Talk Radio Essay

Political talk radio—programs that emphasize political events, issues, policies, and public affairs—has been a feature of American politics since the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt used radio to address the public during economic depression and world war, while Father Charles Coughlin provided an opposing voice. Radio call-in programs, where members of the public can contribute to the on-air discussion, became prevalent in the 1970s. Call-in talk radio emerged as a political force in the late 1980s and continues to provide forum for discourse and debate. Talk radio facilitates interactions between callers moderated by program hosts. Such discussions can also take place on television talk programs, including those on cable channels CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

However, television programs that encompass call-in listeners, like Larry King Live, can limit audience members to questions for in-studio guests.

A number of factors expedited the development of talk radio as a new political medium. Radio stations experiencing financial difficulties experimented with call-in talk radio as an inexpensive format and found an audience among aging baby boomers whose tastes were shifting away from music. Advances in satellite technology also made talk radio cost-effective on the regional and national level. People were drawn to talk radio to learn about and discuss high-profile legal cases, including the O. J. Simpson trial, and key political events, such as the Gulf War (1990–1991) and the 1992 presidential election.

The talk radio audience has changed markedly over time. Studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s indicate that call-in talk radio provided a surrogate community for people who were socially isolated, detached from formal institutions, and alienated from politics. The new political talk radio attracts older, male, college-educated listeners with higher socioeconomic status. Whites are only slightly more inclined to listen to talk radio than other racial and ethnic group members. Listeners are likely to identify politically as Republican and conservative. They have a strong sense of civic duty, keep informed about current affairs, vote regularly, and participate in other conventional activities such as attending political meetings and contacting officials. They tend to distrust government and are highly critical of the mainstream press.

Talk radio programs attract sizable audiences. At least fifteen million people tune into talk radio programs every day. Nevertheless, the audience for call-in talk radio has declined somewhat over the past fifteen years. Data from the Pew Research Center 2008 Media Survey indicate that the percentage of the public who identify as regular or sometimes listeners dropped from around 50 percent in the 1990s to 40 percent or less in the new millennium. The decline in listenership corresponds to the rise in online discussion opportunities, which attract people with similar profiles to talk radio listeners.

Talk radio can contribute to political discussion as it combines entertainment and information in a way that inspires some citizens to engage. According to a Pew Research Center study, nearly 60 percent of listeners claim they gain knowledge from talk radio that they attain from no other source. Further, politicians listen to talk radio, which gives citizens a mechanism for having their opinions heard.

Alternately, talk radio has been criticized for discouraging legitimate political participation by substituting talk for action and for encouraging political discourse that is vitriolic, sensational, and misleading. Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, in their 2008 book Echo Chamber, observe that talk radio contributes to a politically conservative echo chamber, a “bounded, enclosed media space that has the potential to both magnify messages delivered within it and insulate them from rebuttal” (76). Regular listeners to Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program, in particular, become isolated from alternative viewpoints and can become politically polarized. Liberal and Democratic talk radio programs have been less successful than conservative shows in gaining an audience. Air America, which was launched as a progressive talk radio network in 2004, declared bankruptcy and shut down abruptly in January of 2010. Public broadcasting stations, such as NPR and C-SPAN, offer nonpartisan call-in radio programs that address current issues and events, but they reach a limited audience.

Talk radio can influence the political orientations of listeners and callers. They are motivated to tune into shows in order to re

Political talk radio—programs that emphasize political events, issues, policies, and public affairs—has been a feature of American politics since the 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt used radio to address the public during economic depression and world war, while Father Charles Coughlin provided an opposing voice. Radio call-in programs, where members of the public can contribute to the on-air discussion, became prevalent in the 1970s. Call-in talk radio emerged as a political force in the late 1980s and continues to provide forum for discourse and debate. Talk radio facilitates interactions between callers moderated by program hosts. Such discussions can also take place on television talk programs, including those on cable channels CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.

However, television programs that encompass call-in listeners, like Larry King Live, can limit audience members to questions for in-studio guests.

A number of factors expedited the development of talk radio as a new political medium. Radio stations experiencing financial difficulties experimented with call-in talk radio as an inexpensive format and found an audience among aging baby boomers whose tastes were shifting away from music. Advances in satellite technology also made talk radio cost-effective on the regional and national level. People were drawn to talk radio to learn about and discuss high-profile legal cases, including the O. J. Simpson trial, and key political events, such as the Gulf War (1990–1991) and the 1992 presidential election.

The talk radio audience has changed markedly over time. Studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s indicate that call-in talk radio provided a surrogate community for people who were socially isolated, detached from formal institutions, and alienated from politics. The new political talk radio attracts older, male, college-educated listeners with higher socioeconomic status. Whites are only slightly more inclined to listen to talk radio than other racial and ethnic group members. Listeners are likely to identify politically as Republican and conservative. They have a strong sense of civic duty, keep informed about current affairs, vote regularly, and participate in other conventional activities such as attending political meetings and contacting officials. They tend to distrust government and are highly critical of the mainstream press.

Talk radio programs attract sizable audiences. At least fifteen million people tune into talk radio programs every day. Nevertheless, the audience for call-in talk radio has declined somewhat over the past fifteen years. Data from the Pew Research Center 2008 Media Survey indicate that the percentage of the public who identify as regular or sometimes listeners dropped from around 50 percent in the 1990s to 40 percent or less in the new millennium. The decline in listenership corresponds to the rise in online discussion opportunities, which attract people with similar profiles to talk radio listeners.

Talk radio can contribute to political discussion as it combines entertainment and information in a way that inspires some citizens to engage. According to a Pew Research Center study, nearly 60 percent of listeners claim they gain knowledge from talk radio that they attain from no other source. Further, politicians listen to talk radio, which gives citizens a mechanism for having their opinions heard.

Alternately, talk radio has been criticized for discouraging legitimate political participation by substituting talk for action and for encouraging political discourse that is vitriolic, sensational, and misleading. Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, in their 2008 book Echo Chamber, observe that talk radio contributes to a politically conservative echo chamber, a “bounded, enclosed media space that has the potential to both magnify messages delivered within it and insulate them from rebuttal” (76). Regular listeners to Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program, in particular, become isolated from alternative viewpoints and can become politically polarized. Liberal and Democratic talk radio programs have been less successful than conservative shows in gaining an audience. Air America, which was launched as a progressive talk radio network in 2004, declared bankruptcy and shut down abruptly in January of 2010. Public broadcasting stations, such as NPR and C-SPAN, offer nonpartisan call-in radio programs that address current issues and events, but they reach a limited audience.

Talk radio can influence the political orientations of listeners and callers. They are motivated to tune into shows in order to reinforce and deepen their political beliefs. Audience members often adopt program hosts’ views about political leaders, issues, and candidates. They can also shift their views about political candidates and leaders based on the views expressed on air.

Bibliography:

  1. Barker, David C. Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  2. Davis, Richard, and Diana Owen. New Media and American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  3. Hendy, David. Radio in the Global Age. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.
  4. Hutchby, Ian. Confrontation Talk: Arguments, Asymmetries, and Power in Talk Radio. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996.
  5. Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Joseph N. Cappella. Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  6. Rubin, Alan M., and Mary M. Step. “Impact of Motivation, Attraction, and Parasocial Interaction on Talk Radio.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 44 (2000): 635–654.

inforce and deepen their political beliefs. Audience members often adopt program hosts’ views about political leaders, issues, and candidates. They can also shift their views about political candidates and leaders based on the views expressed on air.

Bibliography:

  1. Barker, David C. Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  2. Davis, Richard, and Diana Owen. New Media and American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  3. Hendy, David. Radio in the Global Age. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.
  4. Hutchby, Ian. Confrontation Talk: Arguments, Asymmetries, and Power in Talk Radio. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996.
  5. Jamieson, Kathleen Hall, and Joseph N. Cappella. Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  6. Rubin, Alan M., and Mary M. Step. “Impact of Motivation, Attraction, and Parasocial Interaction on Talk Radio.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 44 (2000): 635–654.

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