Socialist Worker

On the radio: How democratic are shows where listeners are stars?

by Mike Gonzalez
Issue No. 2178

“Arthur from Dagenham on the line. What’s your point Arthur?”

Arthur is fed up, with the world, with his friends, and with the fact that his job’s on the line.

Arthur is in his forties or fifties and watches the world through Sky TV and reads the Sun – well, he doesn’t really read it, he skims it for the photos and the headlines.

He’s angry and isolated and the places where he used to talk politics and argue – the working men’s club or the public bar of his local – have either closed down or there are 45 screens showing Italian football and too much noise to hear yourself think.

So he calls Radio Five Live or Talk 107 to unburden himself.

The “host” he’s speaking to might be George Galloway or it might be David Starkey, but either way it’s a joust, a 30 second debate that finishes when the person with the mike, the “host”, ends the conversation with an authoritative bang on the off button.

There was a famous case of an LBC talk show host who stopped someone from committing suicide – the Play Misty for Me cinematic scenario of the lonely soul linked by a thin thread to the one human being who will listen.

This is talk radio as therapy, but it doesn’t work, because therapy is a process through time, not an instant five-second revelation.

But what about talk radio as democracy?

It’s a sham, a substitute for the chance to share experience. Democratic talk is an exchange of ideas and visions.

Talk radio is a coconut shy where people offer their ideas to be knocked down by an authority figure that we are supposed to see as representative of “public opinion”, as a voice of common sense or public prejudice.

The format seems to generate a kind of aggressive right wing individualism.

Why? Because collective consciousness is built on shared ideas and common understandings – not individual rage channelled through a filter.

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Tue 17 Nov 2009, 17:15 GMT
Issue No. 2178
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