For any broadcaster, “dead air” is an embarrassing professional lapse. And so the goal is always to monopolize the channel.
Modern electronic media began nearly 100 years ago with two clear reference points. If you were issued a license, you could be a broadcaster. Your transmitter sent content along a channel in the region’s electromagnetic spectrum reserved exclusively for the station’s use. This is still true for local entities such as WABC-TV in New York or Philadelphia’s WXPN radio. Commercial broadcasting began in the 1920s when Americans were eager to consume content sent into the “ether.” That pattern put us on a long path toward becoming involuntary spectators to the performances of others.
I keep coming back to this basic idea when I think of humans and their preferred communication styles. Some—let’s say too many—prefer to be broadcasters. They are comfortable devising content they believe others need to hear. They are “on” continuously and mostly without pause. The disinhibitions of alcohol can make the pattern even worst. Others of us are receivers, often by choice, and sometimes because broadcasters rarely offer breaks that would allow sufficient time for the functions to reverse. You know the feeling if you are at a party and a 50,000-watt broadcaster crosses your path. They may see themselves as having a clear channel that must never go silent. For any broadcaster, “dead air” is an embarrassing professional lapse.
I confess to sometimes being a broadcaster. In education it’s called lecturing. I am probably too certain that I have important things to say. But I understand that a good teacher must also hone their skill as a receiver. Unless you are accompanied by a 10-piece band and a juggler, one-way communication offers diminishing returns. Broadcasters frequently misread the patience of others as signs of their brilliance. They flourish from the goodwill of conscientious listeners. Such listening is all the more remarkable since those doing it get few rewards for the courtesy of their interest.
Maybe you have escaped the experience so far, but the news that you will be spending time with a group of compulsive talkers may mean that the broadcasters among them will have already programmed the entire evening. Your efforts to jam their channel can easily fail, forcing a decision about how Soviet you want to be in disrupting their dominance.
There just aren’t many ways to silence these full-time transmitters, let alone turn them into effective receivers. The natural informality of conversation especially makes it hard to preserve an adjacent channel for weaker but worthwhile signals coming from others. Even so, there are at least a few desperate gambits that may momentarily knock a broadcaster off the air:
-Express amazement that they managed to arrive on two flat tires.
-Mention the contagious disease you can’t seem to kick.
-If it is their affair, ask them if the dining room chandelier always emits sparks and smoke when it is on.
-Tell the broadcaster his hair is on fire.