Why do some of our elders turn to talk back radio? The rise of social isolation
I was yarning with a group of elders recently and we chatting about struggling being retired and the feeling of social isolation. As we waded our way through the conversation it dawned on me that many didn’t watch television instead they were all still into talkback radio and even went so far as to say while they didn’t necessarily like the presenters they felt as if they were somehow engaged and involved in the conversation. As we dived further into the world of talk back radio it turned out that many tune in because not only do the presenters and guests often talk about topics that resonated with them they also, if they chose, to call in and get involved in the conversation or voice an opinion.
Of course we had a great laugh about the different names some of them use when they dial and some often love to say “long time listener, first time caller” (even though one suggested calling in every second day with a new name).
As I sat their listening, and the stories flowed, I picked up some pretty important things that really sums up the challenges of ageing social isolation and exclusion. As we age our circle of friends begins to diminish or are divided by geography. In fact we often don’t realise that a lot of people we know as friends are in fact people we worked with and have, themselves moved on or away for various reasons. The there are the people we spent our working lives living next door to who were our neighbours and, after years side by side, they too have moved away (often to be closer to family or we ourselves have). And, of course, just because we have retired doesn’t mean that everyone else has including our kids. So, unless we have a plan into retirement about how to spend our days, the risk of social isolation increases. Then there is the change in how people keep in touch – with the rise of social media the risk of people physically visiting or connecting is higher than it ever has been before. Birthdays are now where people post messages on your Facebook page or send an eCard (that is of course if you have email or Facebook).
As time goes on we, ourselves, become more reliant on those mediums to stay connected but to what end? Does it solve the risk of social isolation? And that’s where talk back radio comes into it -no matter the time or day there is always someone to talk to. Going further into our conversation the word “lonely” became to pop up and then reality kicked in – people saw talkback radio as a tool to overcome the dark lonely place people can often fall into. When they call, they can voice their opinion. Someone talks back to them and then once they are off air others might call in to either back what you say or have a crack – but whether they back you or crack you its more about that feeling someone has listened to you.
A friend of mine spent a few years doing talkback on one of Australia’s largest networks and I put the conversation to him:
“You could bet your clock that at six minutes past the 9pm news the old girls would be ready and waiting to dial in. So, after news, sport and weather you’d always have a board of calls of people really just wanting to have a conversation. Many of them would talk about their grandchildren or what the kids were doing. Anne from a Sydney suburb would call in and let us know what had come into the op shop she volunteered in. And then there were the times when the usual callers wouldn’t call and you’d try and call them just to make sure they were ok.”
That was Matthew Tukaki who used to do the 9pm to midnight run on 2UE in Sydney. Matt was very much validating what the elders were telling me about calling to talk and the feeling of being listened to. So what message is there for all of us?
Well first of all retirement means someone could be sitting for seven days a week, twenty four hours a day lost in their own thoughts with little to do and where the risk of social isolation creeps ever further in and yet we all have the chance to do something about it such as:
Make the phone call – instead of your elders calling a stranger for a yarn in the hope someone might call them – pick up the phone and just check in. Take five minutes out of your day every week and just have a yarn.
Knock on the door – one of the greatest things we can do to reduce social isolation is simply knocking on the door of your elder, popping over with the paper, a cake or even a pie to say hello and yarn.
Encourage activity and volunteering – Matt talked about Anne working in the opportunity shop. What volunteering can do is keep you physically and mentally engaged. It also means you can grow a new circle of friends. The local op shop, the kindy or after school care – there are plenty of volunteering opportunities you can get involved in!
Three things all of us can do more of – although im not the radio stations would like what I have said because it could mean a reduction in the number of listeners!
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