Talk Radio: Voice of the People (Part 2)

Radio’s Rise

The story of talk radio cannot be discussed without understanding first the power of radio. The first radio broadcast happened almost a century ago. Bruce Lenthall’s book, “Radio’s America”, traces the history of radio in the US and its deep roots into mass culture:

The rise of modern mass culture and individuals’ efforts to find their places within it resonated through much of the century. Making radio a part of their lives in the Depression, Americans began a process of helping to shape the meanings of their mass culture. In doing so, they turned to a medium of that culture to help them seek a degree of autonomy within it. That was part of an ongoing process, one that continued throughout the era of a mass-produced, mass-consumed culture’s ascendancy. Starting in the late twentieth century, though, the shape of mass culture began changing in multiple ways. Control of production narrowed further as ownership of media outlets consolidated—a point the Internet as it develops theoretically might challenge. Simultaneously, the proliferation of stations and outlets through cable television, the Internet, and other media may have enabled audiences to personalize their consumption—unless we consider the relatively uniform consumer messages the heart of what is conveyed. Even in flux, though, our culture still blurs the lines between public and private, still pushes us to consider the value of mass communication, and still opens up the meaning of democracy in contemporary life. We continue to seek self-control and ways of being heard in our world, and we continue to look to mass culture’s own vehicles for help. The journalist Dorothy Thompson, writing on Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds, was right: the story of the twentieth century—and perhaps of the twenty-first as well—is, in significant part, the story of the balance between individual authority and mass culture. And how Americans made sense of radio is the first chapter.”

Perhaps India’s political leaders realised the power of radio to shape and change minds and culture. Little wonder then that government control exercised on radio has been absolute – something that has never changed. India’s first private FM station commenced operations in 2001. To this day, private radio stations can give us songs but not news. In India’s radios, we can get government commentary but not independent commentary on the government. It is in this context that talk radio over mobile internet can be the ultimate disrupter. Talk radio has the potential to do to conversation and culture what mobile telephony did to landlines and person-to-person communications.

Tomorrow: Part 3

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.