Fan Culture and Public Service: Media versus Broadcasting

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by: David Jennings

All through last week the smart people at BBC Radio Labs published a series of research summaries under the heading "fan cultures in radio".

The research projects covered different forms of fan participation around radio, from message boards, listeners to an avuncular breakfast DJ, and a long-running soap opera. The one I was waiting for — and which will possibly be of most interest to readers of this blog — was the relationship between ‘specialist’ music programmes and fans, by Andrew Dubber and Tim Wall.

The published summary doesn’t give us much reporting of the actual behaviour of specialist music fans (any chance of a fuller account being made available, I wonder?), but focuses on the range of orientations of the BBC to meeting the needs of these fans:

Drawing on our examination of the fan activities of specialist music enthusiasts, and the way BBC staff who serve their interests conceive their professional practices, we think such a shift would allow discussion of the difference between a ‘one-to-many’, centre-to-receptive-audience model and the ‘many-to-many’ forms of communication that are more typical online. More to the point, the term ‘broadcasting’ pretty much just means radio and television, when in fact recorded popular music is a media form in itself.

Elsewhere Andrew Dubber expands on the different orientations among BBC staff:

If you’re the kind of music radio person with a broadcast orientation, all the internet is to you is a bigger transmitter. Or it’s a kind of a trap that you lay out there in the world, and when people stumble into it, you can grab them and pull them in to your broadcast programming.

If you have more of an online orientation, you may consider the medium on its own terms, but may not be making the most of the music programming which, if your station is doing anything right, is where all the real action is.

The trick is to step outside both of those frames and consider your station as a media organisation in a broader sense.

I’m intrigued as well about the range of orientations of the fans themselves, such as those who create a website for the aforementioned avuncular DJ’s listeners. I’d guess that they don’t think in media/broadcasting terms at all; their activities and orientation are much more intuitive (not having a 90-year institutional legacy behind them). But relying on intuition does not mean they are all homogeneous in their approach. Usually it means the opposite. So how do they self-organise in support of — and sometimes in conflict with — the country’s most embedded media organisation?

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