The Collective Radio Unconscious
By Matt Woolley, Ph.D.
I have always loved radio. When I was a teenager growing up in a small town I relied heavily on radio to be my connection to the adolescent culture of the outside world. In those days the station I listened to the most was KJQ, an alternative music station that played the angst-driven music of new wave, punk, and alternative rock. My friends and I would make time to listen to the new music programs that showcased the latest bands and then drive 40 minutes to the nearest music store to buy the tapes (that’s right, tapes, some of you may need to Google that to know what they are). The music and the DJ’s personalities were a type of lifeline to the outside world. We listened to learn about which bands were touring and coming to our area and spent most of our money on concert tickets, concert t-shirts, and gas. It was great.
“Theatre of the Mind”. This term refers to the phenomenon of mental imagery that results from consuming only the audio portion of a story. Radio has been the natural home for decades for our theatres of the mind. It is a powerful experience to mentally create the visual aspects of the story you’re being told. A great radio DJ has the ability to speak to you, draw you in, make you feel like you’re part of the discussion, story, or shenanigans. Psychologically an emotional experience begins to unfold. The audio from the radio combines with the mental imagery that you personally create and an emotional experience takes place. Even if you’re only listening for a few minutes radio has the ability to take you away, to treat you to an alternative reality, a mental vacation of sorts. Whether we realize it or not many of us rely on our few minutes of listening to radio programs in the car to take a much needed mental break before we jump into the very real responsibilities of work and family each day.
Ten years ago I moved from Kansas, where I had just finished graduate school, to Utah where I was beginning a post-doctoral fellowship. It was nice to move home again, and I actually did for a time move back to my hometown. Despite the positives about being in my hometown the location created a 65-minute commute to the University of Utah where I was working. However, in a way I came to enjoy the commute because it was a chance to relax, contemplate my day, and listen to the radio.
My beloved KJQ was gone so I experimented with a few other stations and finally settled on another alternative music station that had a morning show with a few DJ’s who had worked at KJQ. I enjoyed the music and at times enjoyed the talk, but an interesting thing began to happen. I realized that each morning I would leave the house in a good mood, anticipating the different things I would be doing that day, but by the time I reached the hospital I felt cranky, irritable, and a little down. This is not the optimal emotional state for a psychologist and I knew it.
After some contemplation the cause of my disease became clear, it was the radio. The DJ’s discussions and points of view were laden with sarcasm and negativity and I felt it. This was disappointing because even though I enjoyed the music and the remnants of the station that I used to love, the experience of listening to their morning show was a downer. I needed to move on and find something else to listen to, or I’d need my own therapist soon.
I found 107.5 FM “The End”. It was near the end of the dial, but later moved to 101.9, taking it farther form the end, but it retained the title. The End also had a morning show with DJ’s Jimmy Chunga and Mr. West. It was great. Their morning show was fun, irreverent, and captivating. They had bits, contests, great music, and lots of shenanigans. It was, admittedly, a juvenile escape. It was also a boost. I felt upbeat, positive, and ready to take on my day. It was what I had been looking for and I became a regular listener for the rest of that year. The theatre of the mind was a positive place to be once again.
At the end of my fellowship year I was very pleased to be offered a professorship at the University of Utah. As a clinical professor my primary role was to see patients in the hospital and in an outpatient clinic, lecture to psychiatry residents, and supervise trainees. I loved it then and still do. I also moved much closer to work. The move shaved 40 minutes off my commute, which was great, but in many ways it made me an even more avid listener of The End, wanting to get my morning boost in before work.
Chunga and Mr. West had bits like “What’s happen’n, hotstuff?” (yes that’s taken directly from Sixteen Candles) where listeners would call in and talk about whatever was on their minds. Chunga would joke with them, console them, and regularly make fun of and hang up on them, but it was all in good fun. One thing that became apparent was that a collective theatre of the mind was taking place. A community of people was forming that I came to realize felt just like I did. Even after Mr. West left and others joined the morning show (Cort and Chelsea) the community of listeners stayed. There was also a growing community of regular guests: movie critics, psychics, fashion experts, chefs, ghost investigators, etc. It was fun, and thanks to the power of the theatre of the mind we the listeners felt like we were a part of it. Many listeners have since told me that even though they have never met the DJ’s at The End they felt like they were part of a club. Regular callers to “What’s happen’n hotstuff?” became regular parts of the show and often stopped by the station to say hi on the air. I discovered that I wasn’t alone in feeling like Monday mornings weren’t so bad thanks to starting the workweek with my club-mates.
In January of 2008 DJ Jimmy Chunga was on the air going off about how much he hated the gloom of winter in Salt Lake City and how he felt down until spring each year. This was the same thing he said the year before and the year before that. I thought that perhaps he didn’t realize he likely had seasonal depression, known clinically as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), so I contacted Cort and let him know that Chunga would feel better if he got treatment. Contacting Cort about Chunga’s condition, although I don’t think I fully realized it at the time, was a manifestation of the power of radio. I had never met Chunga, or any of the on-air personalities at The End, yet I felt like they were my friends and that motivated me to act.
To make a long story short Cort invited me on the show to discuss SAD with Chunga and make recommendations for his treatment. I did, he got treatment, and started feeling much better. To my surprise Cort and Chunga asked me back and eventually I became one of those regular guests on the show. Each week for 30 minutes I brought in a psychology topic, talked about it on the air, and sometimes took calls. Cort and Chunga became my friends and I started looking forward to seeing them each week. It was great, until The End abruptly was canceled and changed to a music format without on-air DJ’s. It was a real bummer for me, but a real hardship for those who lost their jobs. And to my surprise many listeners took it very hard as well. Emails and phone calls poured in from very upset listeners and even some of my patients who were also regular listeners were very upset. I was upset. We had all lost our membership in the club.
Other morning shows didn’t do much for me after that so I started listening to audio books during my commute. This too is a strong trigger for the theatre of the mind. Fiction that I haven’t found time for suddenly came alive as I was transported to the worlds the authors created.
Then due to popular demand, and most probably financial reasons, The End was reinstated a year later. Much of the old crew and a few new faces (Tysen, Chad, Molly, & Zack) joined the station and the clubhouse was back in business. I rejoined the morning show and really enjoyed being on the air talking about psychology again. And this time around it felt to me that the DJ’s, guests, and listeners were more connected than ever. The theatre of the mind was again entertaining and transporting thousands of us each day.
Recently, after more than two years of being back on the air, The End was again abruptly canceled and this time it looks like it’s permanent. The clubhouse that was our theatre of the mind is closed. Tomorrow it will be one week since the station’s cancellation and many people on Facebook, Twitter, and in-person have expressed their dismay. The day after the station was canceled I walked into a branch of my bank that I don’t normally use and the teller recognized my voice and became emotional talking about how disappointed she and her husband are about the end of The End. The End and all of the personalities that gave it life will be sorely missed.
“The Collective Unconscious.” This term was coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung who theorized there is a portion of the individual unconscious mind that is inherently shared by, “a society, a people, or all humankind.” Jung’s collective unconscious incorporates experiences, memories, instincts, and patterns that are common to all living things. For those of us who shared our membership in The End’s radio community I feel we developed a shared theatre of the mind that incorporated experiences, memories, instincts, and patterns that centered on The End’s personalities and programming. We really were a community, even though most of us never met in person and never have seen what the others look like. I refer to this phenomenon as “The Collective Radio Unconscious”.
There is an inherent tendency for humans to desire connection. Sharing the theatre of the mind at The End via our Collective Radio Unconscious was a wonderful way to do so. I hope that wherever you are that you find yourself plugged in from time to time with a similar collective group, it’s a wonderful experience.
As for me, Tysen Webb (formerly of The End) and I have spent a year creating a new community called The Shrink Show. Our podcast is a larger version of my weekly segment on The End’s Chunga Show. Please join us anytime at www.theshrinkshow.com and become part of our new Collective Radio (“podcast”) Unconscious. And thanks to everyone who was, and ever will be, part of The End’s Collective Radio Unconscious, it was a wonderful ride!