Radio Vox Populi

Radio Vox Populi

Talk Radio from the Romantic to the Anglo-Saxon

By Peter Laufer & Christian Ruggiero

Anthem Studies in Emerging Media and Society

Radio Vox Populi provides an account of ubiquitous talk radio, from its inception to its current overwhelming societal power via a comparison of the Italian manifestation of the medium with that of the United States. The story is told through ten chapters written by radio scholars and practitioners with an introduction and conclusion by Professors Peter Laufer and Christian Ruggiero.

EPUB, 180 Pages


November 2022

£20.00, $25.00

PDF, 180 Pages


November 2022

£20.00, $25.00

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About This Book

Talk radio is broadcast discourse expressing – under ideal circumstances – the medium’s full potential as a vox populi megaphone. Talk radio creates a virtual arena (a Coliseum!) in which topics of public relevance, and most specifically of current affairs, are treated with both expert voices and the continuous contributions of the “man on the street” – the vox populi. This vox populi is expressed within the mainstream media context. Radio broadcasters anticipate the active participation of listeners and make them engines of the on-air discussions. Talk radio programs become instruments for intervening in public opinion and, via opinions of the public, intervene in the public agenda. Talk radio and its vox populi amplify the importance of political issues and social issues. 

Talk radio hosts – from the cerebral and sophisticated to the crude and rude – lure listeners to their radio stations with faux friendship and pseudo authority. Their shows power a cultural forcefield, as they have for generations. Radio Vox Populi provides an account of ubiquitous talk radio, from its inception to its current overwhelming societal power via a comparison of the Italian manifestation of the medium with that of the United States. The story is told through ten chapters written by radio scholars and practitioners with an introduction and conclusion by Professors Laufer and Ruggiero – whose American/Italian university partnership includes a focus on talk radio. Radio Vox Populi is a study from insiders of the history of the medium, its contemporary influence over masses of listeners in America and Europe, and the book interrogates talk radio culture from the point of view of both performer histrionics and audience response.

In the context of a media landscape radically disrupted and wildly expanded since the late 1960s initial successes of 24-hour news-oriented talk radio stations, Radio Vox Populi explains how and why the format holds its potent position as both influencer and revenue generator. Examining the genre’s self-hyping personalities, the book shows how the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal Time Rule in the United States fueled the volcanic rise of what the broadcast industry calls “non-guested confrontation” programming dominated by right wing philosophies. It illustrates the radical change in perspective of the Italian radio model, from the “thousand flowers season” of the 1970s to the current talk radio reality: a medium dominated by a small number of commercial radio stations that prefer pure entertainment talk programming – albeit with considerable “pockets of resistance” on public radio stations, although some public station programming too is affected by and reflects some of the country's populist tendencies.

Radio Vox Populi provides an authoritative voice to help readers understand why live talk radio is magic, why it is divisive and why it is here to stay – no matter the cultural proclivities of the audiences.


“This book brings together an international community of radio scholars to explore the role talk radio plays in everyday life and does so in a new and original way. It brilliantly captures and describes the ambivalence of talk radio, both as a community aggregator and as a means of polarizing public opinion. It will certainly be a reference book for the burgeoning community of radio, media and communication studies” — Professor Tiziano Bonini, University of Siena.

“By highlighting the voices of ordinary people, call-in talk radio helped democratize the media before the internet and podcasts. But it also poisoned politics and laid the foundation for today’s polarized media landscape. Despite the genre’s vast influence, precious little scholarship has looked at the rise of call-in shows. Finally, here is a book that takes us inside the magic of the industry and shows how that magic continues to fuel its broad impact, for good and ill. The thought-provoking, entertaining and important stories told in Radio Vox Populi will interest everyone from academics to general-interest readers” — Public radio talk show executive producer Dan Zoll at KQED in San Francisco.

“A wonderfully rich collection of chapters by talk radio practitioners and scholars from the United States, Italy and elsewhere on talk radio’s past(s), present(s) and future(s). The book explores talk radio’s relation to culture, economy, listeners (and listening) and politics. The chapters illuminate not only the national and regional contexts and topics discussed but also the complex implications of talking on radio for community, democracy and conviviality in our global present with its dominant concerns over political polarization, its destabilizing experience of the Covid pandemic and fears that we live in an ‘age of inattention’” — Dr. Neil Washbourne, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies, School of Cultural Studies and Humanities, Leeds Beckett University.

Peter Laufer is like a literary flashlight—whatever subject he tackles, he illuminates it with a piercing, but always warm, glare. With his Sapienza partner Christian Ruggiero, the two media scholars gathered a distinguished coterie of experts to help readers better understand the international role of talk radio. Radio Vox Populi enjoys a distinct value-add with Laufer as an editor: Here is someone who has forgotten more about this subject than most will ever know — Nick Ferrari, longtime LBC London talk radio breakfast presenter.

Radio Vox Populi traces the history of radio as an agora, as an arena for discussion and opinions. It does so with a sharp and contemporary analysis that highlights how radio is—and has always been—an extraordinary engine of innovation, capable of anticipating change and shaping the future — Federica Gentile, radio and television host (RAI, RTL 102.6), artistic director of Radio Zeta.

Radio is the voice of the people par excellence. The movie or TV star is distant from the people; he is a star. The radio talk host, on the other hand, by nature perfectly embodies the thinking of the “man on the street.” That is why if you are one of the 35 million Italians who turn on the radio for at least 5 minutes every day, you absolutely must read this book: it is the “opera omnia” of world talk radio — Nicola Savino, radio and TV host, director and author, one of the leading figures of commercial radio in Italy.

There are opinions expressed in this industrious book with which I personally and professionally disagree. But that’s okay. Talk radio of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is all about disagreement—including the irksome reality that scholars, listeners, broadcasters, politicians and journalists alike are not able to arrive anywhere close to a consensus as to what the term “talk radio” even means. I support democracy and the First Amendment but recognize they are extremely untidy affairs. The international flavor of this collection adds even more sizzle to its combustible content. I’ve always taken Peter Laufer seriously although I could argue with him for hours. If you are interested in the transitional influence of spoken word radio for better or worse, check this book out! — Michael Harrison, publisher, Talkers magazine, an industry journal dedicated to talk radio.

Despite disruptive forces ranging from technological advances to a pandemic, the medium of radio has maintained a healthy, but declining, share of audio consumers. Research indicates that personalities appeal to listeners more than music. Thus, this edited volume of international scholars, on talk radio, is well timed! It provides readers with a keen understanding of the evolution and current status of the industry — John Allen Hendricks, Stephen F. Austin State University (Texas) communications professor and editor of the Palgrave Handbook of Global Radio.

Radio has undergone metamorphoses and even radical changes in its history, but it has never lost the centrality of speech. Radio Vox Populi focuses on its ability to create listening communities, analyzes its changes and how the power of new media and the crisis of traditional ways of forming public opinion represent a new challenge for radio. For practitioners, insiders and citizens interested in the health of democracies, this book is a useful and brilliant reference point `— Marino Sinibaldi, former RaiRadio3 Director.

Author Information

Peter Laufer, long-time journalist, is the James Wallace Chair Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and visiting professor at the Sapienza University of Rome Department of Communication and Social Research.

Christian Ruggiero is Associate Professor in Sociology of cultural and communicative processes at the Department of Communication and Social Research, Sapienza University of Rome.



Anthem Studies in Emerging Media and Society

Table of Contents

Preface, by David Hendy;Forewords, by Peter Laufer and Christian Ruggiero; Section 1: Making Euros & Dollars with Talk Radio, with contributions by Peter B. Collins, Mihaela Gavrila and Giorgio Zanchini; Section 2: Grabbing Listeners Ears, with contributions by Mark Davis and Giorgio Simonelli; Section 3: Securing Listeners Loyalty, with contributions by Christopher Chávez and Marta Perrotta; Section 4: Selfishly Broadcastinfg Divisiveness, with contributions by Markos Kounalakis, Mauro Bomba and Aida Picone; Section 5: Commercial Propagandizing va. Public Discourse, with contrributions by Terry Phillips, Mihaela Gavrila and Marta Perrotta; Epilogue, by Peter Laufer and Christian Ruggiero; Index


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