It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...
derspatchel

Grog recently pointed out an article on Boston.com that told how WBZ's morning news guy, Gary LaPierre, was actually broadcasting from his home in Florida last week instead of from the WBZ studios in cold, cold, sub-zero Boston. This may not have been such a thang, as many radio talkers have broadcast from their home, but LaPierre was maintaining the illusion that he was still in Boston with Deb 'n Flo by grousing about the cold weather ("When will it ever end?") and such. And apparently he's done it four weeks a year for the past few years, and no listener has been the wiser. Of course, good ol' Gary won't admit to actually coming out and telling any outright lies (he never said he was cold, blah blah blah) but I expect that from a spinmeister. It amuses me, though, that he's pretending to be in a far worse situation than he really is; most illusions involve a much nicer place, like an island in the Bahamas, surrounded by beautiful, bronze-skinned, R. Crumb-thighed island goddesses. Not a New England city where your snot freezes in your nose the moment you step out the door.

This whole thing brings up a very interesting point about radio: it's very easy to create and maintain an illusion and have the listeners believe it if they've no reason to doubt. Radio enjoys this luxury far greater than television; TV viewers demand proof these days. A studio is a studio is a studio, and you can sit in a studio in Sheboygan and pretend it's in Hollywood, sure, but unless you provide context and bring out the backdrop of the HOLLYWOOD sign and palm trees or do a "remote" outside in front of a green-screen, sophisticated viewers may doubt your veracity. (And that illusion is still tenacious; most green-screen shots are easily identifiable due to mismatched lighting or the fact that the presenter's audio is studio-quality when they're supposedly outside and, when you think about it, how many places in Hollywood give you a perfect shot of the Hollywood sign like that, and would you want a camera set up there?)

Radio can dupe the public far easier than television simply because it does not have to rely on imagery for context. There's a fine legacy of audio trickery in radio -- the interviews you hear with famous celebrities? It's often a one-sided recording of the celebrity giving their answers, and the local news person reading the canned questions live. (The gag on the Bob & Doug McKenzie album with the interview gone awry? It's not so much a gag as a real practice.) A skilled enough radio talker can easily time the questions just right so the conversational flow seems realistic and spontaneous. It's even easier to do so if you present the illusion that the interviewee is speaking over the phone, so any slight conversational gaps can be covered by the context of telephone conversation, which sometimes can be stilted and not as natural-sounding as live chat.

WBZ presents completely pre-recorded phone interviews all the time with only the barest hint that they're not live ("I spoke with Bob Hurklen, Events Coordinator for the Ripton State Fair...") -- you don't really think that Bob Hurklen would wake up at 5 AM to do a 5:17 phone interview with WBZ, do you? Of course you don't. Bob and Gary probably had a phone call the day before and recorded it for use several times throughout the next morning.

But if Bob were to just read off his answers so that any on-air personality can pick up the questions and present the interview several times over the course of the day, well, that's just another example of the magic of radio.

So how, then, does WBZ use the magic of radio to illustrate that LaPierre is in Boston instead of where he actually is? Simple: It doesn't. At no time does Gary actually spell out his location. He doesn't provide that "I am HERE" reinforcement. He doesn't say "Hi, I'm Gary LaPierre here in Boston" because he doesn't have to. We just believe it, because we know that most of WBZ's stuff comes out of one facility and that's on Soldiers Field Road in Boston, Massachusetts. We've already created the illusion in our minds because, again, we have no reason to think otherwise.

Only now, I guess, we do. But then again, nobody ever said the media was real. It's all about the art of illusion, and that illusion can be as overt as a time-travel fantasy program ("Golly! We're back in the age of the dinosaurs! Oh no, there is a dinosaur coming our way, look out!") or as subtle as a newscaster in Florida pretending he's in Boston ("How about this cold snap, eh?") But the willing suspension of disbelief works for both sides there. We grow complacent in our illusions and don't mind buying into them, especially if they're not doing any real harm. But every now and then, when a Gary LaPierre is revealed to have been enjoying a nice warmish Florida day while pretending to be suffering in the Boston cold like the rest of us, we get slightly more cynical about the whole damn thing.

Oh by the way I wrote this on my own personal island in the Bahamas and now I'm gonna go skinny-dipping with some beautiful, bronze-skinned, R. Crumb-thighed island goddesses. Ciao!
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