I Used To Have A Radio Show

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Radio Musings: Texts, talk shows and RCI

Call me old-fashioned, but every time I tune into a radio talk show and hear what seems to be half the program devoted to reading text messages and e-mails, it irks me. The radio talk show was traditionally the only truly interactive medium before the Internet. The tradition is spoiled when someone spends half their time reading comments instead of engaging callers. The conversation between host/guests/callers is what always made radio call-in shows entertaining. The radio talk show as we know it is unfortunately gone forever, replaced with a phone/text/email hybrid monster.

It’s even worse on television, which was never designed to be interactive in the first place. They have too fallen into the Twitter/Facebook trap that has already dumbed down many a newscast with segments devoted to reading tweets and comments. All this is being done to make TV seem like a natural extension of the online world. It isn’t and never will be. You cannot have a two-way conversation between one side and hundreds of thousands or even millions of others. It is difficult enough to have a meaningful, coherent discussion with large groups of people when it is entirely done online.

As for the RCI saga, most of their employees recently found out they will soon lose their jobs. On June 26th, just a few days before Canada Day, Radio Canada International - a broadcaster that reaches far more people than the CBC brass will admit to or even care to know about - will be silenced. The historic Sackville transmitter will be shut down and a “new” RCI will launch as a web-based service.

This decision is wrong on so many levels, particularly because even the budget they had before the 80% cuts was very meager even by CBC standards. CBC brass and supporters like to make a big deal about how important the Corporation is for the country as a national institution. Therefore, it is strange that they would decide to cut the one department that actually fulfills the role of displaying Canada and its news and culture to people who would never otherwise know anything about it. But here lies the problem, the CBC itself. It is a public institution that behaves as if it were a private one. This is not new. They don’t believe in transparency, even when the Feds dare to touch their budget.

It seems funny how within mere days of the announcement of the government’s budget cuts, the CBC already had a list of its cuts prepared. Strange that they seemed to be able to prepare such a detailed list in a matter of a few days… More likely, CBC brass had their chopping block prepared and were waiting for the right pretext to assign blame elsewhere…

The only thing that can save RCI now is direct government intervention, ideally removing it from CBC clutches. It probably won‘t happen though, since there is no political will to save something most Canadians don’t know anything about. Foreign pressure has done little to save international services elsewhere because there is seemingly no money to be made in shortwave. It may seem that way, but the promotional value of having a service like RCI is far greater than governments seem to realize. Furthermore, the vast majority of people who will lose access next month do not have the Internet available to them. For them, Canada will just simply no longer be heard, period.


  1. Michael Black posted this response: Part 1:

    I'd question the mythology of "two-way" when applied to talk radio. Maybe
    some hosts, especially in the past, did have two way conversations with
    listeners, but in recent years it too often seems like the host talking at
    the listener. He may let them speak briefly, but it often seems like the
    host doesn't care. And worse, the caller gets one brief segment to speak,
    the host does his spiel, and then the caller is gone, no chance to speak in

    I don't fully know where this comes from. A host that isn't interested in
    what the callers have to say? Radio that is so much about advertising and
    traffic reports and news twice an hour that the host is always in a rush to
    terminate things so he can move on?

    And yet, the host has endless time to repeat, usually in the same words,
    what he is saying. Some of that is to try to get more callers, yet when the
    caller appears, they don't get much time.

    Texting has the advantage that the listener doesn't have to wait on hold,
    they can send their message and be done. Note that a few years ago, the
    stations were all soliciting email, and seem to have completely dropped
    that. They like the limit of text messages, and likely don't want a serious
    reply to the topic of the day, which can only be handled with a longer

    You're right, old media is trying to emulate the new. They were doing it
    back in 1995 as the internet started gathering speed. They'd talk of being
    interactive, when they always were, the new methods didn't really change
    that, yet suddenly they made a big issue of listening to
    viewers/listeners/readers. Now they fill with "stories from the internet", me never being sure if it's there properly, or because of some hype.

  2. Michael Black posted this response: Part 2

    The sad thing is, in the old days, the internet was about ideas, talking to
    people you didn't know. But increasingly it seems like a handmaiden to old
    media, where everyone is talking about stories in old media, rather than
    initiating their own. 15 years ago, I didn't complain that the regional
    science fair didn't get good coverage, I posted about the regional science
    fair in the local newsgroup. Now people seem more interested in talking
    about what old media is talking about, too often making a brief comment that
    says "I like" or "I don't like" rather than adding something to the story. Even note the differential between you and me, I am merely the commenter,
    while in the old days, I could be reader, I could initiate stories, I could
    help someone who wanted to know where to get worms for composting, and so

    The internet was often dividing along specific interests in the old days because density was too low for there to be "local" in more than a handful of places. But instead of building up "local" we end up with the left in one place, the right in another, neither side talking to each other, yet the isolation reinforces each side, and makes the clashes stronger. People know things, that doesn't mean they understand them, so whatever they get from old media, or from their "club", is what dominates them, which means so much of what people say is rehashing what someone else said, rather than adding to the conversation with at least their own words.

    Yet now I'd have to have my own space, and find a readership, to have any
    influence. And building up a cluster where people wrote about things that
    mattered to them, without needing to have a badge or be filtered,was my
    response fifteen years ago to Chomsky's notion that old media filters. Of
    course it filters, but due to bandwidth, what they filter is secondary. But
    endless things get lost, because we haven't build up a common cluster, we've
    followed the concept of old media where some are in control, others can
    merely reply briefly. We haven't built something new, just given soapbox to those with the ability to have lots of friends (and thus giving no soapbox to someone who has something really important to say, since they have to build an audience first).

  3. I will agree with you about some talk show hosts and the way they handle so-called two-way conversations. I have always been of the opinion that the quality of a call should be more important that the quantity. Some hosts seemed more interested in reading comments, because it leaves out the need to engage the other person on a personal level. Besides that, it is now station policy everywhere to do the text/twitter/facebook thing.

    Having said that, when a host repeats the topic over and over again, he is surely not getting any callers. I try listening to my local talk station, but the flow of any topic of conversation is constantly interrupted by ids, ads and so on. To a rediculous level.

    Difference is online you have the control to point and click on the info you are seeking. On TV especially, they are throwing several pieces of info at you at once and expecting you to take them all in.