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Fan cultures in radio (2) - Contrasting Interactivities

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Tristan Ferne | 15:41 UK time, Tuesday, 30 September 2008

As I mentioned yesterday, this week we will be publishing a series of short posts from researchers who have been studying the online behaviours of listeners and fans of BBC radio. The first post comes from Bethany Klein, now of the University of Leeds, who has been researching behaviour on the messageboards of Radio 1 and Radio 2...

Contrasting Interactivities: BBC Radio Message Boards as an Extension of and Break from Radio's History of Listener Participation

A case study of BBC radio message boards was conducted in order to explore the relationship between 'new' interactivity, like online fora, and radio's long history of encouraging listener feedback and participation. This section of the project investigated the unresolved definition of interactivity as it relates to traditional and new media, and suggests that provision of an environment that encourages deliberation is important not only for politically-oriented radio, but also for entertainment radio. Message board user perspectives were gathered through open-ended survey responses from 76 users of the Radio 1 and Radio 2 message boards. User experiences with contacting the BBC, user understanding of the purpose of the boards and user frustration around the terms of board communication were among the topics considered.

This analysis revealed a correlation between message board use and other forms of contact with the BBC; 50% of Radio 1 respondents, and 57.4% of Radio 2 respondents confirmed that they have contacted the BBC previously through other means of communication. Radio 1 listeners (younger listeners) were less likely to differentiate message board uses from other forms of contact, and there was no clear agreement among users regarding the primary 'interactive' role of boards, with some viewing them as a way to interact with the BBC and others viewing them as a way to interact with other users. Thus, one message board user's request of 'much more input from R1 DJs and presenters and people who have guest mixes/sets on shows' contrasts with another's claim to 'use the Message Board to communicate with the other Board users, not the BBC. If I wanted to contact the BBC directly, I would do so via e-mail to the producer or broadcaster concerned'.

Users can be understood as interactive experts and it was obvious in the responses that users know how boards should operate and what features are useful. Many requested features common to other boards and many were especially critical of moderator roles on the BBC boards. The pressure to stay 'on-topic' was viewed as constraining, feedback was understood as prevented and the concern that posts are not read by moderators in context was voiced.

Ultimately, users described a communication breakdown: getting their views across was considered important to viewers as licence payers and for shaping programming, but there was significant pessimism about the effectiveness of contacting the BBC, not only on the message boards but in all forms available. One Radio 1 message board user explained, 'It would be nice if the BBC could pay more attention to some of the things that are said on the message boards'.

Taken as a whole, responses demonstrated a perception of the boards as a site for communicating with the BBC as well as with other listeners, with features and tools not always successfully facilitating both roles. Specifically, minimal participation of BBC staff does not counterbalance what are viewed as non-standard features and rules. The research suggests that the BBC needs to clarify the interactive goals of the message boards, so that activities and tools may be refined accordingly.

Dr Bethany Klein is Lecturer in Media Industries at the University of Leeds

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