This afternoon, my 10-minute American media presentation briefly covered the history and impact of American talk radio. Major types of talk radio include “hot” or “shock,” and sports, with conservative and liberal/progressive as the main two variations.
It all started with Barry Gray’s New York City broadcast that mixed celebrity interviews with political and social commentary in the 1940s.
In 1949, The Federal Communication’s Commission introduced the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcast stations to “present controversial issues of public importance” in an “honest, equitable and balanced way.”
Then, Jerry Williams was the first to take listener calls in 1957 Boston, a crucial element to talk radio as we know it today. Williams was also the first FM talk radio host.
Moving along the timeline, National Public Radio (NPR) made its debut in 1971 with its still ongoing show All Things Considered, which combines news, analysis, commentary, interviews and special features. The first broadcast reached a few hundred listeners through only 104 public radio stations. Twenty-five years later, the program reaches 16 million Americans through its own 520 member stations.
The 1970s saw the rise of Larry King. Though King initially started in radio in 1960, he was beset by personal troubles until he launched the first nationally broadcast radio show, talking from midnight to 5:30 a.m. in Virginia. He later moved on to hosting his own nightly interview TV talk show on the Cable News Network, for which so many Americans identify him with. King proved that national talk shows could make it.
The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 set off a conservative talk radio wave in the 1990s. The likes of Rush Limbaugh, Hannity and Glenn Beck can all be included under this.
On the opposing side, talk show hosts such as Don Ismus mixed shock radio with serious political talk on the national airwaves beginning in 1988, while Thom Hartmann began his nationally syndicated radio show, The Thom Hartmann Show, in his Vermont home, before currently having 2.75 million listeners each week.
The presence of talk radio’s impact is certain, however its meaning is abstract. From a PBS interview with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, she noted that most talk radio listeners are already politically oriented and fierce consumers of media before tuning their dials. Once tuned in, talk show hosts seem to take their stances on an issue through articulation of facts that are repeated hour after hour, day after day. In contrast to the fluid news media, this form of political news, if you will, is recycled and drummed into listeners’ heads. Arguably, talk radio both creates and finds an audience.
However, the verdict’s still out: Do listeners with similar viewpoints gravitate to talk radio, or does talk radio “convert” listeners?
As Howard Kurtz put it, we [America] had become “a talk show nation.”
Text source: Pendergast, Sarah, and Tom Pendergast. “Talk Radio.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James, 200. 600-02. Print.