Required, Fundamental Distinctions


(By Ronald Robinson) There came a moment, although it was over 30 years ago, when I had what can only be described as a radio epiphany. This came in the form of a personally significant realization. I describe that particular realization in the following ways: Radio, as it was then, was a powerful and influential medium. Participating in the on-air portion was, for me and for the most part, extremely challenging, satisfying and, oh yeah, it was fun!

The most important portion of my cranial update came after I had made it my business to become familiar with the field of “linguistics” – particularly as it applied to radio. Please appreciate that I had already been a radio guy for over 15 years before I was compelled to follow this communicative rabbit down the hole and through the tunnels. A hard hat and a canary would have been helpful.

My personally chosen responsibility was to gain an appreciation and, to the degree I could at the time, an understanding of these new (to me) materials. A number of principles, strategies and methodologies were implicitly revealed, especially as they applied to my own medium.

I have been impressed, as much as relieved, by the number of credible radio professionals who have also been introduced to and have recognized some of the principles I have been promoting as having enormous potentials to advance radio’s need to become a much more influential and efficient medium. I emphasize that radio now finds itself in a position where “need” has become primary.

Despite the ranting of apologists and those who become delusional by refusing to consider the evidence, radio is, essentially, stagnant. Radio has not made inquiries or taken steps to address its traditional methods of communicating. To the contrary, radio has been going out of its way to make sure that any fundamental improvements are rendered as impossible tasks.

The zeal with which radio has been suppressing and/or eliminating resources, those that could be the differences that make the difference, has been extraordinary. All of the callous manipulations stand as indictments of incompetence.

One of the more fundamental premises of radio’s possibilities is revealed when an understanding of the neurological processes of listeners are considered and exploited. This is particularly the case when radio people begin to appreciate that the traditional and intuitively accepted approaches to audiences are the exact opposite of the approaches that would be superior and far more effective.

Credible radio professionals like Roy Williams, Bob McCurdy, and a few others have also introduced some of the neurological principles that impact on our audiences – with what practical success, I can’t tell. Without supplying the neurological explanations because of a lack of space, I will still endeavor to, once again, introduce what I believe are the foundational premises – as they apply, specifically, to radio.

Radio has always presented itself as: A direct (one-to-one) medium generating conscious responses from audiences. While this approach has been functional for many decades, accepting the approach as being the epitome of radio communications has, nevertheless, resulted in the stagnation of the industry. This is because the approach has serious limitations.

Radio’s leadership, to be more effective, must begin to realize that the medium is actually an indirect medium where unconscious, emotional processing is the primary neurological activity generated from audiences.

Further, radio presents as a medium that is constantly behaving as if it had the authority to tell everybody listening to do what they are told. Practically, radio has no authority to tell anybody to do anything.

No cogent arguments have ever been presented that contradicts these principles. Inane defensive justifications, I notice, are pervasive. I would be less than forthcoming if I did not comment on my shock at the reticence of radio’s leadership to address these most basic fundamentals. Hidden agenda? Possibly.

Without a resetting of radio’s communicative processes — on-air and in copy — the status quo will remain. I am not suggesting that withdrawing entirely from traditional methods is necessary. What is necessary, however, is a project of expanding our models-of-communication to exploit newer strategies to enhance the future prosperity of the medium.

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. Yes, indeed, mike. And I appreciate your encouragement as I recognize you as one who has supplied cogent commentary over time.
    Any copywriter worth their salt will have an appreciation that “content”, while necessary, does not an effective spot make. The emotionalism you attempt to drag into your own work whenever possible is, to my mind – essential. As essential is the writer’s responsibility for soothing the minds of audiences – even when a writer (or on-air talent) is forced to deal only with “content”. This is doable.
    Meanwhile, I assure you that local talent is completely unaware of the (above) premises and, of course, have yet to be taught any of these fundamentals, never mind the many, many nuances of communicating to a radio audience. Not their fault.
    Although possibly challenging, the good news is that there a a ton of strategies, techniques and methodologies available for radio communicators And I mean right now.

  2. Excellent article as usual. While I cannot speak to whether or not ‘my’ local talent follows any of this ( and truthfully I think they really don’t judging from what I hear on the air ), they probably should! My ad copy always tries to make that emotional connection with the listener. To wit: what is in it for me the listener to do business with you, the advertiser. Once I understood that concept, I discovered that my copy writing became much more effective for the advertiser. And once they discovered the effectiveness, the sales keep on rolling in! Informational ads are just so much noise, IMHO. Listeners care little about ‘locally owned, family business, great service, etc. etc. They do care about how they personally benefit. Ron, keep it up! Don’t let the Trolls grind you down, brother!


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