I was talking to a colleague last week about whether radio will survive the technological media revolution, and in what form.

My take was that talk radio, particularly talk-back radio, will do well. Music radio will die, and indeed is already dead for most people under thirty. Long-form talk and documentary will have a bright future, but probably more in podcast and streaming, rather than traditional broadcast. (At least, once we get a National Broadband Network that means country people can stream and podcast. It will happen – one day.)

Lots of people I know blanch at the mention of talk back radio, let alone the suggestion that it might have a longer future on the airwaves than Radio National’s more tasteful, substantial and in depth offerings.

I can understand the attitude. Alan Jones brings me out in a rash as well. (You can read what I thought of Chris Masters’ biography of the man here). There is something truly awful about a Demigod of radio in full flight.

But that’s not the whole of the story, as academic Graeme Turner has detailed. Talk back includes the good, as well as the bad and the ugly.

I think that the Demigods have lessons to teach those of us who are interested in new ways forward for media and journalism. We need to overcome the aversion to the ugly side, and look at why talkback is successful and likely to survive.

The truth is that it is fitted for the times. Talk back radio is interactive. It relies on User Generated Content. It gives the impression, if not the reality, of giving the ordinary person a say.

If we really believe in democratising media then we can’t turn away just because not all the views expressed agree with our own.

The other lesson is about voice.Talk back radio demigods are personalities. They don’t use the faux objective voice of most news reportage.

That faux objective voice is one of the things I think won’t survive the next couple of decades. While disinterested journalism is important, I don’t have much affection for the kind of “objectivity” that relies on ringing the usual suspects, having each of them say exactly what you would expect them to say, and then reporting so blandly that nobody could possibly accuse you of bias – or, indeed, of having any sense of judgement or insight. Objectivity has to mean something other than being predictable. Supposed journalistic objectivity has to mean more than being predictable,  without anyone ever questioning why those people were rung, and not these.

Successful talk back radio anchors have a voice, a believable persona. They are prepared to lose some skin in public debates – unlike some journalists, who can’t tolerate being questioned in the public realm, (something I have written about elsewhere before).

Of course I would like all radio demigods to use their power responsibly, and behave honestly, and be clean and accountable. That goes without saying.

But aren’t personality, interaction and democratic access to the means of publication the very things we celebrate about new media? We shouldn’t turn away just because the participants aren’t cool enough for us.

Update: Since writing this I have been contacted about some interesting new research which tends to back up what I say here. Read more here.

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