Through my whole life as a programmer, the mantra has always been to “listen like a listener”. The job of the programmer, well one of the jobs at least, is to represent the listener in the process of producing any output. In the words of Bryan Adams, “Everything we do, we do it for you”… the listener and so bearing them in mind at every turn is vital.
Sometimes it can be a difficult task. You have to divorce yourself from the knowledge you have about the process of production, the back story and the rationale. The listener wasn’t in the S&P meeting, they didn’t get the email about the promotion, they didn’t hear the promo, the live read, the earlier link or the solicit for the contest. They just turned on the radio, or opened the app and heard something. Did it make sense?
I have posted recently about assuming someone heard something, or even cared. Listening like a listener requires a programmer to switch off the pre-conceived knowledge and only go on what you HEAR.
The problem is that without a doubt people who exist within radio and media consume media totally differently from anyone outside of that world. Many is the time I’ve stood in a lecture theatre with people in radio and broken the news that nobody inside the room is a ‘normal person’. Stepping outside onto the street and asking someone passing by what is important in their life would create a lengthy list before they said “what radio station I listen to”. Media people consume media differently because we are involved in the making of the product. I know that I can’t listen to radio for casual enjoyment. I can’t help to analyse it, to critique and assess it.
A programmer has to train themselves to step away from it and almost have an out of body experience to listen. It helps to ensure that you take good breaks from the day to day. I would often come back from a holiday or a break, and hear things I didn’t hear before purely due to the break in listening- I heard it again with fresh ears.
I was talking to a radio legend and friend of mine, Paul Easton about something similar. Part of the “step away’ is what you have to do when you leave anywhere that you worked. You have to decouple from the listening you once did and you once had. It helps give you the mind space to remain critical, and listen like a listener. When I left Global in August of 2020, and despite being intricately involved with Capital, Heart and Smooth regionally (and to a degree nationally), and even despite having some good friends in the thick of it… I actually listened to nothing for about 3 months. Even after that it was only a sporadic sample of those stations and nothing more. I remember when I made a very career radio station swap from Ram in Derby to Trent in Nottingham, despite emotional and personal ties I had to stop listening. It wasn’t my baby any more and I had to step away and clear the mind before being able to listen again dispassionately at a much later date. A mental reset.
Programmers, and indeed radio people in general, have a balance to strike. You have to listen more than anyone else to hear what needs doing, what needs tweaking and addressing. Quality control and snagging all the time. At the same time not listening so much that you become accustomed, relaxed and familiar to the extent that you miss the detail you are trying to hear.
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