Reprised: The “You” Factor


Based on some fairly terse emails, there is some grumbling in the ranks about the “you” thing. Many years back, the French Foreign Legion had a harsh but useful strategy to put unacceptable complaints to rest. They would openly execute the loudest of the malcontents and declare the reason as follows: “Pour encourages les autres.” This translates to: “To encourage the others.” Radio, so far as I know, has yet to pick up the method. But I’ll wager it has been considered. Fortunately, I offer my criticisms and alternatives from well out of range.

For some time I have been insisting there exists a completely new (to radio) “model-of-communication” that is available to radio presenters – on air and in the creation of local commercials. In the past, I have gone into some detail about many of the planks that make up the complete training platform, “Advanced Communications For Broadcast Professionals.”

The most difficult portion of my experience of introducing this model has been in successfully encouraging radio-folk to take the first step – challenging the entrenched status quo thinking about how we communicate to audiences.

The “you” factor is the primary element and an extremely powerful portion, without which the rest of my program would have one less solid leg on which to stand. I accept, again, I am obliged to provide some form of explanation.

I have mentioned often that radio is not the asserted, direct “one-to-one” medium. No presenter, whether “live” V/T’ed or through commercials has any idea who might be listening. As such, there is no contact and certainly no connection with anyone in particular, implied or otherwise. Radio, rather, is an indirect medium, wide open to (unidentified) audience interpretation.

The first reflex argument from those who are unwilling to consider this matter fully, falls along the lines of: “Each person listening is doing so as an individual and so this (unspecified) individual is the ‘one’ in the one-to-one premise.” While this is the go-to argument, it fails because of the following example, offered here as a rhetorical question: Is there anything in life that is not experienced as an individual? Indeed, all our experiences are, so to speak, of a subjective nature. The argument, while traditional, sincere, and dogmatic is illogical, and fails immediately.

The hardly-ever presented, but more worthy challenge is: When a listener hears the word “you” there is, without question, a moment where their unconscious experience is one of: “I just heard a ‘you’ on the radio and that must be me!” I have no disagreement that listeners go through that exact process, even as it is mostly, I repeat, an unconscious process. It would be just a tad outside of full-blown conscious awareness and, more importantly, acceptance.

The so far unperceived and unacknowledged, but still catastrophic, radio-wreck occurs when the presented material surrounding or attached to the “you” has no demonstrated validity, interest or connection for an overwhelming majority of any real-time audience. A subtle example would be: A presenter says, “I’m Bolter Upright on Bullmoose 98.9 and I’m really glad you’re listening.” Momentarily, a listener would process that the “you’re” is they, and accept the communication as (possibly) valid. But then that other sneaky process mentioned before as a “transderivational search” immediately kicks in. The listener’s unconscious process would verify that the speaker has no knowledge of that listener’s existence and, therefore, it would be impossible for the speaker to be glad the unknown individual is even listening. Given that, the message is rendered as a bogus communication. The speaker, as a result, is instantly saddled with yet another subtle but certain loss of credibility.

I invite astute, regular readers to entertain their own thought experiments, and to produce other examples where the presentation of a “you” in a broadcast communication challenges and scrambles the ongoing experience of almost every single listener. Perhaps it is little wonder that radio dogma has cancelled any consideration of the issue – as common and ubiquitous a practice as it is. Objective measurement of listeners’ experience is impossible. Plus, applying the “you” just seems so intuitively right!

Nevertheless, I will provide another commonly heard utterance that thrashes listener realities: “Your Midtown Dodge Chrysler dealer.” Let’s say a hundred people hear that message. Of those hundred, how many have claimed this dealership as their own, really?

–         First of all, the dealership belongs to the dealer principal – not anyone in the audience. Audiences get that.

–         Stating that single “you”-listener-person has already claimed or is willing to claim ownership is a ludicrous expectation. Instead, the dealership is being forced on the listener. (It’s not even offered as an invitation.)

–         When a listener is being compelled to accept a ridiculous presumption as accurate, or that listener is being lied to – which is the case here – or when the listener’s reality is being challenged, there will be emotional, and occasionally intellectual, rejections of the statement. Whatever consequences are developed from that experience can be easily deduced – and none of this represents good  news for the station or the advertiser.

–         Safe to say, the largest majority of listeners (plural) have never darkened the doors of “Your Midtown Dodge Chrysler dealer.” As such, the statement is rejected immediately and done so in a foul mood. The emotional shift in the listener is generated by the language presented right there, on the radio.

–         The radio station and the dealership are, of course, in cahoots with such statements. It is done with the frequency of the time-buy – over and over and over. The cumulative effect of such messaging is a matter for serious thought.

I enthusiastically assert how this “’You’ Factor” is applied to on-air presentations and commercial copy everywhere and all the time. The examples (above) might be enough to warrant considerations of more compelling, less debilitating choices. Meanwhile, I am fortunate and grateful for not being a French Legionnaire.


  1. Then, Shelly, I suggest this as an opportunity to think it ALL the way through.
    There are so many third-person alternatives that are far more acceptable to an audience and much more influential.
    Simplistic, unprepared, reflexive responses are not acceptable. Nor are they useful.
    This is, after all, Broadcast Communications 2.0. Very few (in radio) have been graduated.
    The homework, however, has been assigned.
    Interested parties would be those who have already realized what a gaping hole (some might say “wound”) exists in our contemporary communicative approaches.

  2. Ronnie,

    Somehow I don’t think Tom Bodett saying “We’ll leave the lights on for the late arrivals of motor vehicle drivers” is gonna cut it.

  3. Shelly continuously jumps to uninformed, uncouth contusions and ridiculous conclusions.
    One can only hope she is not the poster-girl for the general attitudes and positions held by most broadcasters.
    Meanwhile, yes, by all means, go with “Yooz guys”. Now, there’s a mighty problem-solver.
    Further, it is, indeed, time for her to do her “homework”. There might still be a chance. Otherwise – not.

  4. Habitants. Sounds like Squatters or Infiltrators or a vermin-infested basement.
    You’re ignoring my sentiments on the Canadian French. The French waiters ask questions that sound like an inquiry into what you do with your clothes off.
    Everything is sexual-male and female fire hydrants. But, you’re right about saying “You” in copy. From now on I’ll say “Yooz guys”. Maybe “Attention Humans.”

  5. The Montreal Canadians are also known as the “Habitants”. Thus, “Habs”.
    While Shelly ignores the content of the piece, she is likely unaware of how she reveals herself. I am also aware she does not speak for more thoughtful American broadcasters.
    “Homework”, however, is absolutely essential for radio-folk. Without it, there will be no improvement in the quality of products and services rendered. Other media will continue to swipe our candy and eat our lunches.
    Further, radio is an international medium. There are no exclusives, especially in delivery.
    Irony: I was educated by Americans.
    Meanwhile, I do invite America to keep Justin Bieber.
    He was fine when we sent him there. 🙂

  6. Ronnie,

    Only on your blog do we get homework. French is gibberish. You Canadians would be a lot better off if you would let the French have Quebec alone and they stay the Hell out of the rest of the country. Just think. You could take down all those dumb “Rue” street signs all over Manitoba. Your Prime Minister would be banished to Hull. He could wave across the river to Parliament. Celine Dion could stay in Las Vegas. Gordon Lightfoot might sober up. The Montreal Canadiens could then explain how “Canadiens became Habs. Since all Canadians like you do is critique Americans-have a taste of your own medicine.

  7. This piece reminds me of our walking into French class – where the teacher refused to speak any English. As a result, we were all in agreement that what we were hearing was pure gibberish.
    With that appreciation in mind, I urge astute and interested readers to print this page – and study it a least half a dozen times – as hard copy.
    With proper study and consideration – much will be revealed. 🙂


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