The use of the phrase appears to have emerged around mid-2020 when almost every politician in South Australia started using it.
It runs counter to any basic understanding of radio and its passive audience, with the effect likely to be the opposite of that intended. Somewhere, somehow, the media and communications experts have managed to convince the political class that this is an effective way to connect with the audience.
So, as Tom and Ali suggest, why isn’t it?
You and me both ?
— Ali Clarke (@ali__clarke) December 9, 2021
In the almost 100 years that radio has been a part of our lives, it was considered to be a passive medium with newspapers and (from the mid-1950s) TV being active media.
Those descriptions were based on the reader or viewer making an active decision to buy or pick up the newspaper and sit down and read it, and a viewer sitting down at the appointed time of the news bulletin and watching it.
A radio listener, on the other hand, has it on in the background at home, driving or walking (with earphones) and tunes in when their mind picks up on something of interest.
The passivity of radio is the reason stations used identifications (eg ‘You’re listening to FIVEaa breakfast with Bill and Bob’), ‘stings’ (‘Triple M ROCKS Adelaide’) or promotion (‘coming up, we’re speaking with the Premier about the latest COVID numbers’). These are designed to bring the listener into active mode.
Being a passive medium, the best talents in radio have aimed to build a personal connection with the listener. This is based on the feeling by the listener that they are part of a conversation between the presenter and the guest. The listener has no awareness of “all your listeners” and would consider that an intrusion into their experience.
There have, however, been some changes in the media landscape that tweak this simple division of active and passive. Listeners can now call in, send an SMS to be read out or watch the presenters online.
Social media has also entered the fray with its interactive capacity to deliver anyone into any conversation and even put them on a virtual stage. Academics have described this as ‘interactive’ and ‘superactive’, based on data that shows 44 per cent of social media users like, comment or contribute every day.
The entrance of social media has, according to a growing number of media academics, created a new dynamic of the audience as a community, as opposed to the old view of passive individual.
A few years ago, Italian radio producer and media PhD Tiziano Bonini reviewed the works of 25 media theorists on the impact of the digital age, seeking to define “The new role of radio and its public in the age of network sites”.
Bonini concluded that traditional media companies had appropriated the listeners and viewers and readers and sold them as an “audience commodity” to advertisers and those seeking to influence opinion.
He wrote that the passive attention economy is being replaced by the productive reputation economy of ‘networked publics’. He assumes that the new age of interaction via Twitter comments, Facebook comments, SMS and other social media has given the listener a sense of being part of an active community.
Like most media theory in the last 60 years, it assumes far too much and underrates the basic sense of connection between the consumer and their book, newspaper, radio or even their social media account.
Communication on a personal and intimate level is still the gold standard in broadcasting.
If the presenter can give the listener the sense that they are part of a small conversation group, then the impact of the content on the listener is much stronger.
Adelaide radio legend, the late John Vincent use to refer to his audience as “the listener”, on the basis that’s the only person he was talking to.
Tony Pilkington had a similar style in his ‘Bazz and Pilko’ days and (now former) ABC Radio’s Ali Clarke developed an extraordinary sense of intimacy between listener and presenter. It’s no accident that those three presenters account for most of the last forty years of number one ratings.
So, back to our politicians and their “good morning to all your listeners” mantra.
Sure, the social media gurus might have convinced you that there is a new dynamic called “the active community” – but try this test. When you’re next in bed, walking around the kitchen, driving or walking the dog and you’ve got the radio on, reflect on how you feel as the person listening to the conversation.
Are you aware of another 30,000 people listening in and do you think about what they might be saying or feeling? No, you don’t. It’s just you, the presenter and the guest. It’s passive, yet intimate.
When Tom Richardson says “a little part of me dies inside” when, say, the Premier comes on and bids a “good morning to all your listeners”, he expresses just how the audience feels. Such a clarion call to the “voters out there” is almost the equivalent of saying: “Hey, listen to me, I’m on the radio!”
It’s crap, and the people who came up with the idea should go back to selling medicinal tonics.
Kevin Naughton’s experience as a radio presenter spanned 30 years, beginning in the early 1980s. He worked in commercial radio and for the ABC, including presenting Drive in Darwin, Sydney and Adelaide. He is a former InDaily reporter and business editor.
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