Talk Radio

Hilda Matheson was born to Scottish parents and had an elite education until her father’s health forced their relocation to Europe. While in Europe, she came fluent in three languages: French, Italian, and German. Her language abilities led her to become a spy during World War I. Once the war was over, she was introduced to some of the political and influential leaders of England. One of those acquaintances was John Reith, the head of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The BBC was a struggling enterprise that faced a lot of resistance from established news organizations. In addition, the public was concerned about the effects of radio waves. The BBC was looking for a role to play, and Hilda helped define it.

She helped create programming which brought the British citizens a sense of the times. As Director of Talks, she asked British intellectuals to talk with the public about important matters in a language they could understand. Rather than presentations which were lectures, she engaged the public with conversations about issues she thought were important. Virtually every intellectual in England participated.

Hilda was strongly in favor of women’s right to vote and used her programming to advocate for women’s rights. She also used her programming to explore conversations of controversial ideas which were a challenge to the conservative political establishment in Britain. When the leadership of the BBC insisted on censoring her programming, she resigned in protest.

The programming that Hilda created became the forerunner of talk radio. In fact, podcasts and TED talks also bear a strong resemblance to the vision that Hilda created. Hilda’s vision was that the public needs to be informed of a wide variety of topics and perspectives.

Just imagine what Hilda would think of talk radio today. Would she be dismayed by the use of the media to rouse and misinform the public? Would she be upset that the radio programming hosts have become the source of the information presented rather than professionals? Would she be concerned about the lack of balanced perspectives? The changes in talk radio are an example of how an innovative vision can be perverted into something that was never intended.

* * *

“If we have the sense to give (broadcasting) freedom and intelligent direction, if we save it from exploitation by vested interests of money or power, its influence may even redress the balance in favour of the individual.” – Hilda Matheson

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.