Springtime: Season of Prom, Playoffs and PSAs

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on June 15, 2013

PSA_vertical_LogoAh, springtime. As the middle of June approaches, this year’s proms are now a recent memory, and the NBA and NHL will soon close up shop for the summer. Besides these signs of approaching warm weather, there is one more springtime tradition that makes its way into our radios and televisions just before Memorial Day: public service announcements.

One of the observations that I’d made while listening to overnight AM radio in the nineties is that there are more than the usual number of public service announcements when most listeners are asleep; this probably has to do with advertising rates being cheaper. Therefore, radio stations could cram in a certain number of PSAs within a broadcast day, without sacrificing more prime advertising spots than necessary. Unfortunately, this practice is put on hold as soon as people start buying charcoal for the first barbecues of the year.

If the nanny state has a voice, it is the public service announcement.

The sound of some authoritarian, socially holier-than-thou announcer lecturing his or her audience about some message regarding either seat belt use or drinking – messages that are ignored by their intended audiences, yet irritate everyone else – end up cutting through some of us like a rusty butter knife.

The basic premise of a typical PSA is that the members of the viewing or listening audience cannot make responsible decisions without being told to do so. In other words, everyone needs some type of parental supervision from some type of government or community group.

Remember the anti-drug PSAs from the eighties? When they were popular, I had read an interesting commentary about the mentality behind those messages. In brief, the author stated that the people who wrote those spots talked down to the young adults whom those commercials were aimed at, while treating parents as too incompetent to raise their own children. In fact, I’d heard an anti-drug PSA on Sirius a few months ago that featured a supposed mother who was trying to rap about the dangers of drugs to her child. At the end of the commercial, an announcer had said something along the lines of “having a professional talk to your child about the dangers of drugs.”

Depending on how this column is interpreted, one perspective could be that I want to promote irresponsible behavior. While I believe that mandatory seat belt laws are geared more for generating revenue than public safety, I also believe that people who refuse to exercise personal responsibility and self-discipline will not be persuaded to alter their behavior just because a commercial told them to do so. Besides, even some of the people who have some part in the production of nanny state messages may not be heeding their own advice.

Around 2003, Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was a spokesman for the Illinois Liquor Control Commission’s ad campaign against drunk driving and underage drinking – that is until his arrest in Florida for DUI. This example best illustrates that the most effective public service announcements are role models – from mothers and fathers to public figures, who live by example.

As bad as the PSA onslaught may be over here, our military has to live with it – from commercial break to commercial break to commercial break….

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Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com