Radio-active community work

27 February 2006

In studio: Dr Helgo Schomer (left) and Tim Modise on the Tim Modise Network on 702 Talk Radio and 567 Cape Talk.

Mention "radio shrink" and odds are you'll think of Dr Frasier Crane, the irascible screen character with thoroughly human flaws. UCT has a rival candidate, live on talk radio.

Dr Helgo Schomer (psychology) is anything but irascible. His humour and directness have endeared him to thousands of listeners on the Tim Modise Network show on 702 Talk Radio and 567 Cape Talk on the Soul to Soul with Dr Schomer slot.

Schomer first appeared on Modise's show on an ad hoc basis and was only later given a regular spot. At 11h30 each Tuesday listeners started reaching for the kettle, creating what one classified as "an addicted listenership who avidly absorb a half hour of positive energy emanating from the airwaves".

The format is simple. For 10 minutes Schomer and Modise discuss a nominated topic ("Which Tim loves to switch at the last minute!") and then open the lines. The calls come from every direction, from Tzaneen to Worcester.

Unlike similar programmes on TV (think Dr Phil), radio is unrehearsed and spontaneous.

"It's a wholly unprepared, live show. You need to think on your feet," Schomer says.

There's the listener who phones in complaining of lethargy and listlessness. Have there been any recent changes in his life, Schomer asks. A few probing words reveal the wound. The caller is a heavy drinker, on the wagon, but struggling to adapt to life without a regular bottle at a regular hour.

The tone could be sombre but it's not. The rapport between Schomer and Modise is uplifting. They cajole and humour the caller, verbally nursing him in the right direction. He rings off, encouraged.

It's important outreach and community work. Many callers phone from rural areas, unable to access or afford professional advice.

There are the students from small villages who phone in, far from home, lonely, homesick. Schomer is there to dispense practical advice and support.

"It keeps me on my toes," the senior lecturer says. "And it tells me what's going on the community."

It also guides thinking on where research could be directed.

In the valleys and peaks that map the human condition, there's no doubt in his mind that stress can be the most dangerous gradient. Everyone is looking for coping skills for the downside of life.

What makes a good radio psychologist? Schomer profers numbers. "Ask him. And her. And her."

All are regular listeners.

Judy from Johannesburg likes Schomer's approach; it's different and he expresses himself differently. And his energy is infectious.

"I love listening to him. He's brilliant, very knowledgeable and spot on in identifying problems. He also gives the most profound advice. He's in touch."

Listener Jackie Solomon's impression is that Schomer is in love with his work.

"He has a loving respect and fascination for all people as well as the problems of being human. Being someone who quite obviously has grasped the joy of being alive, he also has the humility and compassion necessary to plumb the depths of others' despair and help them towards the life-tools they need to attain a state of equilibrium and perspective."

She likes his "inimitable approach to each situation", and that he is "creatively canny in offering the way towards a solution".

"Dr Schomer's personality is infectious, but I think that his success on radio is his unbridled honesty and assertion."

Russell Sadowsky is a regular caller to 702 Talk Radio. The station has given him the opportunity to speak to a "fair sprinkling of the world's illustrious people" over the years.

Schomer, he says, deals with everything: "The whole gamut, everything that affects the human soul. You feel enthused, uplifted, fulfilled.

"We live a very stressful life," he says with emphasis. "He's a nice, warm fellow, so knowledgeable. You tend to take to him. He makes you happy, not less miserable."

Schomer's own view is that Soul to Soul is easy on the ear and mind.

"We translate psychological knowledge into something palatable, as jargon-free as possible, translated into digestible and practical knowledge."

He's also featured renowned guests, Nuno Gomez, the free diver, for one. Schomer is drawn to people like that.

"I want to know what makes them tick."

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