Friday, July 12, 2013

Remember Talk Radio?

Talk radio used to be the new kid on the block, at least in political communication research. That was the 1990s, when academic dinosaurs roamed the world and I published a small mountain of stuff about the effects of political talk radio, certainly enough to get me tenure. There was the infamous 1989 "tea bag rebellion" and the talk radio-fueled 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.

It's been a sleepy field ever since.  Why? The whole Internet thing, of course, and especially the emergence of social media.  Twitter and Facebook pushed talk radio off the sexy research map.  So very old news, talk radio.  So uninteresting.

So ... wrong.

Research on this medium is still out there and believe me, talk radio still matters.  Just ask the 17 million or so folks who listen to Rush Limbaugh or the millions of others who listen to Sean Hannity, et al., not to mention influential local talk radio hosts.   Here's a recent study that found talk radio "played a fundamental role in voicing the protests against the Obama administration." It presents a typology of the talk radio biopshere, the cultural and fiscal conservatives. Useful stuff.

And there's this study, which comes at a completely opposite direction and examines the types of callers to political talk radio programs.  In many ways this resembles the early work on talk radio, all the way back to the 1960s when it was a medium dominated by liberals who used it as a counter to what they considered corporate, conservative news media.

And then there's this paper, which focuses on one of the true powers of talk radio, it's niche potential to reach and engage certain audiences, in this base black listeners.  I'd hope to see more of this, particularly about Latinos.

My point? Don't ignore talk radio either as a political factor if you're a journalist or consultant or as a research area if you're a PhDweeb like me. Yes, it's no longer a "new media" and yes, it's not as sexy as the latest Twitter study, but in terms of real effect I suspect you'll find more from talk radio than from social media.  Whether you'll find a place to published that research, that's a tougher sell.  Editors, after all, want sexy too.  That's another post for another day.

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