As the new millennium is now well on its way, I have started to codify my thoughts on what has happened in the ‘electronic’ communications media since 1932, when I sat in a farmhouse kitchen to marvel at the sound coming from a crystal set. Technology soon rendered the crystal set obsolete and as each decade of the past century faded into history, technology continued to do its best to render the human being obsolete as well.
Obsolescence is the handmaiden of technological progress. As human beings we are doing our best to communicate efficiently with machines, but the better we become at doing so, the closer we get to losing touch with the function of words and numbers. If a thought can’t be expressed in 140 consonants, forget about it, and as for numbers, every child knows that to get along in this world, he only needs to know about the functions of two numbers – a mathematically serene “zero” and a “one.”
Exactly two hundred years ago, Jason Chamberlain told his students at the University of Vermont, “Morals and manners will rise or decline with our attention to grammar.” He wasn’t referring to broadcasting but he might as well have been. As far as broadcast language is concerned, media watchdogs around the globe regularly issue all manner of directives on acceptable vocabularies, but those directives are largely intended to identify which words are decent and which are offensive. However, no one seems to care about the delivery of those words, decent or otherwise.
Why does it matter if a newsreader says “Toosday” instead of “Tuesday,” or “anti-semetic” instead of “anti-semitic” or “restauranter” instead of “restaurateur”? Why does a university-educated radio personality time after time consistently confuse “gourmet” with “gourmand,” without being corrected? I can understand that North Americans aren’t certain how to pronounce “Iraq” and “Iran,” but surely a news department could at least reconcile which pronunciation is going to be used by different parties on the same program.
While ‘what we see’ is presented with unbelievably high visual standards, the quality of ‘what we hear’ has deteriorated badly – not the quality of the sound itself nor the vocabulary, but the quality of delivery – the words being spoken, the rules of grammar being mangled and proper pronunciation being ignored – particularly in the dissemination of news.
No doubt a valid argument can be raised that what is being said is more important than how it is being said, but although communications guru Marshall McLuhan reminded us that “the medium is the message,” the message only becomes the medium when it uses words. Without the proper use of those words, Mr. McLuhan’s message is sabotaged.
Bruce Raymond cashed his first pay cheque from the CBC in 1943. Since that time he has worked as writer, producer, promoter, salesman, broadcast executive, independent entertainment distributor and much more. Today, as President of Raymond International, he works with major production entities to bring compelling entertainment to audiences around the world. In a career spanning more than 70 years, he has experienced a lot. This is a sharing of those experiences and a comment on the rapidly changing broadcast industry of today; as well as some observations on life in general and his life in particular.