The yearning for that distant-yet-familiar authority figure/'expert' lives on today in the aging audience for shockjocks like Alan Jones. This is a market that appears to want strong opinions - preferably ones that reinforce their own fears and prejudices.
The problem for the radio demagogues is the audience can now talk among themselves. Save for the aged, infirm and non-wired, people are not content to passively stand by while shockjocks use the publicly owned airwaves to broadcast lies, incitement and hysteria dressed up as news or entertainment. The mediators have become disintermediated.
Regulators, working in a legal rather than a moral framework, have clearly decided that 2GB does not breach the licensing regime. But that doesn't stop the public from expressing its views about the station's standards by pressuring advertisers. And that is what we have seen in recent days.
The station's owners Macquarie Radio Network have responded to the social media campaign by suspending advertising from Jones' breakfast program, though this looks to be more a strategy of containment of the damage in the hope that normal transmission returns..
Is this censorship as critics have claimed? Clearly not. Jones is still on the air. 2GB maintains its licence. All that has happened is that advertisers, previously seeing a commercial advantage in their association with Jones, have now decided there is more downside than up in sponsoring his show. That is their right and they have exercised it. Neither governments nor regulators have sought to silence him.
As to Jones' characteristically hysterical claims of 'cyber-bullying', this is yet another example of his messianic complex.His whole schtick is casting himself as the brave and selfless defender of the voiceless residents of the mythical "Struggle Street". Now he must die on the cross at the hands of the social media pharisees to defend his disciples. Rest assured, 2GB will roll away the stone in a few months and he will be born again.
Boycotts of advertisers over lousy media standards is new to Australia, but it is relatively common overseas, particularly in the US. Earlier this year, a major radio network there claimed it had suffered millions of dollars in lost revenue from a boycott of advertising of shows hosted by shockjock Rush Limbaugh - a man who makes Alan Jones sound like Caroline Jones. Limbaugh had vilified a young female university student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" after she appealed to Congress for contraception costs to be included in uni health insurance plans. Less than a year later, he's still on air and as toxic as ever.
Indeed, most of the ugly phenomenon we now see in Australian commercial radio since deregulation has been evident in the US. Reading the book 'Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio' by journalist Rory O'Connor, it is striking how similar the pathology of US radio is to our own.
"Many talkshow hosts...regularly employ and promote hate speech aimed against women, minorities, homosexuals and foreigners over public airwaves, while simultaneously blurring the lines between entertainment, opinion and journalism," O'Connor writes. "Proclaiming that their anti-gay, anti-woman, and racially or ethnically charged remarks are merely meant as good humoured, inoffensive and 'politically incorrect' fun, these highly paid, hugely powerful, mostly male and all white shockjocks deliver one-sided, highly politicised versions of the news, influence our national conversation and affect legislation on important social issues."The conventional response from defenders of the shockjocks is to argue that if you are upset by their commentary you only have to change the station. Of course, this ignores the fact that there are wider public consequences from dressing up opinion as news, from distorting or manufacturing facts and from creating a public climate in which it is seen as acceptable to ritually use the most hateful speech without sanction.
So the social media backlash against Jones represents real talkback, without the 'dump' button. The wider public has had enough. And the response from advertisers shows market forces at work. That it has come to this also provides further evidence of the ineffectual nature of media regulation, which allows broadcasters to vilify, incite and deliberately mislead in order to build audiences to sell to advertisers.
If regulators won't impose media standards, the audience will do it for them.
See also: Ben Eltham: 'What Alan Jones Doesn't Know About the Media' - New Matilda