Abby Martin : An antidote to conservative talkback radio
Talkback radio spends its time preaching to the converted...and that's why it may not have a future. 

MANY YEARS AGO, a friend of mine targeted a particular talkback host he especially loathed. He pretended to be a loud mouthed redneck American (with added Texan twang) and he rang the targeted host constantly. At first the host - of predictable right wing views- thought he had found himself a devoted fan but, as time went by, he eventually worked out that his 'American' friend was even more right wing that he was. When the host bashed beneficiaries my friend would ring up and suggest that all beneficiaries should be sent to work camps because 'work sets you free'.

Eventually the host grew to dislike my friend intensely and one day,after a gloriously reactionary and nonsensical tirade from my friend, the host took him off air and, during a commercial break, dumped a load of abuse on him. My friend was subsequently banned from ever appearing on the station ever again. He regarded this as a major triumph; he had been banned from a right wing talkback station for being too right wing.

These days my friend, who now resides in Australia, would find fewer opportunities to punk talkback radio hosts. While the conservative politics largely remains  the same, many of the most virulent right wingers are protected from having to talk to actual callers. Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking and Larry Williams, for example, are free to promulgate their right views free of talkback.

The situation is even more pronounced on Newstalk ZB's talkback rival, Radio Live. It is consistently trounced in the ratings by ZB which is probably what made former TV3 news boss Mark Jennings conclude that it was a 'basketcase'. Perhaps in a last throw of the dice, Radio Live had decided to target a younger audience (under 60) in an effort to boost its ratings.

This has meant the station thas largely extricated itself from messy talkback. These days talkback radio is confined to Mark Sainsbury's  9am-Midday morning show and the evening and graveyard shifts - and even these shows feature non-talkback items such as interviews and music shows. On Friday night Richard Green (who also appears on Newstalk ZB) features a show with a Christchurch 'clairvoyant and medium ' Barry Newman - he talks to dead people on air. 

But despite the changes, Radio Live remains largely conservative. You will searching long and hard for any semblance of progressive politics. This is because there is  a strong symbiosis between the slant of political talk and the available audience for political talk. Both lean to a  older, white, and conservative audience. Commentator David Slack once wrote it was 'a soapbox for the people' but it isn't really. It's a place where a reactionary audience gets his opinions and prejudices confirmed and never challenged.

These days though it is largely inconsequential that talkback radio spends its time preaching to the converted. Those of a liberal persuasion are more than likely permanently tuned in to RNZ National while those of  a more progressive bent, thanks to the Internet, have plenty of other options too.

Me, I listen to a number of podcasts. On Dunedin's Radio One , for example, John Moore does a weekly progressive show with Dr Phil Ferguson and its available as a podcast. And Abby Martin (of The Empires File) does a excellent podcast with her brother Robbie at Media Roots Radio. And there's a whole lot of stuff out there worth investigating.

We could debate whether talkback radio is dying, but it certainly isn't growing. Its ratings are static and its audience is aging while digital services are crowding it out. I doubt that anyone who has liberal and left wing views would shed a tear if talkback radio eventually expired...


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