Week 7 Lecture: Audiences: Conceptualising the Audience

This week explored the theories of audiences within the music and radio industry by looking at passive and active audience theories.

In David Hendy’s book there was a clear statement that many audiences get their music by the radio, which helps shape their taste.  The listener can only make a judgment on whether they like a piece of media text if they tasted it. Reading focuses at how audiences consume different media texts and who controls what people listen to, whether it be the producer, distributor or the listener.

In the text is described the importance of ‘media-effects’ or ‘stimulus response’. As an example its effectiveness is mentioned the most famous occasion where the Herbert Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” in which several million listeners apparently believed the drama and started panicking, believing the invasion is real. (p.135)

Abercrombie (1996) clarifies the issue by involving three interconnected assumptions:

  • The content of programmes is trivial;
  • The mode of vieweing/listening is passive;
  • The set of effects on the audience is narcotizing.

A passive audience can be defined as one who is accepting information and music without questioning it or taking much notice of it. I believe this to be partly correct as even an audience who listens to popular music on stations such Capital or comedy on Radio 4 will still have their own taste and songs that they like and dislike.

Examining the consumption of media texts first, Hendy’s analysis of the radio audience highlights the inherent complexity that is a part of the relationship between what is broadcast and how it is consumed. He correctly acknowledges that it is impossible to monitor the listening patterns and behaviours of the individual as individual songs may contain signifiers that are conducive to producing different meanings from one listener to the next.

Using Lionel Richie’s song on Radio Bantu as an example, he notes that “…any ability which listeners may have to resist the dominant meanings of a text and construct ones of their own may be based less upon the openness of the text itself and more upon the broadcasters’ sheer inability to control the circumstances in which we listen”  (p. 144). In this case, the text refers to individual songs, discussions, interviews and other materials that may be broadcast at any given time. As such, it is possible to interpret his analysis as pointing to a constantly evolving form of cultural interpretation that cannot be controlled by the medium.

Hendy, D, (2000). “Audiences”. Radio in the Global Age. 1st ed. UK: Polity Press. pp.(134-147).

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