Communication University: Ideas vs Labels

Communication University: Ideas vs Labels

I’m not sure why I started pondering it. I was on the stage at a recent Talk Radio conference. And while it held a significant portion of the industry within one room, it wasn’t open to the public.

Just the Salem Media Group family doing what we hadn’t done in over a dozen years–get our local and national hosts in one room–and discuss how to sharpen our skills as talkers in a blitzkreig news year that is happening fast and furiously.

My role within the setting is kind of odd. I’m not a newbie, even though I’ve only been back on the Salem airwaves a bit more than three years.

My boss–the man some would say–and I’m one of them–who is the most successful programming mind for talk radio in the nation–Phil Boyce had asked me to sit on a panel. The panel would demonstrate the far reaching diversity of the voices we have on air within the Salem ranks.

Two Democrats, Two Republicans, Three Independents, A former member of Saturday Night Live, A former host of local television in Cleveland, Three former producers (for other shows) who have since all gone on to make their living doing their own shows now, A former Buddhist, An agnostic, A pistol packing mama–who was homeschooled in Oklahoma, A former New Age guru, A former hippie, A New York daddy–who was homeschooled in Texas, A man who does Sinatra impressions, and another man who I believe to be the world’s greatest living impressionist.

Phil Boyce was to moderate the panel. Certainly enough diversity on the panel to envision a conversation about seeking to do great radio to reach the biggest faith, family, and values audiences in the nation.

Phil’s questions were spot on… Given that Salem Media tries to reach certain demos, how can we do that, be people of such varying diversity and differences and be successful with the mission. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of comments our fellow industry colleagues gave us complimenting us on how we made them think.

You see I don’t live in one of the Bible Belt markets. I’m in the belly of the beast every day, and one of the things I was able to say to the crowd gathered was: always know who you’re audience is–not who you WANT them to be. The second point I was allowed to make on the second round of questioning was: always be genuine. Listeners spot phonies–be who you are.

Much of the panels throughout the day also focused on how to get a message of faith, families, God, nation, and recovery across to people that disagree.

I have ideas about that.

I have them for two reasons.

1. I do an abundance of broadcasting daily speaking to many different audiences. In fact it hit me as I sat there, I was the only host in the building that does a show on all three levels of what was represented there. With a daily national reach, a daily local Christian content–faith driven show, and a drive time hard core newstalk afternoon broadcast. On the weekend I talk to the nation again in what attempts to be a funny-let-your-hair-down Saturday night poke at the news.

2. I also have achieved some level of success on all levels. Even at the conference colleagues asked my advice or opinion on a feature or bit or idea for their shows. I guess considering I’ve just celebrated my 31st anniversary since my first job in radio, some people think I might have learned something along the way.

One of the things I HAVE learned is one that I believe in the election cycle before us cannot be understated.


One of the mistakes that talk radio tends to make over and over and over again is the lazy option of positioning discussions, issues, and personalities by labels.

Ive done it, and find myself sometimes still doing it.

But I want to change that, and have been diligently working to do so for a few years now.

Using labels allows us to be relegated to insignificance, and our enemies to marginalize us without having to have an honest discussion. And if you don’t care about convincing anyone of anything, you’ll be happy as a clam.

It seems many in talk radio like that position.

I don’t.

I refuse to give 4.5 hours a day of on-air time, hours more of prep, hours to commute to and from studios, slogging bad weather to get to a microphone, if all I get to do is spin wheels, and refer to people as “dopes.”

Because anger is easier than humor, and few people are funny to begin with, and even fewer are funny and still a decent human being, the on-air resorts to what comes easiest for him/her.

Given that I’m also not against anger, if what I’m dealing with is merits genuine moral outrage (remembering that being genuine is lesson one.) But I also know that the human ear has only so much tolerance for anger before auto-tune-out occurs.

Which is why talk radio would do itself a huge favor if the talent would invest their time in learning how to tell better stories.

Note that my paragraph describing our diverse panel required labels to give you an immediate picture of who was there.

But had you been in attendance you would have walked away with an amazing reality that we–all the very different voices on that stage–could care about and work with another in the business of communicating IDEAS.

When you discuss the implications of state entitlements vs personal choice you open a different door to the participants in that conversation than when you label democrats evil and republicans selfish.

The truth is there are flaws in many ideas and the very best ideas should continually be pursued. Some who are left of center in their viewpoint dislike the free market of ideas because when their idea loses merit, instead of admitting truth and going back to work on attempting to perfect their thinking abilities, they label the person who exposed the weakness in the idea, and when that doesn’t work they shut down the discussion completely.

In the 2016 race one third of Americans will identify as Democrat, a little less than a third will identify as Republican. Leaving a little more than a full third to be courted and convinced.

And if our discussions centered on ideas vs labels it might well be more than that third that might be swayable.

But it depends very much on the soundness of the ideas being presented and how well those ideas rise on the basis of the inherent truth found within them.

Friends you don’t have to be in talk media to use this lesson effectively — and even make a difference in this year’s election.

Talk about ideas as much as possible.

Use labels as seldom as needed.

Watch the depth of your discussions deepen. And watch minds be opened to, and perhaps even change… Right before your very eyes.

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