Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Summing Up III

I started the week summing up what we know about media and political knowledge. On Monday I did TV news, on Tuesday comedy programs such as The Daily Show.

Today I take on that poor cousin -- radio.

Yeah, radio.

I like radio. A lot. A pile of research I did on talk radio in the 1990s helped win me tenure and thus employment at UGA where I can spend my time in hero support -- meaning I teach a lot, do a lot of research, and watch the occasionally-teaching faculty get all the kudos. Anyway, radio is a favorite of mine, but it's also weird. Why? I'm working now on a study of who stuck to the belief that Barack Obama was Muslim during the 2008 campaign. I'll blog more on this study soon, but one weird effect was radio news. The people who said they listened to a lot of radio news didn't act like others who consumed mainstream news media.

Then it hit me. Talk radio. I bet, though can't prove with the data I'm using, that when asked about radio news people answered the same whether they listened to NPR or Rush Limbaugh. In fact I'm betting they answered more for talk radio than traditional newscasts.

So radio bounces a lot of ways unless you ask very specific questions to make a respondent sure you mean what you mean. The audience for talk radio has changed dramatically over the past thirty years. Once an outpost for the lonely, then for the liberal disaffected, it's now become a bastion of conservative thought. Yeah, thought is a strong word, but follow me on this romp through radioland. Exposure to talk radio is associated with some gain in political knowledge, but mostly for those who already know something about public affairs. The barely interested, they don't get a lot out of it -- which makes talk radio vastly different than traditional TV news (see Monday's post).

What about regular radio news? That audience, especially for NPR, et al., is already high enough in education and knowledge and interest that listening doesn't really translate in much gain in political knowledge. Yes they score higher, but they were probably already high in the first place.

So when we say radio, we mean a lot of different things. TV is kinda like that, though not so much as radio.

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