Radio’s Anti-Placebo Effects

A guest blogger*


As you can see from this video, it sure does seem that there’s some effect to placebos. That’s where the mind causes a reaction even when there’s no chemical reason for success.


I am not surprised, as I studied hypnosis and could make some subjects hallucinate all sorts of things.

I turned our ‘phone-kid’ in Pittsburgh into a chicken and put him behind Jim Quinn, who was on the air at the time (KQV in its prime). Well, obviously, the rule everywhere in radio is when the mic goes on, all else quiets. But our guy/chicken was clucking and he didn’t stop when the mic came on.

I know firsthand about the subconscious and its awesome power. Beyond the chicken.

As a former programmer, disgruntled with what I hear on most stations, I wonder if there are anti-placebos in radio, which I will define as “things PDs and Aboves (cue celestial choir) think make a positive difference, but most of the time don’t.” There may be a disconnect between the cause and the intended effect.

As an example of overthink, look at all the thumbs in most movie-soups — all the research and meddling to make a film better. Mega-millions at risk…and the results bomb badly. Or look at the geniuses behind network TV. What’s their batting average? Seriously??

Here are just some of the ‘pills’ which radio seems to think are cures for something, but aren’t. Or aren’t usually.

TRACKING: What could have been time away from filing, cueing, searching for spots, etc., is now handled by the computer, freeing the air personality to have more complete interaction with their audience via phone, emails, tweets, whatever. And this can give them time to figure out the next thing to say and how to best say it.

But NO. It became like a hydra-head, where the same personality is on several-to-too-many stations, saving money. Unenlightened management can’t hear the difference, or just doesn’t listen. But the result is a lot less engagement.

Only a very select special type of talent can do this well — it’s a different skill set from the one that got them behind their first microphone.

Maybe it works best on stations where there’s really little engagement in the first place.

Doug is so right in his call for the power of EMOTION, as PASSION drives response and bonding, not liners a la “your office 9-to-5 at-work station.” Please.

And don’t forget to plug IHEARTRADIO. You can hear the same talent on as many as ten stations all across the country, playing the same music, and probably doing the same material. But why would you want to? Hey, here are 40 stations playing the same music. Ummm, maybe if you moved and wanted to feel like you hadn’t?

PPM: Does someone somewhere break the “PPM rules?”

They aren’t all bad — i.e. focus, and the result is less wasteful and less self-indulgent: ‘know what you are going to say, have an open, middle, and climax.’ I wonder if somewhere someone with talent will break many of the ‘new’ rules and still succeed via listener entertainment and loyalty, over instant-by-instant micromanaging.

And we kid any and all by pretending that all captured listening is even heard.

Let’s say people leave a station at 9 seconds of talk. Where does that put your spot set? Total tune out? Isn’t this disingenuous to the client?

Cutting out the copywriter and chopping the production people certainly didn’t add value to the enterprise beyond the $$ saved in salaries.

Why cut the personality back and at the same time also weaken the commercial side?

Who is being served??

REPETITION: Saying something doesn’t make it true. Not even if you say it over and over and over. What happens is the tout becomes meaningless, background, another version of a political claim people don’t believe if they even hear it any more.

I think in these days of pervasive multi-media, that bullshit builds polarity and anger. Who believes anything anymore? Only those who have emotional investment. Some still believe in the audacity of hope.

WEBSITE PUSH: It seems like all they do on music radio now is push people to the website, which, by the way, is likely way too cluttered, out-of-date, swamped by group initiatives, hard to navigate, and not very engaging.

Many sites are like Times Square — action, flash, noise even. Yeah, tourists go there to see THAT, but I’d bet once is enough.

Let’s call this non-stop push to the web attention greed.

And if they are watching and listening to the talking dog on the web, are they listening to your station too?

HD RADIO: Well, the HD term has come to stand for HIGH DEFINITION, but that’s not what this means, or is. And who cares? Retailers don’t. The public doesn’t. And management doesn’t put resources into it. HD radio proves you can’t successfully bludgeon people with advertising to sell something that doesn’t solve a problem or bring a benefit.

More stations? Uhh, most people listen to — what — is it, still under 3 stations?

There are many more ‘pills’ to gobble…

Radio is at the pharmacy.

The root issue is trying to do too much with too little — too few staff — too little time — not enough focus — and fuzzy understanding of the hierarchies within cause and effect.


*Today’s post was written by my good friend, Bob Wood.

After 30+ years in programming positions, with stints as GM, and part-station-owner, Bob Wood now concentrates on voicework. His home studio is in Austin, Texas. You can hear samples of his work and find his contact info at:

And since we both know you’re going to use liners on your station, at least make them part of the entertainment. Ask Bob to write and voice for you. You will love what you hear!