So far as I know, no one has made a statistical analysis of the people who call in to radio talk shows. There must be a lot of them, though, because call-in shows have become one of the most common formats on AM radio, and some stations run almost nothing else. The format makes sense for the stations: AM cannot compete with FM in sound quality for music, call- in programming is inexpensive, and it seems to be able to generate a numerous and faithful audience.
But who are these people? I think I can claim some expertise on the subject. A few months ago, I spent several weeks traveling across the country promoting a book I wrote and published. On that tour I appeared (or spoke) on at least three dozen radio call-in shows and must have responded to several hundred callers. That, plus my experience on call-in programs here in Washington, has given me what I think is a reasonably accurate picture of the kind of people who listen to these shows, and who actually call in.
I say "kind" advisedly. Not everyone is the same, but there is a lot of similarity, from Boston to Dallas to Seattle, in the morning or afternoon or on nationwide all- night call-in programs like Larry King's and its RKO competitor. The typical caller is over 50, is usually a woman, would describe herself as a political conservative, and is in the same frame of mind as the people who used to send in letters to the editor and ask to have them signed "Disgusted." Before the 1980 campaign began, for example, the choice for president for her came down to one between Ronald Reagan and John Connally. She has no truck with hippies or police critics or gay liberationists. She is against rent control and police civilian review boards and, if anyone brings the subject up, the Law of the Sea Treaty.
She is also articulate, knowledgeable, and up on the news. As I went around the country, it became obvious to me that many of these callers spent considerable time and mental effort preparing what they were going to say. These are people whose children are raised and who may not be working themselves: they have plenty of time to keep up with the news. They are intelligent. Yet in the minds of most of their friends and relatives they are people who have already achieved most of what they will achieve and who have made the contributions they will make. They have received their last promotions.
But they do have something to say. I can see them around the family table at Thanksgiving or on a Sunday afternoon, pressing hard for an opportunity to give their analysis of the events of the day, insisting on it. "Oh shut up, Mother," is the response. "What do you know about the Falkland Islands?" Mother thinks--with justification in many cases--that she knows as much about the Falkland Islands as those of us who get a chance to write about them in the newspapers, and she is itching to say what she thinks. She helps clear the table, does the dishes, watches her children and grandchildren drive off. Then on goes the radio, she moves toward the telephone, and in a smoke-filled, cigarette-butt-strewn radio studio somewhere, perhaps a thousand miles away, a desperate call-in show host is relieved to see that the light on one of his phone buttons is blinking . . .