The radio station aired a half-hour talk show at 12:30 weekday afternoons. The “Voice of the People” had been airing on WJAG for decades before I was hired by the station. It was more or less a free-form 30-minutes of chit chat. The show began life in the 1940s as “Voice of the News” on Saturday mornings. It consisted of one of the staff announcers reading readers’ letters mailed to the station.
Eventually, the program was moved to weekdays and was soon renamed to “Voice of the People”. The letter reading format continued, but there weren’t always enough letters to fill the program slot. The shows were hosted by a different announcer each week, in rotation, who read stories from the newspaper or Associated Press newswire, then commented on them. If a story was somewhat controversial or very interesting, the general manager and/or assistant manager made their way into the Studio B, where the show originated.
When I came on board, the program still had the letter reading format. Occasionally special community guests appeared to promote events and concerns.
The radio station underwent a much needed equipment update and studios reconfiguration a few years after I was hired. The upgrade included a telephone interface. This meant we could air phone calls. Usually, the listener calls’ topics were trivia and nostalgia. oftentimes, someone would get on her or his soapbox to push a gripe or proselytize.
Whenever it was my week to host the show, I tried to bring in guests in order to make the show flow more smoothly. This enabled me to focus the listeners’ calls on a single topic of community interest. The assistant manager noticed and gave me kudos on the air one day about it. Eventually, I was promoted to Public Affairs Director.
The position oversaw programming that directly addressed community concerns. Community service is one of the stipulations the Federal Communications Commission places on broadcast stations when it comes time to renew station broadcasting licenses. I helped maintain a public file that anyone could see and that the FCC perused at license renewal time. Because broadcasters use the publicly owned air frequencies, they have to be accountable to the nation’s citizens. This aspect was enforced more strictly then, than it is these days.
The “Voice of the People” was an important part of our community outreach, so the show notes were instrumental evidence at license renewal time.
Nostalgic memories of that program were triggered this week, when I leafed through an old scrapbook I compiled during those years. The old “Voice of the People” seems tame compared to the hot-button issue vitriol that passes for talk radio nowadays. Frankly, I cannot listen to pundit-focused talk radio or teevee for more than a few moments at a time.
While broadcast-style talk shows will probably be around for awhile, a far more powerful medium exists. The Internet has the potential to be a more true “Voice of the People” because of the global nature of the venue.
Humans have always had a need to be connected to one another. The Web has become the dominant tool for this. Of course, this surpasses social media. There are many places on the Internet where people have a voice. If we can imagine it, there’s a place on the Internet for it. Our causes can be helpful or cause discord.
There is no actual limit on this modern type of “Voice of the People”. The scope and scale of this infrastructure and technology has not even been fully realized. The Web is a fascinating subject when studied as a whole phenomenon. I cannot help but compare it to that old radio show. The contemporary version of the world’s voice of the people has evolved into a vast network of possibilities. How will the Web continue to affect our species? It’s good to sometimes take a step back and study this vast network from a distance. A different perspective helps us think of ways to utilize it more effectively. This also reveals how voices of other people influence us as individuals.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes General Douglas MacArthur. “The world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It’s the age-old struggle: the roar of the crowd on the one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other.”