radio presenters become trusted friends in the lives of their listeners. Their programs provide the opportunity to meet many of their listeners' needs in personal ways. Media today have become more interactive and listeners (and viewers too) are often invited to interact with the station to say how they have been affected by the program they have just seen or heard. Simple questions can also be handled through text messaging or by using new technologies such as Twitter. (See chapter 6 )
A counselling role can take various forms. There is off-line (phone, e-mail and letter) counselling or on-line (through phone-in programs), or counselling in which the presenter answers listeners' questions directly on-air. The Internet also allows for rapid interaction between listener and station personnel and tends to be more informal. Obviously, local circumstances will dictate what can be done practically and radio stations and their producers are encouraged to experiment to find out what works best for them.
Experience from around the world shows that such programs are relevant and have great impact. This is especially true of late-night programs. The busy–ness of the day no longer crowds out underlying fears and problems and, with the night, comes the darkness of their problems and feelings, loneliness and despair.
Talkback radio has become increasingly popular. Programs often focus on a particular theme and listeners are invited to share their opinions and ideas, as well as asking questions. In some countries it may not be something that listeners are very comfortable with at first. It may even be risky for them. Authoritarian governments have left a legacy of fear in which people are afraid to speak up and share their opinions. In some cultures impacted by other religious systems it may be inappropriate for women, for example, to express their views, or only in the presence of other women. More discreet methods such as text messaging may be preferred.
Letter and e-mail counselling is also effective. For international broadcasts these may be the only options at present, but this is changing with on-air studios in target areas being linked to international stations via satellite. Letter counselling is not so program-intensive but, in order to be of maximum effect, audience relations staff need to work closely with program producers and presenters to ensure that programming relates closely to the people who write and what they write about.
A golden rule of effective letter counselling is that the primary questions of the letter-writer be responded to — whatever they are. Some questions may seem totally irrelevant to the Gospel, but many first-time writers are often checking out the Christian station. If they receive a sympathetic and friendly response it will probably open the way for further contact.
How audience response is handled will vary from place to place. It depends largely on the quality of the response as well as the importance placed on this activity compared with the broadcasts themselves. In one country where great importance was attched to audience relations, letter counsellors were divided into three categories. The first was the befriender whose objective was straightforward: befriend the writer and win his confidence. After several exchanges of correspondence a tract might be inserted in the letter — but without comment. If this generated some kind of response then the writer would then be referred to the second level of counsellor. Deeper spiritual questions were turned over to the third counsellor. These letters required a much deeper level of understanding, experience, and spiritual insight. This approach proved to be most effective and the means of hundreds of listeners coming to faith each year. Listeners are sometimes encouraged to personally visit the station or local offices for face-to-face encounter — a regular occurrence.
One great attraction of radio stations is the anonymity for listeners who have problems that are taboo in their own culture or which cannot easily be asked of friends or family. Writers from India often sought advice for sexual problems and difficult relational issues. Where else could they get it? The station must honour this level of privacy. That is why localised follow-up of listeners may not always be wise.
Letters can be answered on-air for different reasons. The listener's question could be representative of many others who would also like to ask the same question. Another reason is that sending a reply by letter may endanger the listener (for contact with a Christian station) or it may have little chance of arriving. There is also an eavesdropping effect. Listeners like to hear about other peoples' real life problems — and the advice being given. In many instances, presenters can ask other listeners to send in their advice or experience. Research has shown that this participatory effect of listener-involved programming is very effective.
Last updated 1 Oct 2010
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