Sounding Out the Long-time Listener: A Study of the Talkback Radio Audience That Doesn’t Talk Back in Aotearoa New Zealand
Talkback radio is a very popular medium in New Zealand with hundreds of thousands of people tuning in daily to listen to a huge variety of topics from politics to dreams to stain removal. Anything and everything are up for discussion. This Grounded Theory study of talkback radio listeners in Aotearoa New Zealand asks why do they make the choice to listen to talkback in a digital market place crowded with options. Stereotypes suggest that the talkback listener mirrors the talkback caller: older, right wing with a desire to vent their frustrations. This study finds that talkback listeners are more varied than this stereotype suggests, as are their reasons for listening. However, stereotypes do apply to the content which is in the main presented from te ao Pākehā, a Pākehā world view.
Talkback radio listeners and producers and hosts from the industry were interviewed. Listener participants said they listened to learn what other members of their community were thinking at any one time. Talkback’s liveness assures them that what they are hearing is current as compared with prerecorded talk-based media. The participant’s choice of talkback did not indicate agreement with what they heard, nor did they expect to agree. They did not expect the content they heard on talkback radio to be factually correct. (The exception to this is in emergency situations when listeners prioritise accurate information). Socially active listeners felt that talkback content gave them useful insight into the thinking processes of those with opposing views. Industry participants (hosts and producers) reframe this and believe listeners enjoy the moral outrage of hearing opposing views. As well they believe listeners find comfort in a talkback host who has consistent views.
The study references the work of listening theorists in its analysis of why listeners choose talkback. While seen by some as a passive form of media consumption, the act of talkback listening, requires those who do, to actively ‘listen to’, rather than just ‘being a listener’, a role that implies passivity. Talkback comprising as it does entertainment, information, pathos and scintillation, rewards the often-alone listener with the opportunity to be absorbed by what they are hearing. It is an example of polyphonic discourse; a range of opinions or observations, each one as valid as the other, expressed and curated not for those who call, but for those who listen.