Talk radio – it’s the only game in town

In my opinion the best thing any radio station can do is to give its listeners a voice on air with a talkback show.

It’s the equivalent of the local paper’s letters page (remember those?), except you get to question, debate, and discuss the issues raised by callers for all to hear.

Everyone has an opinion, everyone has something to say, and who knows what’s on the mind of your listeners when you open up the lines. One caller says something, another challenges it, you’re the ringmaster, and a compelling radio show can emerge.

Now I’m sure we’ve covered the technicalities of taking on-air calls before and it can be as simple as a Facebook call, Skype, Zoom, landline, or mobile connected to an audio input on your mixer. And that’s great as far as it goes.

But what if you want a little more control and management, to see who’s called before and when, to ID problem callers, and identify the good ones?

Visit your local commercial talkback station and you’ll see a pretty complex system that you can’t hope to have. But there is at least one budget alternative that offers all you need, from a dedicated call-in phone number for your local area and a full call management system.

The cloud-based product is called Call In Studio and it offers budget operators everything they need to host a professional phone-in show, including the ability to screen callers before pushing them through to the on-air presenter.

Call in Studio was launched in 2011 (and the website looks like it hasn’t changed since), but nevertheless the phone-in platform for podcasters and broadcasters works.

The cost is roughly US$10 a month plus 3c a minute for inbound and outbound calls. If we assume that in a one-hour show you’ll have 40 minutes of talkback then that’s around US$1.20 for the calls plus the monthly fee.

The company says its system “eliminates the need for expensive equipment or complicated software” and offers first-time users a free trial Click here to create an account.

Its service connects to your setup in two ways:

  • For audio routing you must connect a single phone call to your recording or broadcasting setup. Many of its customers use Skype or Google Voice to dial into our host line, though any means you have of doing this will work. Call in Studio can also dial out to your setup, including Zoom, MS Teams, or other similar service
  • You control the calls through Call In Studio’s web interface by logging into your account and starting your show or meeting within its cloud-based service

In addition Call In Studio also offers a text service as well. Some callers will prefer to text their comments for you to read, and reading them out may prompt others to call.

But the best way to see if this system meets your needs is to give it a test using the free trial.

Opening up your station to callers is a unique way to give your listeners a voice, grow station loyalty, and highlight the issues affecting your community or listeners.

And if you have a guest in the studio, then allowing listeners to call in to ask questions can also make for a great show. Guests could be experts on DIY, gardening, fixing the car, home decoration…

Hosting this type of show does take skill though. The host needs to know what’s going on, what’s making the news, what the hot topics are, and not to be sucked down a rabbit hole by callers. And hosts need to be able to quickly challenge and correct anything said that could land them and the station in legal hot water.

Knowing at least something about media law is advised and books such as Essential Radio Skills (Peter Stewart) and Beyond Powerful Radio (Valerie Geller) are well worth reading.

If you know of any other similar systems to host a live phone-in show – for budget broadcasters – then do let me know.

Steve Hart

Steve Hart

Steve Hart is a journalist and editor based in Melbourne.

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