Audience Dialogue

Four temperaments of radio listening

Case study 26

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation had 5 national radio networks, but severe budget cuts in 1997-98 forced management to consider closing down one of the networks. The question was: which 4 networks should remain, and how should programs be divided between them?

At a national conference of the radio managers, all the participants were asked to come up with ideas for squeezing the output onto 4 networks. Most of these ideas involved minimal changes to the existing networks, and argument raged about which network was the most dispensable. I devised a totally different system, which would have involved changes to all networks: radio for the four temperaments.

If you've read Robert Burton's 17th-century book The Anatomy of Melancholy you'll know what I mean. The theory goes back to the ancient Greek medical philosopher Galen. He held that there were four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Associated with of the four elements was a property of heat or dryness, a body fluid, three signs of the zodiac, and a temperament or "humour":

Element Properties Body fluid Humour Birth signs
Earth Cool, dry Black bile Melancholic Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
Water Cool, moist Phlegm Phlegmatic Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio
Fire Hot, dry Yellow bile Choleric Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
Air Hot, moist Blood Sanguine Aquarius, Gemini, Libra

My idea was that each of the four radio networks would appeal to people in a different mood. People who didn't want to be upset could tune into Phlegmatic Radio, which would broadcast reassuring news ("nothing very important happened today") and soothing music.

The cheerful could listen to Airy Radio, with upbeat music and unfailingly good news.

Those of a fiery disposition could listen to CholeRadio, which would broadcast inflammatory speeches and wild pop music. Listeners would be highly stimulated.

And last of all (as usual) the melancholic could listen to Radio Sad: mostly nostalgic music, songs of what might have been (country and western?), and news of disasters in other continents.

Alternatively, people in a mood they wanted to snap out of could listen to a station in the opposite mood

I intended the idea as a joke, but it was taken seriously by a lot of people. For months afterwards, I had requests for my paper. I began to think that the system might have worked quie well.

Fortunately, it proved possible to keep all five networks, and there was no need for Four Temperaments Radio. But may, some day (who knows?) the need may arise again.

- Dennis List

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