Do not underestimate the power of audio

I once wrote a paper on educational radio programming on the CBC during the 1930′s and 1940′s. The achievements of early radio have similarities with web-based social learning. Two of the more popular programmes on early CBC radio were the Citizens’ Forum and the Farm Radio Forum.

Farm Radio Forum, 1941-65, was a national rural listening-discussion group project sponsored by the Canadian Association for Adult Education, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and CBC. Up to 27 000 persons met in neighbourhood groups Monday nights, November through March, using half-hour radio broadcasts, printed background material and pretested questions as aids to discussion of social and economic problems.

Farm Forum innovations included a regional report-back system, whereby group conclusions were collected centrally and broadcast regularly across Canada, occasionally being sent to appropriate governments. In addition, discussion – leading to self-help – resulted in diverse community “action projects” such as co-operatives, new forums and folk schools. Farm and community leaders claimed that the give-and-take of these discussions provided useful training for later public life. In 1952, UNESCO commissioned research into Farm Forum techniques. Its report was published in 1954, and consequently India, Ghana and France began using Canadian Farm Forum models in their programs.

Radio is a one-way medium but innovations such as programme guides by mail one week in advance, local discussion groups and national feedback on individual responses, kept people actively involved. Imagine a group of farmers gathering at a neighbour’s house, bringing food for a communal supper, and then discussing issues of great social relevance,  like the possibility of medicare. This was real public radio, not just commercial-free airwaves. Today, the CBC produces programmes such as Cross-Country Checkup and the Radio Noon Phone-Ins for similar purposes.

Donald Clark has looked at the medium as well, in Radio Education: huge and hugely underestimated and provides a view of the further potential of this medium in the Internet era.

Radio and new media
Podcasting is the true heir to radio. To timeshift an audio experience and put it in the hands of the learner, gives them is convenience and control. Internet radio has given many access to distant radio stations and led to growth in stations with a very specific focus. Far from being a dead or dying medium it is finding new purposes and new channels.

Conclusion
Radio is scalable, in the broadcasting sense. It’s low cost and reach have seen widespread use, not only in the developing world but in developed countries like the UK, where radio has long been respected as a source of high quality educational content. Video is very far from killing the radio star.

Sometimes it’s good to go back and revisit what we have collectively learned. We should not underestimate the power of audio, whether it be as podcasts or live radio.

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