Nerd Alert: Intensifying Tenses


(By Ronald Robinson) Based on my own education, my experience on the air and in the generation of commercial copy, I can assert that, at no time, has radio ever addressed the multiple linguistic distinctions that can be made to enhance the appeal and effectiveness of the medium.

Now, I have no expectations the general readership of this piece are going to find what follows to be anywhere close to exciting. Cold reality-checks about the interest of the industry in these elements of communication have been leaving me just that — cold.

Even as ownership and management are grumbling and lamenting the severe lack of available and competent on-air presenters, I also note how so very few are sniveling about the dearth of competent copywriters — where any still exist. Actual copywriters are cowering in their dank, airless, and lonely cubicles where their main tasks are about maintaining a low profile, and clinging to their hanging-by-a-thread gigs.

For far too long, the management mantra has been either, “Our sales staff can write the copy” or “We could get a monkey to do this job.” To my knowledge, humans are the only primates that have been developing language. And that process has been continuing for tens of thousands of years. The exceptions to that would be those in radio. They quit learning decades ago, and are our now seized up – stultified. 

Perhaps this premise can be considered as being an acceptable definition of what we are supposed to be doing as radio presenters: Our responsibility is about influencing the subjective, internal experiences of a listening audience.

When we are awake, we are experiencing the world consciously and unconsciously. We are also experiencing the external world and the world of our internal representations. These are elements that are happening with everyone, and at all times. Further, we are experiencing and representing the world with our senses. What we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell on the outside are being processed in our minds, as well, but not necessarily as equal or accurate equivalencies. 

The act of “thinking” comes with no assurances of accuracy. 

Meanwhile, Earl Nightingale, the author and presenter of the groundbreaking talk, The Strangest Secret, opened the program this way: 

“I would like to tell you about the strangest secret in the world. Not long ago, Albert Schweitzer, the great doctor and Nobel Prize winner was being interviewed in London and a reporter asked him, ‘Doctor, what’s wrong with men today?’ The great doctor was silent a moment, and then he said, ‘Men simply don’t think!’ And it’s about this that I want to talk with you.” 

Since the 1950s, when Mr. Nightingale created his program, an enormous amount of research and study on how our brains function/think has been tested and established as useful.

A quick reminder: Our responsibility as radio communicators is about influencing the subjective, internal experiences of a listening audience.

Participating in this little exercise is an opportunity for appreciating a significant distinction about how a specific strategy of applying verb tenses impacts on a listener’s internal representations:

  • First, pick a particularly enjoyable weekend from the past.
  • With closed eyes, say this sentence as a piece of internal dialogue: “I had a great weekend.”
  • Note the internal image generated by that statement.
  • Now, do the internal dialogue this way: “I was having a great weekend.”
  • Note the internal image that statement is generating.

When attention is being paid, the most common reports are that the first statement gets an internal, still image – like a photo.

The second statement usually is generating a moving, visual image, like a video.

Weird, but if a communicator is intending to motivate an audience member to taking action, the message would be more influential when that message is also generating an active, internal representation.

Hence, using the present progressive tense starts making sense — just by adding “ing” to the verbs.

That singular demonstration is but a small part of the linguistic distinctions to which on-air communicators and writers have yet to be paying any attention whatsoever. The “Nerd Alert” is now suspended.

P.S. Most of this blog is applying the present progressive tense. 

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. Contact Ron at [email protected]


  1. I suspect, Clark, very few professionals would argue the points you are posting.
    Meanwhile, any tips I have been providing are much more than a few thought-starters.
    They are, rather, parts of a significant body of work that MUST be applied if radio is to continue having any hopes of drastic, effective and satisfying improvements – achieving “escape velocity”, so to speak.


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