morning shows would qualify – partially.
 
Then there are the poor, sodden souls who are compelled to work as single performers – shoved out on the precipice in a thunderstorm with no buddies, no support, and only an unknown audience to consider. This applies to most other dayparts whether “live” or V/T’ed. Even so, talent is obliged to attempt to communicate to one, single listener – the ol’ “one-to-one” debacle.
 
“One-to-one,” as a broadcast strategy, has been a tragic disaster – radio’s multi-vehicle crashes on a fog-blanketed freeway that keeps accumulating more wrecks. PDs supply no cautions, either, as they have been brainwashed by tradition and the dogma scrawled in those left-behind manuscripts that litter their desks and drawers.
 
On-air performers continue to mouth the liturgy as well, when they claim their role as performers is to facilitate that “one-to-one” experience in the listener. A more accurate and worthwhile description would come from the performer who would claim they want an audience member to find their efforts to be personally appealing and satisfying. Based on that more useful description, there is no need whatsoever for an audience member to have that “one-to-one” experience.
 
The key question, particularly for the single performer, would be: Are there ways of generating an experience in the listener(s) of a “vicarious association” while being totally alone in the booth with nobody else to talk to except a listener? The exciting answer is a great deal more than just “Yes!” There are multiple ways of making the transition.
 
There is a process in how we all sort through the language we hear and read. It is called “transderivational search.” (Yes, really!) Generally, this is an unconscious processing of the language. Based on all our own, personal, subjective experiences and understandings, we go through this process in order to attempt to generate meaning and understanding from what we have just heard or read.
 
For example, I could blurt out, “You know, it’s a good thing bar stools have no memory of all the behinds they have supported.” Instead of attempting to engage and challenge a listener, I could also drop the “you know” and simply say, “It’s a good thing bar stools have no memory of all the behinds they have supported.” By wording it this way, I make no attempt to contact any reader/listener directly. No one gets challenged to contribute anything – not their attention nor a response. But, I can still guarantee that every reader/listener goes through a process of visualizing some kind of bar stool in some environment with butts on top. This is not a choice. It is a language-processing necessity in order to understand the sentence. (Agreed: Most know that bar stools have no capacity for thought or memory. If they do, one can always hope it is limited and short term.)
 
Still, that exercise is an example of vicarious association in that no specified or unspecified member of the audience/readership was challenged to engage. They do anyway. But, nobody attempted to make them. This approach works for the presenter and the audience member. Is this subtle? Oh, yeah. So subtle as to defy conscious detection. But, powerful? Wow! Hoo-hah!
 
Generating and maintaining a state of vicarious association in an audience at all times, including during the airing of commercials and promos, would be, in my view, the most important mandate that music radio could take on. I believe our future credibility, appeal, effectiveness, and prosperity depends on it. Transderivational Search is always in play. If applied, “vicarious” would claim another victory.

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 www.voicetalentguy.com




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