A Quick Guide to Radio Creativity - Number Two: Know What Language You’re Talking... And How to Talk to Your Listener

by Dan McCurdy

“You’re not listening to me” is one of the most useless phrases in the English language. I’d put it up there next to that other phrase I often hear in meetings and presentations to groups. A question I always want to ignore and one usually said in a markedly higher volume than normal public presentation speak from the speaker at the front. “Can everyone hear me?” Or even more outrageous, likewise “Can you hear me at the back?”

The answers are equally as useless. “NO” would obviously signify you just heard the question. “ Yes” is the generally mumbled reply, with no guarantee that what’s going to follow is something you really want to strain to hear. A guy I knew always answered quietly to me “half past two.” The oldest joke in the room, but if it doesn’t hurt you and makes you laugh like schoolboys, what’s the harm. You get my drift. I was always told “don’t labour the point.” Some advice is well worth listening to if you can hear and understand it.

Let’s talk about radio.

The relatively small countries that make up the present United Kingdom and the regional diversities with their composite regional dialects are staggering. No less staggering is the fact that this is mirrored in all the various regions in all the countries all over the world, as far as I know. These regional dialects have been further divided by the common divisions of age, social groupings, and the universally attempted world language spread by various forms of media.

Statistics and audience research are not my areas but I sometimes find the numbers interesting. I read somewhere on the website of the marketing arm of the US radio industry, the RAB, that radio in the USA today reaches some 232,950,000 consumers every week. That’s a lot of individuals with a load of regional and demographically diverse dialects.

In the UK the latest audience research figures for both the BBC and the commercial stations (RAJAR) show that radio reaches 45,031,000 people aged 15+. That’s 90% of them. (I wonder why the other 10% never switch on a radio EVER.) Forget groupings and demographics; forget statistics and convenient numbers. All the above numbers are individual human beings with likes and dislikes, and a shed load of regional dialects, accents, language variations and favourite words, phrases and sayings.

So how can you talk to each of these individuals in their own language?

You can’t, but I have an idea.

The media owner or sales house your planning to use will have gone to great lengths to connect to the audiences they want to reach. If they don’t get enough of them they wilt. So you can tap into their resources about the audiences they have. You should learn about age, geographic spread, demographics, likes and dislikes, shopping habits, leisure pursuits, lifestyle choices and so on and so on and so on; and you’ll end up with a list as long as your questions. Armed with this information about types of listeners, you’re now in a much better and wiser position to talk the language of the listener you hope to reach and motivate to take the action you want them to take.

I have another idea.

If you’re writing some radio primarily aimed at say teenagers, wouldn’t it be wise to at least run it past some teenagers to get their views on how far off or on the mark you might be? Or you’re promoting something aimed chiefly at say web users; find some web users and ask them what buttons they push and why. It may not be entirely scientific, and may not have the full cache of pre-testing, but you’ll be wiser than before you asked.

Different groups talk their own language to each other. By language in this context I mean the whole journey of communication from words and the way you say them, music in all its forms, and all the situations and experiences you can imagine. I’m not suggesting joining the group, but at least you’ll get closer to the language you need to talk to make effective radio that communicates.

I have Another Idea.

 BUT if you really want to get close to the group, to find out the exact language they use, get some of the group you’re aiming to write the ads for you, now that would be really ‘COOL.’

The ads you then produce, and your life, will be more interesting. The consequent radio campaign will be more effective, you and/or your client will be much happier, all involved will make more money, you’ll get to inherit the company, marry the chairman’s son/daughter, everyone will think you’re dead clever, and you’ll be much closer to talking the way what your listeners talk.

Do you know what I mean?

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