I spent last weekend at the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Conference. I was looking forward to one keynote speaker whom I admired as a humorist and as a top-earning story coach.
This speaker shared a story about being interviewed on the air with a jock I've known since the 1990's. While this jock and I aren't tight friends, he's the kind of guy who even back then wanted to give other people a chance in broadcasting; he's generous. He's very famous, very humble and very authentic. He's a consummate pro. He's also got that radio growl of rock and roll authority which some people immediately stereotype, including the illustrious speaker at the conference.
The speaker talked about being astonished by the jock's intelligence and graciousness, and then described being led to the slaughter by the jock's charm. "So we go live and the DJ says, after all that nice stuff, 'So you wrote a book and it's all stories about yourself? Well, what makes you so goddamn interesting?'"
Shock from the audience at the conference, but none more than me. We don't say "goddamn" on the air. And leading people into interview situations to skewer them isn't something this jock would do, because it makes for a bad interview.
But at least the speaker learned something. "I learned that the story you're telling is not about you! It's about your audience!"
This was presented as a great revelation.
I was choking down a cold rage as I approached after the speech and tried to smile around a few friendly corrections; there was more than hyperbole at work here. By the way the speaker stammered I knew I'd revealed how I felt. And, the speaker probably hadn't expected to be busted.
Radio people are widely perceived as stupid, immoral and lazy. We're imagined as unwashed louts with our feet up, just spewing any old thing we happen to feel like saying into the innocent microphone. In fact, we work in a very painstaking way. We're acutely aware that audiences listen to the radio and assume that it's correct and real and true, so we work very hard to be correct and real, and to give our audiences the truths they need. The great majority of us are not out to destroy anyone and we don't cuss on the air, because we respect our audiences. In fact, respect for the audience is what it all comes down to.
Radio professionals are constantly guided by the question, "Why should people listen to me?" and we work very hard to make sure we are worth listening to.
If I learned anything from that keynote speaker, it wasn't about storytelling. It was about radio: that we're the ones who are really the pros.
*Tazmanian Devil character as DJ. All rights belong to Warner Brothers.