This is Your Brain on Radio

Dear Christian Radio,

This is your Brain on Radio
Radio is theater of the mind.  The instant a listener tunes into your station, impressions are being made; music selections, imaging, hosts, and even the specific words being said all play a part in how each listener perceives your station. What your listeners hear will either instantly connect with them or push them further away. Understanding how our listeners’ minds work gives us the opportunity to connect with them on a deeper, and even, subconscious level—here’s how:

This is your Brain on a Story
Stories activate parts of the brain that enable listeners to turn those stories into their own ideas and experiences. This is due to a process called neural coupling. Psychologist Pamela Rutledge writes in her article The Psychological Power of Storytelling:

“Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives, stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.”

The powerful part about stories is that when we hear them, we temporarily step out of our world and into the world of the story. We create narratives, we engage our imagination, and we even begin to empathically connect with what we are hearing or reading.

Consider the power of imaging that tells a story and doesn’t just deliver a catchy slogan or tag line. Consider the magnitude of hosts who connect by telling stories about their lives and who reflect back their experiences to your audience. As we begin to access the imagination, emotion, and attention of each listener, we build strong connections. These connections last longer and help the listener associate their personal experiences with the brand.

This is your Brain on Language
Let’s go back to grade school for a moment. Remember the primary senses: hearing, seeing, tasting, touch, and smell? Well, consider this…it’s our senses that allow us to gain an understanding of the world around us. In turn, our brains create a unique narrative about each experience.

Simple example: if you smell something pleasing and then connect it with a positive interaction—fresh cut grass or a certain food—then, the mind creates a story that reminds us of how much we like it. An association based on experiences—positive or negative—is now neurologically linked to that smell. We understand the world around us in this way. We try to express our understanding in this way as well.

This Relates to Radio
A majority of people rely on three primary senses: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Kinesthetic refers to touch and feelings within the body. Imagine what a story would sound like to someone who is visual versus someone who is kinesthetic. A visual story might have more details about colors, shapes, sizes, and other descriptors. Words like imagine, picture and visualize connect on a deeper level with someone who is visual because that is their main focus when experiencing the world. In contrast, a kinesthetic story might focus more on textures, feelings, and sensations.

The purpose in all of this…each audience member hears, feels, and sees things differently when they listen. The more we craft our language, stories, and imaging, the deeper we’ll connect with our audiences, and the more memorable our stations will become.

Dear Christian Radio…

1) Tell stories that connect.
2) Experiment with telling stories that are visual, kinesthetic, or auditory.
3) Know what experience you want your audience to have when they listen.


Nathan Gist
Dean of PAR University
Positive Alternative Radio

Nathan Gist, invites you to share your questions and comments.

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