Media @ McGill

Gretchen King | The radical pedagogy of community radio and the case of Radio al-Balad 92.4 FM: community radio news audiences and political change in Jordan.

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CHAPTER 1: Introduction - Locating this project from a scholar/practitioner point of view  

Community media institutions, like community radio stations, provide locally-owned infrastructure for accessing media production and broadcasting that cultivates civic awareness, opportunities for autonomous collective action, and access to political power and social change. By community media, I mean non-profit, participatory media institutions that are largely volunteer-run and provide a service to a specific community. Community radio stations worldwide are mandated to empower audiences and facilitate participation in community life. Thus, the perspectives of listeners are vital to ascertain how effective community radio stations are in contributing political learning environments that motivate listener engagement in the station and in the community. Discussing the motivation for this dissertation project, this introductory chapter locates myself within community media activism using critical autobiographical reflection. I review the experiences and questions that led me from touring Radio al-Balad in Amman, Jordan, to entering a PhD program after ten years of award-winning work in the community media sector. This chapter also examines events at McGill and in Montreal that facilitated situated learning opportunities that shaped this study’s questions and purpose.

CHAPTER 2: Theoretical framework – Valuing the impact of community radio

This chapter assembles a theoretical context that 1) defines and positions community radio as part of a global movement for media justice; 2) reveals the importance of audiences experiences in formulating theories of community radio as a social movement media; and 3) presents a framework to investigate among Radio al-Balad listeners the radical pedagogical impact of community radio news practices. After mapping a global timeline of community radio practices and policies, I situate several theories of community radio and social movement media within this history. Building on this literature, I review the scholarship on community radio news practices and several studies of community media audiences. The concluding section of this chapter presents a framework that combines these historical and theoretical perspectives with insights from third-sector studies, anti-oppression literature, and radical adult education to reveal (and problematize) the mechanisms of listener engagement practiced by community radio stations in their efforts to democratize the airwaves. This chapter helps to discern the methodological tools required to value the role of community radio in facilitating political learning environments.

CHAPTER 3: Methodology – Locating ethnographic and collaborative approaches to community media audience research in Jordan

While audiences have been a central subject in media and communication studies since the field’s founding (Dohle, 2008), this scholarship rarely investigates the experiences of community media audiences. My doctoral fieldwork focuses on this under researched area, revealing alternative media audiences engaged, producing, and/or political subjects. After reviewing how audiences have been theorized in media studies scholarship, I examine how the ethnographic turn in audience research along with the theorization of community media determines a new approach to address the knowledge deficit concerning community media audiences. This chapter builds on the interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives offered in Chapter 2 to inform an approach tailored to the practices and experiences of community media audiences. This chapter details the mixed-methodology mobilized during my fieldwork in Amman, Jordan, that reveals and problematizes how community news programming and practices promote engagement within Radio al-Balad and in the community.

CHAPTER 4: An ethnography of the FM dial in Amman: Finding a place for Radio al-Balad 92.4FM  

This chapter provides a “thick description” (Geertz, 1983) of the FM dial in Jordan based on sixteen station tours conducted as part of my dissertation fieldwork in Amman. After presenting the political-economy of the media ecology in Jordan, including the effects of past and present manifestations of colonialism, I review the identity of the radio stations visited as depicted in station branding. This view is extended by radio listener perspectives collected through random interviews facilitated in taxi cabs, a popular location for radio listening. With these data, this chapter situates a place for non-profit, participatory community radio that aims to “exercise democracy” on an old (but still relevant) mass media platform that is dominated by state-run and for-profit broadcasters. In addition to viewing the place of Jordan’s first community radio station, Radio al-Balad, within the FM dial, this research also offers a radio-generated reflection of the urban city of Amman, Jordan’s capital and home to two million radio listeners.

CHAPTER 5: Hearing Radio al-Balad listeners and staff - Assessing and sustaining the impact of community news programming  

This chapter is based on five-weeks of data gathered among Radio al-Balad listeners and staff. Reviewing data collected using the theoretical and methodological frameworks outlined in Chapters 2 and 3, this chapter explores the impact of Radio al-Balad on the political lives of listeners. This chapter scrutinizes the station’s goal to “exercise democracy” in Jordan by revealing how listeners evaluated the station’s presence in and service to the community based on their experiences. I also provide a summary of audience perspectives on bettering the community’s access to and awareness of Radio al-Balad’s structures, programming, and mandate. In addition, this chapter draws on staff experiences to assess the structure and practices of Radio al-Balad. 

CHAPTER 6: Conclusion - Unpacking the radical pedagogy of community radio

The first qualitative study of community radio in the Middle East, this doctoral research project contributes a “thick description” of the FM dial that documents how community radio, from the perspective of Radio al-Balad 92.4FM listeners, offers a transformative experience by providing a participatory platform for media and political education, broadcasting programming that raises civic awareness, and providing space for autonomous collective action through which audience members can increase their access to political power as well as opportunities for social change. This chapter considers some of the practices that define and sustain the radical pedagogy of community radio.