Radio’s audiences

Authored by: Guy Starkey

The Routledge Companion to British Media History

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415537186
eBook ISBN: 9781315756202
Adobe ISBN: 9781317629474


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Not least because the medium of radio has already passed its centenary, there has long been a tendency among scholars of communication, media and cultural studies to characterize it as one of the ‘old’ media. This is often meant pejoratively, as if the radio has already become irrelevant and may soon die out altogether. In reality, though, over much of that time radio has been evolving and considerably so since the development of digital production and distribution technology began to gather pace in the 1980s and 1990s. In its earliest forms, the popular term for radio was ‘the wireless’, a term which became so old-fashioned that until very recently it became a signifier of old age in the person using it. Now the word ‘wireless’ has once again become established in the lexicon of the most technologically aware and radio remains a major feature on the increasingly digitized media landscape around which today’s audiences have to navigate. Radio’s audiences have been evolving, too, in terms of how and why they access radio broadcasts, as have the various ways in which radio broadcasters engage with their listeners. It should no longer be surprising that today radio stations seek to exploit the additional opportunities to recruit and retain listeners afforded them by the internet and by mobile communication devices. That the levels of interactivity between broadcaster and listener which exist today should not be confined to the ‘developed’ world was less predictable and we often find that in parts of Africa, for example, audiences exist which benefit from the unique characteristics of radio as a medium in ways that are more critical to their survival than to our own.

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