Radio & Public Opinion

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan as a radio announcer in Des Moines, Iowa.

It is no secret that radio informs public opinion through its programming.

If you listen to ultra-conservative or super-liberal talk radio programs, radio can “manufacture” political opinions for listeners to repeat and spread, as William Hard said in his 1935 article “Radio and Public Opinion.”

If you prefer to tune in to commercial, mainstream radio, songs with more airplay tend to be more popular. In turn, those artists and their record labels and advertisers make more money than artists with less airplay. Why? Because, much like newspapers must cater to their advertisers to some extent, radio is a business.

“Radio stations are in the business of making money, not the business of playing music. It is clear that people that are attracted to radio as a place to work are often people who love music, but few if any people own a radio station because they love music. People own radio stations to make money.” – Eric W. Rothenbuler

But where does college radio fit into this picture?

Commercial radio stations promote artists who will make money for record labels and advertisers, regardless of the quality or content of their music.

Non-profit college radio stations, however, can afford to be more selective. Though these stations do report their charts weekly and regularly communicate with music promoters, college radio stations still allow for specialty shows. (Think: “The All-Icelandic Music Hour” or “Metal Mondays.”) These shows, which are plentiful at almost every college station, allow DJs to play the music that moves them, regardless of that artist’s record label or business affiliations.

Where commercial radio works to make money and appease the majority, college radio is much more of a free-form, minority voice in the crowd which acts as a platform to promote independent, regional artists like Elephant Micah, We Are The Willows, Utopia Park, Mumford’s, and many more.

What are your thoughts on commercial vs. college radio stations? How do you feel radio works to change public opinion?

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