“Future Radio and Social Knowledge Creation in the Humanities” by John Barber

1. Introduction

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 When radio technology was introduced early in the twentieth century, promoters lauded its promise to extend the range of hearing, and to provide a sense of presence at local, regional, even national events. Three decades later, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht criticized radio’s culture and practices for not providing listeners opportunities to respond. Benjamin, a philosopher and radio producer, in a 1930 essay entitled “Reflections on Radio,” said, “The crucial failing of this institution [radio] has been to perpetuate the fundamental separation between practitioners and the public, a separation that is at odds with its technological basis. A child can see that it is in the spirit of the radio to put as many people as possible in front of a microphone on every possible occasion; the public has to be turned into the witnesses of interviews and conversations in which now this person and now that one has the opportunity to make himself heard” (Benjamin 1999 527). Brecht, an artist, composer, and playwright, noted in a 1932 essay entitled “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication,” that radio “is one-sided when it should be two.” Radio could be “the finest possible communication apparatus in public life,” he continues, if only it “knew how to receive as well as transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him [sic] into a relationship instead of isolating him. On this principle the radio should step out of the supply business and organize its listeners as suppliers” (Brecht 1964 51).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Both Benjamin and Brecht imagined radio as an apparatus for collaboration, communication, and creation, used daily by people to connect with one another, share thoughts, and create knowledge. As to how to achieve this vision, neither provided details.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In spring 2013 I taught a course focused on future radio. Students and I explored how the functionality and affordances of digital technologies might reshape the future culture and practices of radio production and distribution, as well as selection of content. We conceived a prototype radio-social network that would turn the one-producer-to-many-consumers model of radio toward a model of many-to-many-producers. Using our prototype radio, participants would produce, share, remix, and reshare audio files. Discussion about and interaction with these audio files as “social objects,” focal points for discussion, would, we believed, provide opportunities for multiple listeners working collaboratively to create social knowledge (Dubber 2013 111-112; Engeström 2005; MacLeod 2007).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 I begin this essay with a brief discussion of radio past and future, the power of radio, and conceptualization by students and myself of radio as a social-audio network. Next, I consider how web-based radio, like our prototype, might promote social knowledge creation. Combining these components, I suggest that humanities scholarship and pedagogy, grounded in stories of human cultural and creative endeavors, might use web-based digital radio to help create and share such stories thus engaging academic research with creative practice to promote critical thinking, communication, digital literacy, and civic engagement.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 I conclude with the idea that future radio, as both a context and a practice for social knowledge creation, is a place where much knowledge creation takes the form of Walter Ong’s secondary orality, essentially an ongoing multivocal community communication. Future, web-based, radio has the ability to transcend problems with one-way information sharing that characterized traditional radio, turn listeners into parallel broadcasters, and reward the collaborative sharing of socially constructed knowledge between multiple listeners across a wide range of topics focused on human cultural and creative endeavors. In short, web-based radio has the potential to provide spaces for social knowledge creation in the humanities. [1]

2. Radio past and future

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 As perhaps the most significant twentieth century technology, radio transmits (or broadcasts) invisible electromagnetic waves (commonly called radio waves) wirelessly over distance and most commonly through the atmosphere. Information (voice and other sounds) in the form of a systematically modulated (changing the amplitude, frequency, phase, or pulse width) electromagnetic signal is carried by these waves. A receiver (radio) intercepts radio waves, extracts the information bearing signal, converts it back to its original form using a transducer (like a speaker; a device that converts one form of energy into another; in this case, electrical into sound pressure energy).

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Traditional radio broadcasts are one-producer-to-many-consumers, generally via dedicated networks. Radio broadcasts can be local, regional, national, or global in reach, depending on these networks. Radio producers and distributors are generally commercial concerns, intent to attract listeners to advertisements for products for sale. Listeners are attracted by radio’s content: curated sound. Different sounds are used to attract listeners representing a target audience. Radio audiences find listening desirable. Radio’s invisible, disembodied sound sources are rich with representation, meant to be considered through the deep resources of the listener’s imagination (Lewis and Booth 1989).

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The advantages of radio are multiple. It is easy to use and less expensive, compared to other media, needing relatively simple technology and equipment for its infrastructure. Radio is a fast, convenient, often instant medium, allowing anyone tuned to a particular broadcast to receive local or distant information without apparent time delay, or lag.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Disadvantages include the fact that one’s ability to receive broadcasts is limited by distance, receivers, and atmospheric conditions. The experience of radio’s audience is largely one-way: they listen to programming provided. As noted by Brecht, previously, radio provides little opportunity for the listener to respond.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In short, the technology, content, and culture of traditional radio is, primarily, unseen, focused rather on listening to provided content with little or no opportunity for listeners to directly respond.

3. The power of radio

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 As noted, the content of radio is sound, which may be categorized as voice, music, or noise. Human voice heard on radio is either scripted or spontaneous dialogue. So called “talk radio” stations feature primarily voice as their content. Music of many varieties is often a major content source for commercial radio. Some radio stations are programmed entirely around one kind of music. Country, rock, oldies, or classical music are examples. Noise is sounds thought inappropriate, troublesome, unpleasant. Noise is subjective, “one person’s irritating din is another person’s sweet music” (Hendy 2013 325). Often noise is mechanical in origin, but may also emanate from environmental or human sources. “Radio art” stations may include noise as creative expression in their programming schedules.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Beyond radio, sound is a constant and surrounding component of our lives. Walter Murch says sound is the earliest sensory stimulus available to humans, “switched on, four-and-a-half months after we are conceived. And for the rest of our time in the womb—another four-and-a-half months—we are pickled in a rich brine of sound that permeates and nourishes our developing consciousness” (Murch 2005).

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 For the rest of our lives, “Most of us live immersed in a world of sound” (Smith 2003 127). Sound is primary, “a modality of knowing and being in the world” (Feld 2003 226). Sound makes us re-think how we relate to others, ourselves and the spaces and places we inhabit (Bull and Beck 2003 3-4). Sound shapes our moods and regulates our lives, “takes us below the surface of things and allows us access to other people’s minds . . . offers a more immersive understanding of both the subjective and the social dimensions of past lives” (Hendy 2013 220, 324). Even given the contemporary emphasis on visual, sound is capable of creating deep, rich mental images and emotional responses.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Building on these ideas, Don Ihde says, “In the most general terms, auditory imagination as a whole displays the same generic possibilities as the full imaginative mode of experience. Within the active imaginative mode of experience lies the full range from sedimented memories to wildest fantasy. . . . Within the range of the imaginative, auditory imagination may accompany other dimensional presentifications [sic].” Between the imaginative and perceptual modes of experience there are “distances and perceptions” regarding copresence, a dual polyphony of perceived and imagined sound. There is, in auditory imagination, “the possibility of a synthesis of imagined and perceived sound.” These distances and perceptions can create the sense of an “echo” between, or because of the alternation between perceived and imaginative sounds (Ihde 1976 61-64).

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Media theorist Marshall McLuhan connects sound and radio, saying radio resonates as a tribal drum, its magic weaving a web of kinship and prompting more depth of involvement (McLuhan 1964 259, 260). Radio affords tremendous power as “a subliminal echo chamber” in which to evoke memories / associations long forgotten or ignored (McLuhan 1964 264). As a “fast hot medium,” radio provides accelerated information throughput, thus contracting the world to village size (McLuhan 1964 265). In this global village, people live once again in oral contexts (McLuhan 1962 31). Issues and people are no longer separate, or unrelated. Instead, people are part of each others lives and depend on talking with one another to create and communicate community knowledge (McLuhan 1964 20, McLuhan and Fiore 1967 63). [2]

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Unpacking these statements, we can connect McLuhan to Walter J. Ong’s concept of secondary orality, “a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based permanently on the use of writing and print” (Ong 1982 136). Secondary orality is an oral type of discourse in a literate society, one with the permanent ability to read and write.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Secondary orality, based on writing, but conversational in tone, promotes a strong sense of group identity, “for listening to spoken words forms hearers into a group, a true audience, just as reading written or printed texts turns individuals in on themselves. But secondary orality generates a sense for groups immeasurably larger than those of primary oral culture – McLuhan’s ‘global village'” (Ong 1982 136). Secondary orality re-integrates, re-tribalizes, individuals into groups for the purpose of self-conscious re-mediation of self (Bounegru 2008).

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Thus, the power of radio, with speech (and music and noise) as its content, comes from its ability to connect people separated by time and distance. Radio, says McLuhan, offers a “world of unspoken communication between writer-speaker and the listener” (McLuhan 1964 261). [3]

4. Future radio: a prototype

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Such opportunities may be mapped by web-based radio. With its transmission, contents, and reception digitized, web-based radio may promote a mobile radio experience, available via Wi-Fi enabled devices employed by active listeners. It may be social, providing opportunities for listeners to communicate / collaborate / customize the content stream. As a result, future radio may become many-to-many, mobile, non-linear, and interactive, a social knowledge creation experience providing global reach and local focus.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 George Gilder, predicting future television, says technological advances will allow individuals using inexpensive and prolific equipment to produce and broadcast a diversity of rich and engaging television programming via their own channels. The linear model of television programming, one program following another at specific times, produced and broadcast by a few corporations, will be replaced, he says, as will programming geared to the lowest common denominator. With anyone able to broadcast, the audience becomes actively involved in both the creation and consumption of content (Gilder 1990 40-41). We see this future each time we watch YouTube, Ustream, Vimeo, or other online global video sharing services. [4]

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 As Gilder predicted for television, the widespread availability of digital technologies could move radio away from fixed, one-to-many broadcast models and establish “stations of distribution” where audio is created and shared by anyone. Individuals using inexpensive and prolific digital hardware / software produce and broadcast radio programming. Every mobile device loaded with audio production and distribution software becomes a radio station (Johns 2011 261).

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Participants in this scenario become “interactors,” or “protagonists of information,” according to Carmen Peñafiel Saiz, tuning in their favorite music, news, information, advice, and political views from trusted (non- corporate) broadcasts, channels, or other sources. As we will see in a moment, interactors create and share rich responses cross-pollinated from divergent user-generated content sources. Interactors become parallel broadcasters, with the opportunity to contribute as much or more to the future radio programming spectrum as a commercial station (Saiz 2011 67).

5. Radio as a social network

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Using such comparisons between what we called “traditional” and “future” radio, my students and I felt that future radio, contextualized by digital technologies and cultures of the Internet and World Wide Web, could, as noted previously, promote a collaborative, many-to-many, mobile, non- linear, social-audio network.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 We conceptualized and built a prototype radio where interactors could share sound files. Using a software mixer / editing platform embedded in the website for this radio, anyone could combine, remix, and share these sound files. The result would be new sound files, created from multiple originals, by multiple interactors. Sound files, original or remixed, could be streamed from individual workspaces. The number of listeners and feedback they prompted would determine rankings for individual content creators / broadcasters. Higher rankings meant increased visualization on maps of members’ geographical locations. Other interactors, around the world, could tune in these individual broadcasts, remix them, add their own content, and contribute all to the continual content stream.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 For distribution we considered downloading, streaming, on demand, and podcasting. Downloading involves transferring a sound file from a remote computer to a local computer where it can be saved and listened to whenever desired.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Streaming provides content on a continuous basis. Listeners can tune in or out at will, as with traditional radio broadcasting. They can also pause or stop the program stream, an ability not afforded by traditional radio broadcast methodologies. Like with traditional radio broadcasts, once the streaming sound event has passed, it is unable to be replayed, unless it was saved in some manner, like recording.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 On demand speaks to sharing an audio file only when it is needed or desired by the listener. The audio file is embedded in a web interface. The listener evokes playback by interacting with an audio player. The audio file plays through to conclusion and then, since it is embedded in the interface, can be evoked repeatedly.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Podcasting involves a self-contained audio artifact, sometimes augmented by text or visuals, that can be streamed, listened to on demand, or downloaded to a mobile media player. Generally, a podcast represents an episode in a continuing series to which listeners can subscribe. New episodes (podcasts) can be automatically downloaded through subscription to the podcast series.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 As inspiration for our prototype, my students and I referred to existent and former social audio services like Woices, Audioboo, SoundCloud, and MixCloud. Each allow interactors to contribute sound files and comment on those contributed by others, but not remix or combine these sound files. My students and I envisioned a social, collaborative network where interactors, as both creators and consumers, could interrupt / influence / customize the program stream, all while conversing with each other (Burnett and Marshall 2003). As a result, we agreed with Axel Stockburger that “composer, performer, and audience converge in the playing subject [users]” (Stockburger 2009 122). For us, this collapse of a decentralized model of media production suggested social networks where interactors enjoy increased ability to “answer back” by producing their own media (Poster 1995 33).

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 What might this mean, for consumers to become creators? Extrapolating from earlier work in digital interaction by Sherry Turkle and Janet Murray provided some insights. For example, Turkle, observing players in Multi-User Domains (MUDs), remarks “as players participate, they become authors not only of text but of themselves, constructing new selves through social interaction” (Turkle 1995 12).

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Murray is more cautionary. “Giving the audience access to the raw materials of creation runs the risk of undermining the narrative experience. . . . Nevertheless, calling attention to the process of creation in this way can also enhance narrative involvement by inviting readers / viewers to imagine themselves in the place of the creator” (Murray 1997 40). Murray goes on to say this kind of narrative experience “involves the sustained collaborative writing of stories that are mixtures of the narrated and the dramatized and that are not meant to be watched or listened to but shared by the players as an alternate reality they all live in together” (Murray 1997 44).

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 This, we thought, is what Brecht imagined of radio: a site for social collaboration, communication, and creativity. A social network, which danah boyd and Nicole B. Ellison define as a structured relationship, composed of individuals tied by one or more types of interdependency: friendship, common interests, beliefs, and/or knowledge (boyd and Ellison 2007). Social networks are communities of like-minded peoples able to communicate with each other in real time. Social networks promote collaboration, communication, and creation among their members, all generally focused on shared content.

6. Talking about “social objects”

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 When Cory Doctorow says, “Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about,” he means conversation is the mainstay of social networks (Doctorow 2008 99). David Weinberger extends this idea when he argues that in talking about something we are making it explicit, imbued with socially agreed upon knowledge. Social knowledge exists in the gaps, in the connections, in lively, public conversations in online social networks between interactors with their individual standpoints and passions. Social knowledge creation requires active engagement “because social knowing, like the global conversations that give rise to it, is never finished” (Weinberger 2007 147). As a result, “Knowledge—its content and its organization—is becoming a social act” (Weinberger 2007 133), an outcome of online collaboration and conversation (Shirkey 2008). Both Weinberger and Doctorow suggest that knowledge emerges from public and social thought / conversations. Authority is transferred from central sources (editors, content providers, broadcasting corporations, etc.) to individuals.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 In the context of web-based radio as imagined by my students and myself, interactors create and share audio content. Other interactors respond with interpretations, connections, suggestions. The original creators, in turn, respond with creative visions and explanations for chosen practices. These remixed sound artifacts become “social objects” (Dubber 2013 111-112). Social objects are focal points, shared to promote conversation. Social objects may not shape or relate to what conversation does evolve, but they are the reason / meaning for the conversations, and they create a shared knowledge base regarding the subject based on visions of human situation and agency (Engeström 2005; MacLeod 2007).

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Rather than corporations, future, web-based radio may be the domain of individuals, or communities where participants promote many-to-many full access sharing of rich and diverse audio content. These collaborative social networks, characterized by interaction and collaboration, may prompt interactors to “withdraw from the thick smoke of mediation and interact more directly, more convivially, with others” (Walker 2001 11). The upshot: through talking about sound-based content collaboratively created within the site it promotes, this model of future, web-based radio, may promote two- way social knowledge creation.

7. Web-based radio and social knowledge creation

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 My students and I conceptualized our prototype web-based radio as a site for social knowledge creation. We believed interactors would create this knowledge quickly, collaboratively. But, Peter Burke, in his two-volume A Social History of Knowledge, reminded us that social knowledge creation is characterized by a long history, the involvement of various agents and elements, and a focus on intellectuals. Furthermore, he says knowledge is created by various institutions and groups of people, rather than solely by individuals. [5] Perhaps we were looking in the wrong direction as we thought about future radio?

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 On the other hand, Thomas Streeter examines how multiple historical and cultural contexts have contributed to the Internet as a socially constructed complex of networks (technological, economic, and political) that foster openness concurrently with connectivity (Streeter 2010). And, Liliana Bounegru notes the emergence of social media like Facebook and microblogging (Twitter, for example) are re-tribalizing our cultures through their facilitation of conversations between individuals and within groups. Conversations in these social spaces are “rapid communication with large groups of people in a speed that would resemble oral storytelling, without having to share the same physical space with your audience” (Bounegru 2008).

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 We also wondered whether, in the end, we were reinventing the wheel. With its transmission, contents, and reception digitized, is web-based radio still “radio”? There is no transmission through the atmosphere. Instead, transmission is achieved via the Internet and World Wide Web. Receivers have changed as well. No longer dedicated, stand alone pieces of electronic equipment, radios are integrated, converged, with other components into numerous digital devices. Surely the listening experience is changed by these different contexts. But, we reasoned, the listening experience may now afford opportunities for listeners to respond, to collaboratively produce and contribute their own content (social knowledge) to the broadcast stream. And the listening experience is still sound-based, composed of voice, music, and noise.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Some class members questioned whether, post-digitization, radio was subsumed into / superseded by YouTube, the global video sharing platform that enables the transmission of visual as well as oral / aural knowledge. McLuhan speaks to this contention when he argues that every medium can be asked four questions regarding its impact.

  1. What aspect of society or human life does it enhance or qualify in the culture?
  2. What aspect in favor or high prominence before its arrival does the medium question, obsolesce, or push out of prominence?
  3.  What does the medium remove from the past, from the realm of the previously obsolesced and put back center stage?
  4.  What does the medium reverse or flip into when it has run its course or reaches the limits of its fullest potential? (McLuhan and Powers 1989 9)

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 According to McLuhan, radio amplifies / enhances oral communication across distance, obsolesces newspapers as the leading edge of news delivery, retrieves some of the prominence of oral communication from pre-literate (pre-writing) times, and reverses into television if we introduce video. [6]

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin call this remediation, the representation of one medium in another, a defining characteristic of new digital media. Digital media, they argue, wants to be transparent, placing the audience in the same relationship with the remediated digital version as with the original. But, digital media always makes its presence known, in some ways more aggressively than others, attempting either to completely refashion older media, or absorb them completely. In this regard, a new medium remains dependent on the old, even while trying both to absorb and dominate that older medium. Neither can disappear completely, even though new forms or substitutions emerge, like adding multimedia (either video, text, images, text as image) to the sound (audio) of radio. In short, something of the old is always present in the new.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 So, no, while YouTube affords opportunities for interactors to create, share, and remix videos, I do not agree that YouTube subsumes or supersedes radio. YouTube remediates television, which is meant to be seen, passively, but in turn amplifies radio’s disembodied sound sources all rich with representation, meant to be actively heard, providing deep resources for the listener’s imagination (Lewis and Booth 1989).

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 2 What remains of radio in YouTube is its primal, essential component: sounds of human vocalization, sounds of music, and sounds of noise. While most students focused on music as the primary content for our prototype future radio, several strove to create drama and art using mechanical, environmental, and other sounds. Some students combined soundscapes, sound collages, and field recordings to produce aural dramas narrating dreams and events in their daily lives. One group created a sonic portrait of the city. Another attempted to portray a narrative using sounds of a bowling alley and game arcade. And one group sonically depicted the states of water: liquid, steam, and ice, and the transitions between.

8. Putting it all together

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 So what does all this mean? The student projects just mentioned illustrate the potential of web-based radio as a site for social knowledge creation, especially with regard to the humanities. As a field of study, humanities focuses on the cultural and creative record of human experience. Arguably, there is a broad prevalence of narrative across human cultural endeavors. The literature we write, the art we make, the buildings we erect, the music we compose might all be considered as stories about identity, origin, and future dreams. If we grant that humanities scholarship and pedagogy may be grounded in stories of human cultural and creative endeavors, then the use of digital media, like web-based radio, to create and share such stories may help engage academic research with creative practice to promote critical thinking, communication, digital literacy, and civic engagement.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 My students and myself considered some applications, like sonic diaries. Using web-based radio as proposed here, we imagined interactors recording sounds that transect their daily lives and sharing them with others via download, on demand, streaming, and podcasts. Other interactors could combine these sound files with their own, edit them, or remix them. The results could be shared back and forth as part of an ongoing discussion that could lead to new insights, realizations, or connections regarding culture, history, and self-identification.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 Perhaps the focus could be on sounds that are seldom heard. Church bells, for example. Have the sounds of church bells become obsolete, or are they simply overlooked? Do we hear church bells in your community, we asked? When? What do they sound like? Do they sound differently on different days, at different times of the day? When they do sound, what do they signify? Is this the same everywhere, or is this sound different in other places? Again, we imagined sound files created and shared as social objects. Once started, in what directions might the discussion lead? What might we learn about the interconnections between church bells, history, culture, and community in different locations?

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Oral histories could also provide excellent social objects. As recorded vocalizations regarding past events, places, or persons, oral histories provide excellent opportunities to compare and contrast stories about identity, origin, and future dreams. What might we say in response to an oral history of someone’s father, a coal miner in Australia? Would we find connections with our family history in the mountains of West Virginia? How are these connections portrayed in our family narrative? Why did one branch of the family immigrate to Australia, while another went to America? How has this changed identities, social, and cultural outlooks? What stories do we tell about ourselves? Again, sound files could be created and shared, in this case, internationally as the discussion grows. The end result: the creation of new knowledge through the social, collaborative act of listening.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 As a final example of social knowledge creation via web-based radio, primarily around a social object, we considered this scenario, based on a research interest of mine. I am interested in how sound files associated with a mysterious website called I Love Bees helped promote the launch of the popular video game Halo 2. In our discussions, my students and I imagined that I collect all the sound files I can find and archive and curate them as part of a web-based radio project. Someone finds these artifacts, following her own research interest. She shares a sound file of her own discovery, different, but connected to mine. We discuss our sound files, especially how they might connect, both in terms of chronology and context. Together, through this discussion, we can realize new knowledge from their juxtaposition. Our discussion is heard by someone who contributes yet another sound file. The social knowledge base grows through these contributions, and around our continued discussion.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 In these examples I have suggested sound files as sound objects. They represent content for web-based radio and sources of socially created knowledge. As suggested, these sound files could address humanities topics, as stories of human cultural and creative endeavors.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 A quick review of how this might play out. As the creation, transmission, and reception of radio becomes digitized, mobile telephones / wireless tablets become individual “stations of distribution” where digital content is created and shared by anyone (Johns 2011 261). Protagonists of information / interactors (Saiz 2011) provide personalized content (Burnett and Marshall 2003) beyond the parameters of traditional media. Interactors have unprecedented participation in the process of creating and consuming content (Turkle 1997). This enhances narrative involvement by positioning interactors as creators (Murray 1997). Knowledge creation is fostered by global discussion and conversations, moving beyond individual biases (Weinberger 2007 133-147) and into social networks where communities of like-minded people communicate with each other in real time (boyd and Ellison 2007). Everyone is involved in the act of listening (Bull and Beck 2003), immersed as we are in “a world of sound” (Smith 2003 127) where sound provides “a modality of knowing and being in the world” (Feld 2003 226).

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 This attention to listening engages us cognitively and emotionally with the idea of collaboration with others. We are listening, after all, simultaneously even though we might be distant from one another, across town or across the country. More than an audience, we are a community, connected with others through the act of communal listening and personal imagining.

9. Conclusion

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 With this essay, I have explored how future, web-based radio demonstrates potential to overturn the historic one-producer-to-many consumers model of radio production and distribution practices. Future radio, with its content production and distribution digitized, may provide opportunities for listeners to participate as parallel broadcasters in a many-to-many producers model for radio as a technology, culture, and ecology of practices.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 To explore this potential, students and I conceptualized and built a prototype web-based radio that foregrounded social collaboration and knowledge making. Using this project as a “social object” (Dubber 2013 111-112; Engeström 2005; MacLeod 2007), I have explored the potentialities of web- based radio’s digital functionality and affordances, and how they might be used as a site for social knowledge creation in the humanities.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Throughout, my emphasis was weighted more toward conceptual potential than actual application. I believe this is justified in that my students and I undertook this project for two reasons: 1) To conceptualize a solution to a problem noted of radio by both Benjamin (1930) and Brecht (1932): that traditional radio manifests as a one-way communication medium, with little to no opportunity for listeners to respond or contribute to the broadcast stream, the knowledge base; 2) To continue and expand upon radio’s essential feature: connecting people across time and over distance through the collaborative act of listening. With traditional radio, listeners participated in a knowledge community through their common listening, but had little to no opportunity to contribute content to the broadcast stream. With future, web-based radio, listeners can become participants, parallel broadcasters, answering back and contributing to the broadcast stream. By creating and sharing their own content, participants form a social community where they make and share knowledge.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Web-based radio, as both a context for and a practice of social knowledge creation, is a place where much knowledge creation takes the form of Ong’s secondary orality, essentially an ongoing multivocal community communication, a way of speaking grounded in writing. McLuhan, in his inimitable style, called secondary orality a global village, an extended simulacra of this immediate form of communication connecting and engaging individuals separated by time and distance. Future radio may represent McLuhan’s “global village” (McLuhan 1989), or Poster’s “answer back” social network (Poster 1995). And web-based radio, where conversations are based in sound files rather than alphabetic writing, may become a two-way communication medium where creators and consumers converse about online “social objects” (Dubber 2013 111-112; Engeström 2005; MacLeod 2007).

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 When listening to the radio became an everyday activity in the 1930s, it “disrupted the cognitive and cultural practices of a visual culture and a literate culture” in a way more dramatic than ever did the telephone or phonograph. Seeing, having achieved dominance over hearing, claimed modernity and progress. But hearing transports listeners back to a time, a mode reliant on orality, storytelling, listening, and group memory (Douglas 1999 29).

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 This combination of radio and sound is purposeful. Sound, the primary sensory input (McLuhan 1964, Murch 2005), makes us re-think our relational experiences with others, ourselves, and the spaces and places we inhabit (Bull and Beck 2003 3-4). If the humanities is essentially, as I have suggested, the study of human cultural and creative endeavors as a form of storytelling, then highlighting the storyteller and the sound of her voice could provide many interesting opportunities for humanities scholarship and pedagogy.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 In the absence of visual images, our imaginations combine with our ears to create worlds and ways to inhabit them. These are our worlds, our visions, our emotional responses, and we create our own lives inside them. Susan Douglas suggests three ways listening to radio engages our cognitive activity. First, we listen for information. We listen for what we need to know. We do not imagine too much. Second, we listen for dimension in order to imagine three-dimensional representations of locales or dynamics of music. This requires more work, but it is gratifying because we use our imaginations. Third, we listen for association, connections to memories, peoples, and places in our past life (Douglas 1999 33-34).

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 2 Future radio, with its content, production, transmission, and reception digitized may provide relief from the linear, one-way one-producer-to-many- consumers historical model. Future, web-based radio may promote a two-way opportunity for collaboration and social knowledge creation based on a many-to-many-parallel-broadcasters model. The reward, as I have tried to illustrate, could be the collaborative construction and sharing of knowledge.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 Future radio, by promoting social audio networks, may encourage participants to discuss questions of human nature and condition. These results could be rewarding as we consider the potential for socially constructed knowledge in the humanities.

10. Notes

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 [1] Alyssa Arbuckle, Nina Belojevic, Matthew Hiebert, and Ray Siemens, working with Shaun Wong, Derek Siemens, Alex Christie, Jon Saklofske, Jentery Sayers, and the INKE and ETCL Research Groups have prepared three annotated bibliographies focusing on social knowledge creation. The first focuses on social knowledge creation and conveyance. The second deals with game-design models for digital social knowledge creation. The third takes social knowledge creation tools as its focus. See Arbuckle, Alyssa, et. al. (2014). Scholarly and Research Communication, Vol 5, No 2. Accessed December 10, 2015, http://src-online.ca/index.php/src/article/view/ 150/299#1.1

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 [2] McLuhan explored his ideas using a variety of aphorisms, puns, quips, probes and oddly juxtaposed observations, all culminating in the legendary phrase “the medium is the message” (McLuhan and Fiore 1967). His point: It is not the message, but the context in which it is delivered. This is a medium’s sensory biases. Where print books and newspapers might appeal to the rationality of the eye, radio plays to the irrationality of the ear (McLuhan 1964).

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 McLuhan’s position that technological form matters more than content with regard to any effect on communications media builds on but differs from ideas championed by his colleague, Harold Innis. Both Innis and McLuhan agree about the centrality of communication technology. They differ on the effects. Innis sees it as driving change to social organization and culture. McLuhan sees communication technology closely linked to the way we think and respond to sensory input (Carey 1969 281). Together, their works position communication technologies as central to social and historical change (Carey 1969 271).

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 [3] McLuhan’s thoughts provide context for contemporary thinking about radio. Andrew Dubber, for example, says radio is collection of different, but related, phenomena. Radio is a category of media content with its own characteristics, conventions, and tropes; an institution; an organizational structure; a series of professional practices and relationships; and more. As a result, radio work, content, technologies, or cultures should not be considered as single subjects or processes, but rather part of an ecology, especially within the digital media environment in which radio is increasingly situated (Dubber 2015). In a related vein, Susan Merrill Squier explores ways in which radio, as both technological and social practices, was constructed by, and in turn helped to shape twentieth-century Anglo- American society and culture (Squier 2003).

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 [4] YouTube (www.youtube.com) may be the first example of Gilder’s prediction. Begun in February 2005, this video-sharing website allows anyone to upload, view, and share video content created with their own equipment. Registered users can maintain exclusive content channels. Anyone can create, upload, and share a video response to user-generated content.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 Ustream (www.ustream.tv), founded in 2007 as a way for military personnel in Iraq to communicate with their families, provides live video streaming of user-generated content to more than 80 million viewers worldwide. Like YouTube, anyone, using personal equipment, can create, upload, and share a video response to user-generated content.

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 [5] Burke also argues that knowledge is always plural, that various knowledges develop concurrently and then intersect and play with one another. The social production of knowledge, he says, is always connected to the economic and political environments in which it develops (Burke 2012, 2000).

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 These ideas are explored by others. Terry Eagleton, for example, says literature has a historical role in social development and nation building in England and elsewhere (Eagleton 2010). Nancy Fjällbrant details the history of the scientific journal as developing from researchers’ desire to share their findings with others in a cooperative forum (Fjällbrant 1997). Along with journals, university presses were considered primary forms of knowledge dissemination and sharing (Jagodzinski 2008). Adrian Johns explores the history of printing, especially the social apparatus and construction of print and how it has been used socially. Rather than evolving from a deterministic cause-and-effect relationship with any single historical factor, he says multiple print cultures have evolved, each local in character (Johns 1998). Thomas Streeter examines how various historical and cultural contexts have contributed to the Internet as a socially constructed complex of networks (technological, economic, and political) that foster openness concurrently with connectivity (Streeter 2010). Finally, as Johns argues there is no one print culture, Lisa Gitelman argues the absence of a singular, ubiquitous media. Instead, she says, media are plural, social communication structures that evolve with surrounding publics (Gitelman 2006).

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 [6] McLuhan argues that every medium can be asked these four questions, a “tetrad,” regarding its impact. These questions speak to a series of activities / stages / a process each medium undergoes: amplification, obsolescence, retrieval, and reversal. Following McLuhan’s tetrad, radio . . .

  1. 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0
  2. Amplifies / enhances oral communication across distance
  3. Obsolesces aspects of written communication such as newspapers as the leading edge of news delivery
  4. Retrieves some of the prominence of oral communication from the pre-literate (pre-writing) times
  5.  Reverses into broadcasts of sounds and images (television) if we introduce video (McLuhan 1988, 1977, 1975; McLuhan and Powers 1989 9)

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 Related to these ideas, McLuhan says that a new medium incorporates as its content the older medium it replaces. “The ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph. If it is asked, ‘What is the content of speech?,’ it is necessary to say, ‘It is an actual process of thought, which is in itself nonverbal'” (McLuhan 1964 23-24). Incorporated by writing, reading, and printing, speech is the oldest medium and the most prevalent form of human communication and claims a presence in most all media (Levinson 1999). As James O’Donnell notes, “the manuscript was first conceived to be no more than a prompt-script for the spoken word, a place to look to find out what to say . . . to produce the audible word” (O’Donnell 1988 54).

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 11. Works Cited

  • 74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0
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4 replies on ““Future Radio and Social Knowledge Creation in the Humanities” by John Barber”

Is there a place where this work is collected and accessible? I would be very interested in listening to and exploring these projects.

Thank you, Lindsey, for this comment and interest.

I maintain an archive of student projects from my courses here: http://www.nouspace.net/john/courses/resources/course-archives.html


You can learn more about the particular spring 2013 class I write about,  and listen to their projects, under this subheading on the webpage above: ”
DTC 338 Special Topics: Internet Radio: Theory and Practice”
Thanks again for your interest and comment,

John Barber

In this bold and commendable attempt to reconceptualize the transfer of information via the radio (one-many versus many-many), the classroom was effectively flipped in the same way (from instructor-students to collaborative team). The exploration outlined demonstrates true collaboration between students and between the students and the instructor. This, I argue, is what catalyzed such successful, productive prototyping.​ As with Levy’s innovative game used to impart research knowledge, this project gave students agency and encouraged them to think creatively, resulting in a collective “buy in”. 

Thank you, Lindsey,

Collaboration is always a gamble–many students like working with others–some do not. In this class (Spring 2013) many students worked together in small groups–3-4 members–and several worked alone. A few did both. But, in the end, everyone was engaged, and from my perspective, pursuing social learning. At the end of the course, we had “show and tell,” where students talked about the conceptual frameworks behind their radio art works, and then played their sound files for the rest of us to hear. It was very exciting, and interesting!