Talk Radio: Voice of the People (Part 6)

A 2011 paper by Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj explained the growing popularity of talk radio in the US:

The number of radio stations airing political talk shows—predominantly conservative talk radio—has surged in the past few years. This massive change in the radio industry says something about the demand for such shows, but attributing the rise of talk radio to a corresponding rise in conservative popular opinion is misleading. We argue that this remarkable growth is better explained by the collision of two changes that have transformed the radio business: deregulation and the mainstreaming of digital music technologies. Regulatory changes have shifted much of radio production and control from local to mass production (managed by industry giants such as Clear Channel Communications) and created a context ripe for nationally syndicated hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin. Meanwhile, rapid technological changes have given consumers more control over the way they listen to music. Technologies such as MP3 players, Internet radio, smart phones, and Pandora Radio have made it more difficult for stations with a music format to be profitable. As music programming has become more problematic, many stations have developed a highly successful business model by converting to talk formats airing nationally syndicated shows.

A recent New York Times article by Paul Matzko wrote about the size, scale and impact of talk radio in the US (with a focus on conservatives):

Talk radio’s power is rooted in the sheer volume of content being produced each week. The typical major talk radio show is produced every weekday and runs three hours, so just the top 15 shows are putting out around 45 hours of content every day. Even setting aside hundreds of additional local shows, the dedicated fan can listen to nothing but conservative talk radio all day, every day of the week, and never catch up.

Each show has its own long-running inside jokes and references, a kind of linguistic shorthand that unites fans and repels outside examination.

As Jim Derych, the author of “Confessions of a Former Dittohead,” put it, Rush Limbaugh “makes you feel like an insider — like you know what’s going on politically, and everyone else is an idiot.” There is power in that feeling, the proposition that you and the radio elect have been awakened to a hidden truth about the real way the world works while the rest of the American “sheeple” slumber.

Like single-issue voters, talk radio fans are able to exercise outsize influence on the political landscape by the intensity of their ideological commitment.

Talk radio is not bounded by physical space. It can follow listeners wherever they go, from the car radio while commuting to the radio resting on the workbench to a radio app on a smartphone. It has the potential to dominate the construction of a person’s worldview in a way that other media simply cannot (until, perhaps, the advent of its white-collar cousin, the podcast).

What can Indian talk radio do? Can talk radio help drive the political and economic revolution India needs for freedom and prosperity?

Tomorrow: Part 7

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.

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