April 13, 2005

Pledge break psycholinguistics: production

The situation of the station staff and volunteers during a public radio station's pledge break — having to talk continuously for as long as necessary about how nice it would be if people would send in money despite the temporary loss of the very thing they tuned in to the station for — stimulates the production of truly loony and incoherent blather from the tense and inexperienced local station staff as they struggle to find new begging language without ever leaving even a second of dead air. My brother Richard carried on collecting instances of public radio babble during the rest of the week in which he collected the deathless line "This is the station that you really makes a difference to you", and he came up with some great stuff. There were lots of empty or meaningless and mildly amusing clichés about movement ("We're off to a running start! Here we are rolling along here!") as they struggled to keep up the sense of a train rolling down the track toward financial security, but also some truly weird and wonderful pieces of lack of forethought. You'd think people would scribble down some sentences they might use, in order to be sure that they ended as well as they began, but apparently not...

"We will exhort you... If there is such a word."

"KAZU continues to go where you... and we... cannot."

"Thank you, Joel, for coming on board. He's an existing member, so he's... coming on board again."

"You're catching up with what's been happening in the world, now."

"The phone numbers haven't changed but what has changed is that... it's a new day!"

And just once Richard caught the station manager going where you, and we, and certainly he, could not: he was on the edge of falling into the delusion that he was the radio, NPR was him, and he was more than just an interruption, he was the main event:

"Now is the time to keep this pro... er... pledge drive on track."

That's right! Your babbling is not the program. It will never be a program. You are just a break, that interminable, teeth-grating break in service that we NPR listeners endure twice a year, finally (if we can catch the damn phone numbers) sending cold cash to you so we can listen to a talk radio program that isn't interrupted by interminable, teeth-grating commercials every eight minutes.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at April 13, 2005 07:46 PM