New Terminology – Same Deal


(By Ronald Robinson) There’s nothing quite like a new piece of terminology to excite and confuse the locals. The latest is “UX” (User Experience). We must love our terminologies, especially when they describe or re-label something that has been there all along. Say, they wouldn’t be talking about what an audience goes through when they hear our stations, now, would they?

I submit that “User Experiences” will be about no more than a guessed-at description of music selection and rotation. I suggest this is where radio station “research” essentially stops.

Even the methodologies of conducting the (alleged) research are so flawed as to make one wonder if the results are not similar to political polling. Radio has been lured into the same traps as so many others when it accepts the results generated by “active” research.

This ill-fated exercise begins with the assumption that “asking” – in our case, audience members – “what they want,” is actually a viable question that will deliver useful responses. I would urge any manager considering wandering down that dark, dangerous, and twisting pathway, to simply cut me a bank transfer for half the amount, and we’ll have a nice, pleasant, little chat.

To the degree that any information gleaned from audience members would be expected to be useful to us, as practitioners of contemporary radio, is an affront to reason because of two factors:
1. The value of any information provided by “active research” wouldn’t enhance the bottom of a sluice bucket.
2. Radio has made no improvements at all, for decades, in the areas of on-air presentation and in the writing and production of more tolerable or more influential commercial product.

So ingrained are the traditions and the dogmatic drivel that has been foisted on audiences and radio’s employees for over 30 years, a sealed vacuum has been generated. Senior Program Directors are left with no other options but to thrash around and provide maudlin and embarrassing edicts and admonitions about “motivation” on the one hand, and the need for absolute control on the other.

The afflicted PDs cannot even fathom how it is that, when it comes to improved or more useful and effective approaches to audiences, they go to their programming toolboxes. There they find only a few mismatched nails and screws, a rusty hammer, a quarter roll of gooey electrical tap, a pair of dead AA batteries, and a browned-out, dog-eared and warped copy of Think and Grow Rich – with the cover torn off. In other words, the vast majority of programmers are in a position to train their staff to change the toilet paper rolls.

One of the first psychological phenomena to which I was introduced as I was studying and training to do counseling work, was the following:

“People are much more likely to value ‘Control’ over ‘Effect’.”

No expensive research project is necessary to demonstrate the principle. Casual observations around the stations over a short period will provide enough evidence to come to a few conclusions. The only hint I might provide is: While observing an individual or small group, compare their behaviors to what they say.

I suggest that “User Experience” (UX) is not even on a teeny little radar MacGyver’ed to a 1960s transistor radio. I get that. I am of the firm belief that ownership and management have no interest whatsoever in finding out what audiences want. Neither do I. The information is useless! Even if management could get a handle on what it is that audiences “want,” they still wouldn’t care.

Audiences, I propose, are essentially clueless about whether they are punched, bored, reamed, or riveted. They are, however, oh so sincere in their responses. This is not, I insist, a denouncement of any audience’s mental faculties. It is, though, a comment about those same people being unaware of their UNconscious drivers – the important stuff.

The key is in finding out what, specifically, it is that will get audiences responding – in ways that we want, of course. A few of us claim to have, already, figured that part out. Radio management and ownership lean back in their office chairs and, in a weak impersonation of W.C. Fields, arrogantly blurt out, “Not interested! Now, go away. You bother me!”

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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