Understanding the Rise of Talk Radio

From a 2011 academic paper:

* The format of political talk radio is unchanging, surprising perhaps in light of the richness and interactivity of other modern media. A political talk radio show is easy to describe: a host (or sometimes a team of two) talks about current events, says provocative if not outrageous things, and takes calls from listeners.

* Research by political scientists on talk radio has focused on trying to measure the impact of exposure to such programming on attitude formation. The research is quite sophisticated and the findings are complex and sometimes contradict.

* With the emergence of every new media technology AM-FM, or “terrestrial,” radio seems more and more like an antique ready for the museum. Indeed, with the exception of political talk radio, terrestrial radio is struggling financially.

* The talk radio business model is worrisome because it represents the growth of an industry that makes profits in large part by peddling political outrage and fueling the fires of polarization. America has always had such businesses (think yellow journalism) but never on the scale of what is available today. Embedded in the successful business model for talk radio is an incentive for hosts to be provocative to the point of being offensive to people who are not among the loyal following. The program content we have described in this article may be part and parcel of a free society with a strong First Amendment, but that is no less reason to be concerned about the prevalence of political commentary designed to make us as angry and fearful as possible.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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