From College To Media
Sac State vs. The Suck State of Mainstream Media
Chapter 6: The Science of Media Persuasion

Introduction: A Journey Through Mass Media Education
Chapter 1: Why I Majored in Communication
Chapter 2: The Art of Radio
Chapter 3: Writing TV News
Chapter 4: Studying To Be a Rock Star
Chapter 5: Exploring the Age of Incoherence
Chapter 6: The Science of Media Persuasion
Chapter 7: How Stats Influence Perceptions
Chapter 8: Strategies for Winning a Debate
Chapter 9: Programming Music Instead of Computers
Chapter 10: My Career in Media

by Alex Cosper, November 9, 2015

I'm about ten years younger than the summer of love hippies that protested commercialism and embraced freeform expression. I sympathized with a lot of their philosophy, while also embracing the most inventive sounds of new wave, although I never dressed like either category. I never wore tie dye shirts and bandanas, nor did I ever get tattooes or dye my hair orange. I found myself between the underground and the mainstream with closer appreciation for the underground, yet most career opportunities persuaded me to focus on the mainstream.

Little did I know in the eighties, due to the fact I didn't have something like the internet as a research tool, that hippy culture was a product of the government. I did learn from a course on radio broadcasting at Sac State that the FCC is who decided to create the conditions for freeform radio in the sixties. Then in the new century I learned about the CIA's mind control experiment called MK-Ultra in the fifties and sixties, which backfired and led to hippies experimenting with mind-altering drugs.

The FCC was established in 1934 as part of the New Deal in the radical reorganization of government during the Great Depression years. AM radio ruled the airwaves from the 1920s through the 1960s, as most FM stations that began appearing on the dial in the fifties and sixties were properties of AM owners.

Much of FM broadcasting at that time was just simulcasting of sister AM stations. On January 1, 1967 a new FCC ruling went into effect that required FM stations to mostly broadcast original content instead of simulcasts. Since FM didn't have big audiences then, owners decided to experiment with new programming ideas. In some cases, stations allowed DJs to play whatever they wanted, resulting in freeform radio.

The freeform radio era lasted until the late seventies when technology improved the quality of FM broadcasting to the point audiences and advertisers massively migrated to FM, causing commercialism to push freeform off the dial except for college and public radio stations.

Media Shaped by Capitalism vs Socialism

As much as establishment conservatives tried to label hippies as communists, the huge difference was hippies don't want to be told what to do, nor do they have ideas on who should pay for freeform radio. Hippy jocks protested being associated with certain sponsors like banks. There just weren't enough flower shops and organic food stores to support any kind of radio format at that time. So inevitably, disco and glam rock were much more materialistic-friendly forms of programming than anti-commercial psychedelia.

In order for radio to be free to the public, it's funded by sponsors. But is that the only way it can work? There's always government-funded media, which is how it works in England with the BBC. The problem with that idea is that sometimes goverment can be biased and monopolistic, but then again, that's the exact same story with the capitalistic cartels of big biz. Either way listeners run the risk of being bombarded with propaganda without realizing it.

On the surface it seems like publicly-funded media is a great idea. Then when we take a closer look, that kind of media is also funded by government subsidies and corporate underwriters. In other words, no matter how you look at it, someone has to pay for the big bills that media operations run up, and it's usually someone with access to big cash. Back in the eighties much of local media was controlled by small companies headed by wealthy entrepreneurs. As the Reagan Administration began to loosen the rules, big biz gradually gained increasing control over local media outlets.

When national corporations control both local and national media, it means that most of the commercials are going to come from big chains with big budgets as well. The result is watered down mainstream mediocrity where everything's the same from city to city. Back in the eighties, there was still a sense that media was a mix of local and national culture. The effects of media deregulation that started with Reagan were not that noticeable until the late nineties after Clinton accelerated the corporate takeover of media with the Telecom Act of 1996.

The Basics of Persuasion and Mind Control

Since it's too offensive to media professionals and its audience to equate programming with mind control, let me add some distance between those two concepts for the sake of a more comfortable discussion. Programming involves creating a schedule of media events. That scheduling is based on research and expectations of attracting an audience, so that audience stats will persuade advertisers to buy commercial time within the schedule.

The secret to successful programming, as the radio biz eventually taught me, is based on consistency and familiarity, which can be accomplished through repetition. TV is full of repetition as the same schedule repeats week after week with the same characters. Radio is repetitious week after week with much of the same music rotating over and over, just as talk show hosts repeat the same topics over and over, even within the same show.

Commercials, the most persuasive communication within a broadcast, are based on the concept of social conditioning. Since commercials are sixty seconds or less, there's only so much time to get a message across, so it tends to be a dumbed down association with some type of basic emotion.

You'll notice that local radio commericals tend to be very different from national radio or television commercials. That's because big sponsors pay for expensive research on consumer psychology. Add heavy repetition of the same commercial scheduled over and over again and you end up with brand familiarity for the target audience, leading to mass acceptance.

What They Didn't Say About Public Relations

One of my most forgettable classes at Sac State was Public Relations. It just seemed like a lot of generic discussions about common sense related to marketing. Yet, I would eventually learn after college that Public Relations is a much deeper topic that taps into mind control and media deception. It sounds like such an innocent thing, but I've since learned it's a very sneaky thing that most of the public, ironically, has no clue about. A better name for the profession is "social conditioning."

The simple definition the teacher gave of public relations was "getting media attention without paying for it to shape a desired public perception." I did learn to write a press release in the class, which is kind of a no-brainer. Just write a few paragraphs in an AP style news format and stick with the most important facts. Don't forget a headline, along with a date and contact information, as well as information about yourself that qualifies you as a source at the bottom. That seemed to be the most important information I got out of the class. The rest of the semester was stretched with filler material.

What the class never brought up that would have held my attention was the "father of public relations," Edward Bernays. Years later I learned a lot about how modern advertising and public relations is built on core mind control principles established by Bernays during World War I, working for the Wilson Administration to promote war propaganda. Then in the 1920s, as radio and magazines ushered in the era of modern mass media, he began consulting big corporations on how to promote themselves with propaganda.

Bernays, who learned a lot about psychology from his uncle Sigmund Freud, was admired by Hitler for mastering the art and science of mass brainwashing. He's the guy who influenced millions of women to take up cigarette smoking, as women gained the right to vote in the 1920s and he created ads depicting women waving cigarettes in the air as "freedom torches."

His ideas influenced advertising agencies, who went on to use his techniques to condition the masses, leading to culture being shaped by media. One of his techniques was to use statistics to sell people on products, such as "three out of four doctors recommend this medicine to their patients." It didn't necessarily have to be based on scientific studies, it just needed to sound scientific. By the age of television in the late forties, there were actual commericals that said "nine out of ten doctors smoke brand X cigarettes."

Propaganda was the name of a book by Bernays, which became the bible of the advertising world. At the time the word "propaganda" wasn't considered so derrogative in society.

Even the American Medical Association played a role in media propaganda, as their medical journal was heavily sponsored by the tobacco industry. Could that have been why it took decades for the medical industry to finally admit cigarettes are dangerous? The AMA continued to be funded by the tobacco industry through the sixties even after the Surgeon General mandated health warnings on cigarette packages. The AMA didn't completely rid itself of associating with tobacco companies until the mid-eighties, right around the time I took the public relations class.

Since medicine is treated as very serious in our society, we tend to accept propaganda this industry delivers through media more readily than what a politician or advertiser says. The public is quick to forget the commercial nature of medicine, which is why most of the public doesn't think much about the massive fraud and bribery settlements pharmaceutical companies have paid consistently as penalties for their greed.

Then again, big media, which is heavily sponsored by big pharma, rarely treats such stories as headlines. The unknown murderer who killed the unknown victim is usually the bigger story than the well known pharma company that kills thousands of people with its well known drug.

I went on to learn from my own research that big corporations like oil and soft drink companies pay scientists and think tanks to bend scientific studies in their favor, so that media outlets can feel better about taking ad money from them. Bluffing the masses isn't considered a crime, or is it? The Federal Trade Commission has established "truth in advertising" laws forbidding misleading advertising. But the big catch is there aren't laws about "truth in news coverage." So if the media reports on a press release from a public relations firm that gives misinformation, no one gets in trouble.

De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da

The Police crafted several great songs about communication. "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" was one of my favorites. It talks about how "poets, priests and politicians / have words to thank for their positions." Words are often unquestioned, especially when they are issued through big media. People simply usually accept media messages as true, although there has been a growing distrust of the media over the years.

Significant percentages of people fall for hysteria over news stories like Y2K, in which the media warned thoughout 1999 that massive computer crashes would happen in 2000. Then the world was supposed to end on January 1, 2013, according to a Christian radio chain owner named Harold Camping. Doomsday marketers sold a lot of books and videos on how to prepare for the fiasco that never happened. Then there was the Disneyland measles scare in early February 2015, in which the masses were scared into believing everyone was about to get sick if they didn't rush out and get vaccinated. Within a few weeks the story disappeared from the headlines.

Media figures, especially the ones who don't appear to be opinionated on issues, command automatic authority with large audiences. It doesn't mean all of them are able to fool all of the people all of the time. But when the common person sees or hears something through TV or radio, they tend to accept it as legit information, at least until proven otherwise.

Not many people, for example, seem to bother to study crime statistics on the FBI's website, which suggests that the violent crime rate has gone down in America since the early nineties. Most major cities tend to only have about 30-50 murders per year. But if you watch local TV news in any given major city, the impression is that there are at least that many murders per day. The impression is that the worst thing going on in the world is happening across town, but if you want solutions to these problems, stay tuned to more mass media.

The news is designed to create tension, while the commercials provide upbeat relief. The claims may be vague to avoid false advertising, but words don't have to mean anything if the commercial has strong emotional appeal. Television advertising is very expensive for a reason. It actually works, at least as a numbers game. If your commercial reaches millions and only gets thousands of people to buy your product, it still may pay off.

Continue to Chapter 7: How Stats Influence Perceptions

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