Date of Award

8-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Benjamin J. Bates

Committee Members

Mark Harmon, Naeemah Clark, David Schumann

Abstract

Localism has long been a key goal of broadcast regulatory policy. In recent years, members of the FCC have echoed the often-repeated claims of community activists that lowpower radio stations, being inherently more “local”, not only serve the public interest more effectively but also function as an antidote to what many consider the negative effects of nationally consolidated, corporate ownership of increasing numbers of radio stations. However, such a claim hinges on the assumption that small, low-power and/or community radio stations are able to compete effectively for at least some of the same listeners big corporate stations pursue. Furthermore, there is an assumption in much literature on the subject that localism itself – both in terms of ownership and programming origination – is a quality that listeners find attractive. The purpose of this study was to test these assumptions empirically. The researcher created a series of experimental conditions, delivered in the form of an online survey with embedded audio files, in which subjects heard radio program excerpts manipulated to test the variables of ownership and locality of origination, answering questions after each excerpt. Dependent variables were affective response, medium credibility and source credibility. A total of 331 respondents in Knoxville, Tennessee heard excerpts of a legal-advice program, a newscast, and a religious music show, each manipulated to sound either locally originated or nationally syndicated, on stations identified as owned by companies ranging from non-profit low-power FMs to national groups such as Clear Channel Worldwide and Infinity-Viacom. Results showed slight, statistically significant preferences for local origination of the legal advice show, on the measure of medium credibility, and for the newscast, measured in terms of affective response. Other manipulations and measures pertaining to locality of origination revealed no significant differences, and there were no significant differences resulting from ownership manipulations. After the experimental portion of the study was completed, subjects responded to Likert-type questions self reporting their radio listening and localism preferences, indicating that they considered radio an important source of information but had only moderate preferences for local origination. A majority registered low levels of concern about broadcast ownership.

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