Performance, power and production: a selective, critical and cultural history of the radio interview.
Authors: McDonald, K.
Editors: Chignell, H. and Skoog, K.
This thesis charts the historical evolution of the ‘personal’ radio interview, in order to understand its use as a speech device, a social relationship and a communicative genre. Four contrasting styles of interviewing have been chosen to illustrate key moments and to illuminate significant shifts in the history of UK broadcasting: Desert Island Discs (1942-1954), The Radio Ballads (1958-64 & 2006), the confessional style phone interview format on independent local radio (1975) and Prison Radio projects (1993-present). These cases draw together an assortment of live and pre-recorded material, across a variety of genres that encompass over seventy years of production output, granting an opportunity to demonstrate the specificities of each example, whilst also identifying any overarching themes or differences.
Primary research has been carried out using an assortment of audio content and written archive, comprising of scripts, memos, letters, diaries, training documents, contracts, policies and guidelines, which give us a further sense of how this method of talk has developed over the decades. Power dynamics permeate all levels of broadcasting, so particular emphasis has been placed on how both ‘on air’ and ‘backstage’ interaction has been experienced by an institution, an interviewer and an interviewee. For instance, how might the interview have been used to serve, restrict or benefit the needs of a particular group, an individual or an institution? The different types of interaction that has taken place between participants before, during and after an interview exchange provide clues about the purpose, motivations and agendas of those who contribute towards on-air talk. So, while this thesis values the significance of broadcast audio and historical documentation, it also honours the experiences of individual figures, and seeks to highlight the relationship dynamics within production teams; all of which have an impact on the on-air interview exchange. As a result, research interviews have been conducted with industry practitioners, including editors, engineers, presenters, producers and phone operators.
This study will not only start to develop our knowledge of the contextual history of interview production on commercial, public service and community radio in the UK, but also begin to lay the foundation for an expansion of our wider knowledge concerning the use of the mediated interview across other disciplines and throughout other countries. This thesis suggests that the on-air incarnation of interview talk, its ‘backstage’ production, and its principal position within speech radio genres all over the world, should be viewed as a powerful barometer of institutional, individual and national cultural hopes, desires and identities.