Word Up



“I woke up in a Soho doorway, a policeman knew my name”

That’s the opening line of the first verse of The Who song, ‘Who Are You’. It’s a great example of what radio consultants like to call “Word Economy”, the art of saying as much as you can with as few words as possible. It’s a story told in only twelve words.

Most radio presenters would use a lot more words to tell that story. It would go something like this, “I hope your weekend was better than mine. We all like a drink but just lately I think I’ve been overdoing it. I went out in Soho again on Saturday night and by the end of the evening I was a mess. I remember falling asleep in a doorway. I heard this voice calling my name and when I opened my eyes it was a policeman. It was the same policeman that I’ve had a run in with after other big nights out”.  – That’s 83 words to tell the exact same story. Some presenters could tell the story in fewer words but not many can match Pete Townshend’s twelve.

Loads of song lyrics paint a picture and tell a story.

The Beatles, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – “Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been”.
Paul McCartney doesn’t use the word ‘lonely’ till the chorus but it’s right there in the opening line without being said.

The Rolling Stones, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ – “I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis”.
You instantly get a mental picture of that honky tonk woman and the bar.

The Kinks – ‘Come Dancing’ – “He’d end up blowing all his wages for the week all for a cuddle and a peck on the cheek”.
Ray Davies tells you all you need to know about this bloke’s desperate love life.

What about this from Ed Sheeran? The song is ‘Galway Girl’, instead of describing the kind of bar they were in and listing which brands of Irish whiskey, bourbon, stout, and scotch got her drunk and made her dance to Van Morrison, he just says,
She took Jamie as a chaser, Jack for the fun 
She got Arthur on the table with Johnny riding as a shotgun
Chatted some more, one more drink at the bar
Then put Van on the jukebox, got up to dance”

If you’re a radio presenter who plays music and you want to learn all about word economy, listen to the lyrics in the songs you’re playing.

If you still don’t believe you can tell a full and moving story without many words, how about this six word advertisement that was placed in the local newspaper, The Spokane Press, in 1910;

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Craic on!

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