Radio Does Not have A Specific Strategy


(By Ronald Robinson) Radio has yet to acknowledge or appreciate that superior forms of communicating to audiences – both for on-air and in the writing of copy – exist and are readily available. And when I say superior, I mean more listenable, more appealing, and more effective. Radio has made no shifts in how it communicates, especially with “direct response” ads. Those chaotic, corporate consolidations of yore crippled any chance of that.

I remember I did promise some further explanations of the methods I have been buffing in this space for quite some time.

The alternate to dropping the “you” from our on-air and copywriting approaches accomplishes a few worthwhile, important, and more influential results.

To begin:

—  Dropping the “you” eliminates the overt insistence that an unknown individual listener has been contacted directly – a deeply insulting and counter-productive piece of communicative business.

—  The “you,” the use of which is so pervasive in radio as to never have been identified or challenged, requires other forms of the communicative process as more effective replacements.

To anyone willing to seriously consider the alternatives, a world of options opens up. Not only are there more choices, every one of them is more listenable and powerful. This then, is an invitation to “the willing” to strap in and hang on – as things are about to get weird.

The relief from using the second person (“you”) is in the application of the “third person.” Those of us who can still dredge up our book-larnin’ days in grade school will remember “third person” as a person, place, or thing – specified or unspecified – singular or plural.

Here is a very simple second person-based (“you”) sentence:

“You can easily think of a tasty cat.”

A third-person alternate that eliminates the “you” could be:

“Anyone (someone, a person, a listener, an individual etc.) can easily think of a tasty cat.”

Now, for a reader or a listener to understand and derive some meaning from both of those sentences, they are required to go through a language-processing behavior that is automatic and accomplished at the unconscious level.

The high falutin’ term for this process is “transderivational search.” The (TDS) process is also understood by transformational grammarians, in the field of psycholinguitics, clinical hypnosis, by the neuro linguistic-gang, and by some high-end ad agencies.

A reader/listener, in order to begin understanding the sentence, is, first, compelled to generate some internal representation of a “cat.” When no other contexts or modifying or descriptive words are supplied, the possibilities for each individual listener/reader are endless – and likely unique for each person.

But then, there is that pesky ambiguity “tasty.” Is that a reference to a cat with “class” or is it about a cat that is delicious coming off a fork? Unless more information is provided, that determination will come only from the individual who is processing the sentence.

And it gets stranger still. I could have said: “Even a cabbage can easily think of a tasty cat.”

While ridiculous as a real-life prospect, a listener/reader will still have to go through the TDS process to get their unique, internal representation of some particular cat. And it will be a different cat from others generated by different individuals.

While the examples could continue, this TDS process eliminates any need or practical use of the pervasive, unconnected, intrusive, and resented application of second person (“you”). People will process the sentences!

Please appreciate: This process – now labeled as a “TDS” – is not a matter of choice. There are no options. We all run it – all the time. Speakers, listeners, and readers are compelled by how they endeavor to understand our language, to apply this wholly unconscious behavior.

In his most recent article, Roy H. (“The Wiz”) Williams demonstrates, along with other elements, another facet of the potential of radio communications. This one takes advantage of listeners’ capacity to engage in developing subjective, momentary realities for themselves. Those who appreciate, understand, and can generate examples of this phenomenon will have opportunities to render extraordinarily influential material for radio audiences.

I presume the prime directive of radio advertising remains: To influence listeners to buy the products and services of our advertisers that they would not otherwise purchase without the influence of advertising.

To accomplish that – to a more powerful and effective degree – radio is going to engage in some significant re-thinking, and effective retooling on our part.

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]


  1. Meanwhile, as to “communicating to an audience as a total or a group:
    What I have been promoting is the impossibility of a,) talking to an unknown, unspecified individual while assuming that is a “one-to-one” event. And b.) The difference is about the impossibility of talking TO an audience – a group. What remains is that we have yet to realize the best we can do is to talk AT an audience – made up of unidentified, individual strangers.
    I understand this distinction kicks radio dogma square in the pants. Fortunately, radio is not a faith-based enterprise.

  2. A disrespectful smear from an anonymous, uninformed troll doesn’t even qualify as entertainment. (Well, maybe a little.)

  3. Of course, Phil. Speakers have no choice but to accept or presume there is an audience on the other end – somewhere. An audience that is made up of unknown, unspecified individuals. (No “one-to-one” opportunities are even available.)
    Speaking, or rather, attempting to speak to a whole audience or a group is as destructive and banal as saying something along the lines of “Youze guys.”
    I stand by the distinctions I have been making all along.

  4. Your written blogs are easily researched, Ron.

    You emphatically stated that radio copy should not be addressed to a single person, but rather the entire audience. You also said it would be presumptive to know what was happening in each individual’s life, so to address copy to a single person misses the mark.
    Writing blogs is not like bar talk, Ron. There is a record.
    I really like how you criticize commenters on “not being specific”. Then, when they are, you deny your own comments. Typical phony consultant.

  5. Phil:
    Snap the hell out of it. After a number of years and a couple hundred pieces, I have NEVER suggested talking to a group.
    Pay attention, fer cryin’ out loud!
    Further, an individual speaking to an actual group, class, congregation etc. can go eyeball-to-eyeball with members of that group – a “one-to-one environment, to be sure.
    Try that on the air.
    “Why I oughta….” 🙂

  6. Robinson has been wrong on this ‘talk to a group” foray from the start. He asserts that copy should be written for “the audience”, not individual listeners, as if talking one-on-one is demeaning.
    I ask you: When a teacher stands before a class, the teacher may be talking to “a group” in a physical appearance or setting, but each individual pupil is absorbing the information and putting it to use, singularly, for his/her own benefit.
    Similarly, a preacher does the same on Sunday before his congregation-talks to “the group.”
    But, how the message resonates is an individual experience, depending on the parishioner’s life situation, and the sermon is distilled to each attendee’s particular need.
    It is in this fashion that a radio station’s audience is made up of individuals who need to be spoken to one-on-one to evoke the best chance of response.

  7. Thanks for the well thought out and literate response, Dave.
    Let me reiterate.
    None of the many communicative premises I have been touting will interfere with a unique presenter’s “style”.
    To the contrary, they will enhance their communications.
    Yes, the listening environments, no matter the platform, will be different – depending (also) on the content and the delivery.
    Radio has depended on “style” more than content or delivery. Not so much these last decades as most on-air and ad-copy folks have been limited, suppressed and even manacled to the point where “style” – with rare exceptions -has become irrelevant.
    Please appreciate, this material has not been pulled out of mine or any others’ cat’s butt.
    I expect you will agree that we (radio-folk) have never, ever, ever been trained in the communicative/linguistic applications available to us.
    You might also agree that, if we are to make any substantial improvements, this is the exact area where the most success can be accomplished.
    I would ask you to reconsider the universally-accepted adage that radio is a “one-to-one” experience.
    The subjective and objective reality is that no speaker is talking to one individual. Nor are they talking to a group. They are instead, broadcasting as “one-to-unknown and unspecified”. This point goes far beyond semantics, but is a representation of how we wreck our communications – best intentions accepted.
    Indeed, this is nerdy-wordy stuff. But there is power in the premise.
    I submit that doing our communicating the same way as always will do almost nothing to advance our own goals and aspirations.

  8. Ron…I was initially taken aback by the phrase “Superior forms of communicating….” but then I read on. You’re partly correct. Mostly correct. What’s missing is the practical application of radio and its “competing” forms of communicating. If I’m listening to a podcast, I’m being communicated with on a different plane than if I’m hearing a “talk show”. If I’m hearing a talk show, I’m being communicated with on a different plane than if I’m hearing a music station. Radio is still superior in its availability. For now. Ways to communicate vary as greatly as ways to execute a format. Your way may be different from mine. Radio communicates one on one better than most media. In a car with 6 passengers, it’s doubtful that any of them are listening to the radio. If they are, they’re not listening to the other passengers. The radio host won’t be talking to “the group”. The host will be talking-one on one-to that passenger who’s focused in on what the host is saying. Your ears are glazing over I know. Gene Shepherd. Paul Harvey. Two story tellers whose technique were so compelling that you couldn’t help but listen. There’s more to communicating than just words. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but there are more ways to skin that “tasty cat”.

  9. Note to Hog Holler:
    That’s up to each listener/reader.
    With this particular strategy, each individual (through the TDS process) comes up with their own, personal, subjective representations.
    As to your specific question: Uhhhh… maybe. 🙂

  10. Meds are good. Better than some – and a lot cheaper. 🙂
    Shelly has always represented, to me, how too many radio folks will cling to old strategies and dogma without being well-informed enough to offer even the slightest of rebuttals.
    I am no longer surprised. I do, however, confess to being disappointed.


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