The lecture covered the topic of conceptualising audiences by deeming them either active or passive. David Hendy in the book ‘Radio in the Global Age’ discusses his thoughts on the passive/active audience.
Hendy says that audiences are passive as they believe whatever the media gives to them. Emphasis is put on the fact that propaganda ensured mass conformity many years ago and since then, audiences have become passive. A name is given for the effect the media has on an audience member which is a ‘magic bullet’ This means that propaganda is aimed directly at the audience in the hope of changing their behaviour and according to Hendy as audiences are passive, they will be affected by this bullet.
Musicologist Adorno is mentioned in this reading and his view is also the same as Hendy’s whereby audiences react to deliberate messages in predictable ways. An example of this was ‘War of the Worlds’ which was broadcasted on radio. Although the entire bulletin was fake, millions of listeners who were not aware of this believed the drama, showing the effect it had on an audience.
Adornos 3 elements of Radio were also mentioned in the reading, these being: the content of the programme is trivial, the mode is passive and the effects on the audience are narcotising. He believes radio adheres to this as the output is trivial and the audience do not actively engage with the content but it is common for audiences to agree with the content.
My own reading ‘Radio active: Advertising and consumer activism 1935-1947’ by Kathy Newman disagrees with Hendy’s opinion that the audience is passive. Although this book focuses on the advertisers and those who provide the content on the radio, it still understands that each piece of content affects the audience in different ways.
During the 1930’s-1940’s audiences were very active by responding to radio shows via letters and writing into shows which already shows that certain people actively choose to take an interest in programmes which not everyone will. Hendy underestimates the power the audience have over their choices which is why he does not look at the many ways in which the audience is active.
Newman says there are 2 types of audiences, these being advertisers/marketers, publishers etc who are responsible for producing the content that is put on radio and television. The second are scholars, psychologists etc who are educated within the media and are able to understand the content on the radio and actively make decisions based on their knowledge.
Newman’s overall opinion on audiences is that humans are able to make their own choices and cannot be transformed by media. Although Hendy is correct in saying audiences can react to certain content in a passive manner, it is impossible to believe that all audiences are always passive, especially with the wide variety of content that is available now, the audience members are able to actively choose what they listen too.
One way to research active audiences is to interview them by using a focus group, asking them to give their opinions of a shows content and if they agree with everything said on the show and if they would listen to it again. By doing this you will be able to get an understanding of whether audiences actively choose what they like and don’t.
Hendy, D, (2000). ‘Audiences’. In: (ed), Radio in the Global Age. 1st ed. UK: Polity Press. pp.(134-147).
Newman, K, (2004), ‘Radio Active: Advertising and consumer activism 1935-1947’, book,University of California Press, pp.17-27