(By Ronald Robinson) “If you don’t give me the deed to your ranch, I’m gonna throw you on the railroad track.” The Coasters and Ray Stevens both had hits with the song “Along Came Jones.” Our hero “Jones,” of course always arrives in the nick-o’-time to save Sweet Sue from certain calamity. Radio, I submit, is gagged, bagged, and lying on tracks of its own construction. “Jones” is nowhere in sight. Might as well leave then, as the credits are already rolling up.
So, what is it, generally, that radio does – internally – while attempting to make a living? We talk at, an audience made up of people we don’t know. As to the very few we might know, we still don’t know if they are listening at any given time. This audience can’t see us walkin’, so the best we can hope for is they can hear us talkin’. With what degrees of concentration and intensity they are listening to us are purely matters of conjecture, along with a heavy hit of wishful thinking – on our part. Audiences hanging on every word? That’s a concept that exists only in our fantasies.
Since “talkin’ good” is the most important aspect of what we do when we’re on the air – “live,” tracked, or in recorded spots – it is not unreasonable to assume that broadcast communicators are sweating blood, busting their humps, and gleefully engaged in order to become the best possible communicators on the planet. They would be on this quest because it is the most important aspect of their careers. Right?
With the rarest of exceptions, radio has been trying to make it on personality. Okay, I take that back. That’s lie! It has taken awhile, but radio is succeeding in rounding up anyone who sets off its internal, “personality alarms” and exposing them to bags of ether, gallons of Kool-Aid, and a side trip over to the railroad tracks. And, without a word being uttered, the talent receives and understands the message.
It is into this environment that the carpet-bagging, interloping, snake oil sales, and all-round flim-flam man (myself) steps up to point out a complete collapse in any effort to improve the state of broadcast communications – not that there were any attempts being made anyway. There weren’t then and there aren’t now. So, I guess the “collapse” reference is unnecessary.
When I speak to the complete and utter lack of communicative skills being demonstrated all day and every day at stations all over the country, the element that carries the least impact is “vocabulary.” To be sure, having immediate access to a vocabulary that would give pause to a sixth-grader would be, how shall I say it, really nice? No. It would be all the other aspects of communicating to a broadcast audience that take precedence.
Superior command of a substantially greater-than-average vocabulary can often be perceived, by some in the audience, as an arrogance – occasionally referred to as “snootiness” – a major flaw of the speaker. A reminder: Linguistic Rocketologists are regularly demonstrating that people still understand vocabulary that they cannot replicate.
I will repeat some of the key elements that were provided not so long ago. When understood and applied, these are the factors that generate influence:
- Differing speeds of delivery
- The use of relative vocal volumes
- The influence of adjectives
- The power of adverbs
- The sneaky effects of using different verb tenses
- The impact of exploiting sensory modalities and descriptions
- That radio has no authority and is in no position to make any demands for behaviors
- That radio never has been, isn’t now, and never can be a “one-to-one” experience
- That inferences and subtle implications are more effective than direct instructions.
Nerd Alert III is now lifted.
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. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to talent and creative, have yet to be addressed.