Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior / Dirty Discourse: Sex and Indecency in American Radio / Emergency Broadcasting and 1930s American Radio

Article excerpt

* Barker, David C. (2002). Rushed to Judgment: Talk Radio, Persuasion, and American Political Behavior. Now York: Columbia University Press, pp. 174.

* Hilliard, Robert L., and Michael C. Keith (2003). Dirty Discourse: Sex and Indecency in American Radio. Ames: Iowa State Press, pp. 320.

* Miller, Edward D. (2003). Emergency Broadcasting and 1930s American Radio. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 256.

Most of us probably think of some form of music when we think about-or tune in to-radio. But the oldest electronic mass medium is better known to many of its listeners-and certainly to history-for transmitting the human voice and for its news and talk programming. These three titles review "talk" aspects of American radio past and present, and one comes away from reading them almost pining for the old days. Taking them in order, we have two discussions of radio today, followed by an assessment of radio's role in the 1930s. All three are yet another indicator of the rising scholarly attention being paid to radio broadcasting in its ninth decade.

David Barker focuses (as the pun in his title suggests) on the role(s) of Rush Limbaugh as the prime example of how radio has become a politically persuasive medium for millions of its listeners. A political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, Barker argues that American radio stations are "unapologetically ideological" as well as being provocative. In this study based on his dissertation, the author tries to understand how political persuasion occurs, and more specifically whether (and if so, how) call-in talk radio adds (or subtracts) from that process.

Barker essentially poses the question: Does listening to talk radio change how the audience thinks about the political process? His chapters discuss the existing and growing literature of political persuasion and media effects, review political talk radio and its most prominent practitioner (Limbaugh), suggest a model of political persuasion, assess talk radio and public opinion-a study of the Limbaugh effect from 1994 to 1996, review talk radio and opinion leadership as seen in the 2000 Republican primary battle, explore nontraditional networks and political participation as seen in the talk radio community, enumerate information and misinformation in political talk radio, and provide a conclusion where Barker argues that modern political talk radio harks back to the highly partisan press that in the nineteenth century characterized American journalism.

His is the most methodologically sophisticated of the three books reviewed here, being both theoretically based and dependent on a careful assessment of specific broadcasts. Barker's study is also indicative of the increasingly quantitative approach taken in modern social science research.

Hilliard and Keith provide the most shocking (to many readers, I suspect) of these three discussions of radio. What passes for acceptable content on some stations today is astounding. A successful author team (both from the Boston market, Hilliard teaches at Emerson College while Keith is at Boston College) with six previous co-authored broadcasting books (and many more by each of them alone) to their credit, Hilliard and Keith survey the sexual content in some of today's radio talk shows. Their focus is on the so-called "shock jocks" such as New York's Howard Stern, subject of the largest fine ever assessed by the Federal Communications Commission (more than one million dollars), or the Opie and Anthony pair ordered off the air (by their station, not the FCC) more recently. …


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