November 20, 2008
Silver Meets McLuhan
[A]lmost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they’re in the process of doing something else. (If they weren’t doing something else, they’d be watching TV). They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes — and you have to work really hard to sustain their attention. Hence what Wallace refers to as the importance of “stimulating” the listener, an art that Ziegler has mastered. Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.
Stimulation, however, is somewhat the opposite of persuasion. You’re not going to persuade someone of something when you’re (literally, in Ziegler’s case) yelling in their ear.
The McCain campaign was all about stimulation. The Britney Spears ads weren’t persuasive, but they sure were stimulating! “Drill, baby, drill” wasn’t persuasive, but it sure was stimulating! Sarah Palin wasn’t persuasive, but she sure was (literally, in Rich Lowry’s case) stimulating!…
Conservatives listen to significantly more talk radio than other market segments; 28 percent of conservative Republicans listen to talk radio regularly, as opposed to 17 percent of the public as a whole. (Unsurprisingly, conservative hosts also dominate the the Arbitron ratings). It may have gone to their heads a little bit; they may have forgotten about radio’s idiosyncrasies as a means of communication. The failures of the Bush administration have woken the country up; conservatives now need to find a way to communicate with people who are actually paying attention.
Silver doesn’t actually use McLuhan’s “hot” and “cool” categories from Understanding Media, but this is as close to a McLuhanite take on the Presidential election as I’ve seen yet. Any accident that Obama is shifting his nominal radio addresses to YouTube?