Radio Indoctrination 101 


(By Ronald Robinson) Nobody in our culture need travel too far or dig too deep to identify multiple circumstances where indoctrinations have kicked in and are maintaining their hold on the minds of so many in our populations. I agree with the premise that religious zealotry, political ideology, and corporate positioning could not be in effect without the applications of powerful and continuous programs of indoctrination.

Those who make their living in radio have similarly been indoctrinated and, as a result, are submissively and unconsciously accepting the long-held, radio edicts that have become: radio dogma – accepted lore that not only goes unchallenged, but is also deemed to be unchallengeable.

Before providing a couple of examples, the rejection of which would disqualify a radio manager from considering all further available materials, let me offer a preamble: Any belief that cannot be demonstrated with verifiable evidence can only be implanted through a program of indoctrination – self- or other-directed.

I am not suggesting for a moment that these following examples were produced by anyone with a seditious agenda. They represent, rather, a number of assumptions that went unchallenged and, over time, have morphed into accepted dogma by the radio community.

  • Radio is a “one-to-one” medium.

Nobody in radio has ever been able to identify who that “one” is, particularly when it is always assumed that listeners, at any given time, can be counted in the thousands. Further, the number of times an audience member can identify the speaker, particularly in the delivery of commercials, is a dangerously rare occurrence. The application of the principle of the wholly fantasized “Personal Listener” leaves the speaker in a very precarious position.

Rather than radio being a “one-to-one” medium, all the evidence demonstrates that radio almost always is a “live,” recorded, and possibly unknown speaker to a definitely unknown and unspecified listener.

The first reaction by radio folks who are digging in their heels on that tradition is one of “Yahbut, listeners are doing so one, single person at a time! Period. Case closed.” After taking a few moments to tidy up the spittle and drool that flies past the lips of those making such admonitions, readers can consider: Everything in a person’s life is experienced as an individual, and is always a subjective experience.  Everything.

The takeaway is that radio never establishes any direct connection with anybody. Okay. An exception to that could be if a presenter says, “Lester Throckmorton! You have 10 minutes to call Dog Fart 96 to win a gallon of deluxe interior paint.”

Still, presenters — on air and in commercial copy — insist on using the second-person “You” as if that alleged connection has not only been established, but is real. It has not been established, and it ain’t real. It is a delusion that came about as a result of internalized radio indoctrination. And it continues.

Although it takes some understanding and a lot of practice to break the habit, the easy alternative is to drop the “You” and replace it with third-person references — of which there are hundreds. The application of this principle removes the generated and distorted understandings of an annoyed listener, and it provides the speaker with so many more communicative choice-elements.

  • Radio is an authoritative medium.

By that, I mean radio has no right to make demands for behavior of anybody. Radio’s presenters, particularly in the copy of direct response ads, are constantly telling those unknown members of an audience to “Do this. Do that! Hurry! C’mon down! Don’t miss it!” The list seems to have no end in sight.

It is possible that a few audience members find being told what to do — by someone with limited credibility and no authority whatsoever — to be just a tad, shall I say, off-putting? An acceptable exception could be when an actual “live” personality hollers into the microphone, “The locusts approach! Run for your lives!”

We seem to be getting away with the practice as, I submit, listeners are some distance away and cannot physically reach through the air to throttle the livin’ bejeezus out of us. Our good fortune. It is still our responsibility to snap out of the delusions.

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. Email Ron at [email protected]


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