AUDIENCE OF POLITICAL TALK SHOWS ALSO PARTICIPATES IN POLITICS

By: Jeff Grabmeier

Published on October 17, 1997

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The audience of political call-in shows on radio and television is doing more than just watching and listening, new research suggests.

Participants in these shows are more likely than other people to contact the White House, write to elected officials, and to make contributions to specific causes, according to a new study.

“People who listen to and view call-in talk shows may be taking steps to break out of their designated roles as spectators of the political process and become participants,” said Gerald Kosicki, co-author of the study and an associate professor of journalism at Ohio State University.

“Our interpretation is that exposure to these shows is a form of political mobilization.”

Kosicki conducted the study with Zhongdang Pan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Their results were published in a recent issue of the journal Political Communication.

The researchers used data gathered by the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,507 randomly selected American adults in 1993.

Kosicki said he and Pan were interested in examining the audiences of different radio and television talk shows, and comparing them to each other and to consumers of other types of media.

They found a difference between the viewers of daytime call-in shows -- such as Oprah and Geraldo -- and those that watched Larry King Live, the Sunday morning journalist talk shows, or politically oriented radio and TV shows such as Rush Limbaugh’s.

People who watched daytime shows were less likely than average to contact public officials, while those who watched or listened to other call-in shows were more likely to write government officials.

This may be related to another finding revealed by the study: the fact that political call-in shows tend to attract like-minded people, Kosicki said.

“It can be a source of inspiration to listen to and talk with people who think like you do,” he said. “Taking part in these call-in shows may help people feel empowered to get involved in the political process.”

At the time the data in this study was collected, most of political call-in shows appealed to a conservative audience, according to Kosicki. However, more recently, liberal programs have begun to appear.

The results also showed that the audience for political call-in shows were likely to be regular users of other kinds of discussion programming, including network Sunday morning shows and National Public Radio.

“Call-in talk shows provide an additional type of media experience to a segment of the population that already uses public affairs media regularly,” Kosicki said.

Call-in talk shows deserve a close look by researchers because they have a rather remarkable and unique role in history, he said. One of the roles of these shows is to bring in political leaders and have them answer the questions of their constituents.

“This is one of the few times in history when ordinary folks can ask questions of powerful people and expect to get an answer,” Kosicki said. “This role of the call-in show is very empowering to the public and is quite unique to this era.”

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Contact: Gerald Kosicki, (614) 292-9237; Kosicki.1@osu.edu Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu


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