Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Dear Radio Broadcaster: Fan Mail as a Form of Perceived Interactivity

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Dear Radio Broadcaster: Fan Mail as a Form of Perceived Interactivity

Article excerpt

What makes a medium interactive? Scholars have taken a number of approaches to defining the concept. A review of the literature on interactivity reveals a divide between scholars who believe interactivity is dependent on media technology and others who believe it is dependent on the perceptions of media users (Bucy, 2004; Phillips & Lee, 2005). In a critique of scholarship on interactivity, Bucy (2004) calls for scholars to turn away from definitions that base interactivity on the technological features of a medium. Instead, Bucy presents a conceptualization of interactivity that stresses its perceptual nature.

Yet, is interactivity a manifestation of how users perceive their communication experience? Or is it dependent on the technological features of a communication medium? In an attempt to answer these questions, this article explores perceptions of interactivity in early broadcast radio--a medium devoid of the technological features associated with today's new media. This study specifically looks at whether listeners in the 1920s and 1930s perceived radio to be an interactive medium, or at the very least, whether they believed they could participate in the radio experience. Through an examination of fan mail sent to radio broadcasters, this study finds that many radio listeners perceived that the opportunity to interact with radio existed through letter writing. The results also suggest that interactivity may be dependent on media content rather than media technology.

Focusing on Technology

Interactivity is commonly measured in terms of the technological features offered by a communication medium. Definitions focusing on technological features have identified a plentitude of interactive media components. For instance, Durlak's (1987) interactive media typology identifies 30 medium components ranging from the sensory richness of a system's hardware to the ability of system tools to facilitate idea generation. When various definitions focusing on the features of an interactive medium are compared, a list of common interactive features emerges. These features include: a medium's ability to offer users the opportunity to input information or provide feedback (Beyers, 2004; Borsook & Higginbotham-Wheat, 1991; Burgoon et al, 1999/2000; Cover, 2006; Hanssen, Jankowski, & Etienne, 1996; Haseman, Nuipolatoglu, & Ramamurthy, 2002; Heeter, 1989; Lombard & Ditton, 1997; Lombard & Snyder-Dutch, 2001; McMillan, 2002b; McMillan & Hwang, 2002; Morrison, 1998; Sohn, Ci, & Lee, 2007); a medium's ability to respond to the input or feedback of its users (Borsook & Higginbotham-Wheat, 1991; Deighton, 1996; Durlak, 1987; Heeter, 1989; Lombard & Ditton, 1997; Lombard & Snyder-Dutch, 2001; Sohn et al., 2007); a medium's ability to monitor how individuals use the medium or system (Ha & James, 1998; Heeter, 1989; Iacobucci, 1998; McMillan, 2002a; Neuman, 1991; Sohn et al., 2007; Steuer, 1992); a medium's ability to address the user on an individual level, and its ability to change to meet the needs of the individual user (Ansari & Mela, 2003; Avlonitis & Karayanni, 2000; Blattberg & Deighton, 1991; Burgoon et al., 1999/2000; Deighton, 1996; lacobucci, 1998); a medium's ability to offer users a choice in, or control over, what information they receive (Ansari & Mela, 2003; Avlonitis & Karayanni, 2000; Beyers, 2004; Blattberg & Deighton, 1991 ; Burgoon et al., 1999/2000; Cover, 2006; Deighton, 1996; lacobucci, 1998); and a medium's ability to facilitate two-way communication between humans using the system and/or between the human user and the system (Borsook & Higginbotham-Wheat, 1991; Ha & James, 1998; Heeter, 1989; lacobucci, 1998; Kiousis, 1999; McMillan, 2000, 2002a; McMillan & Hwang, 2002; Neuman, 1991). The speed at which a medium provides these features is also an important element in determining a medium's level of interactivity (Borsook & Higginbotham-Wheat, 1991; Burgoon et al. …

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