I was born in 1974 and lived most of my young life in the mining village of Calverton in Nottinghamshire. My father was a policeman my mother is a chiropodist. We were not well off in the 70's.
When the 1980's came events took a strange turn. In early 1984 I was 9 and still at junior school. All of my contemporaries were the sons and daughters of miners and I was the son of a policeman. The miners' strike was not a happy time for anyone but as a 9 year old it was filtered through the childish lens of learnt partisanship. My friends felt hostility towards me because their families felt hostility towards the police and I was related to the police. It was all very simple.
From my upbringing in an environment where no one had much money I left and went to university, as my brother had done before me, and became a member of the middle classes. I am now a middle class white man (I was always white) concerned about mortgage rates and with a complete inability to complain in restaurants.
I needed to tell you this in the context of what I'm about to say. I have seen life from both sides and I think it's given me a rounded view of the concerns of a number of sectors of society; I like to think that I understand 'the man in the street' or more appropriately 'the riot in the street' and this is the point; phone in programmes talking about riots are pointless because The Public are idiots.
Seriously, The Public (note the capitalisation) are utter morons who jerk their knees and can't see further than their own noses. The Public are racist, partisan, and politically inept, they jump to conclusions and they either want hanging to be brought back or criminals given a lovely hug and sent on their way.
People however are wonderful intelligent beings with a wealth of experience and ideas, they love their families they strive to better themselves they paint pictures, write books and become aroma therapists.
People are brilliant stars.
The Public are idiots.
This is why phone-in programmes don't work.
They don't work because it's The Public that calls. Firstly no one normal has EVER phoned a radio station. No one. Normal people don't want to get involved. Every single caller to a radio station is a bit odd.
After a national crisis or during a time of difficulty broadcasters go running to the special phone-in as a reflection of what people are thinking and it's supposedly reflecting the thoughts of a nation. Shall we do some maths and work this out then? There may be 20 people on air on a national 1 hour phone in ('Call You And Yours' for example on BBC Radio 4) there are 65 million people in the country; you then have those callers (possibly 300 on a day like today) filtered by the person answering the phone. They will be thinking "will this person make good radio?" these callers are pitched to the producer who will make the final decision on getting them on air. The overriding thought through all of this is again "will this person make good radio?" The producer will give balance, they will give a representative selection of views but ultimately it's what makes good radio. Fine, the phone in is entertainment after all. As the youth would say, end of.
The producers of the next news strand will then be fed some of the views of these callers. Remember these callers are representing The Public and somehow these views will become 'overwhelming public opinion' or 'we've been hearing that...' These views will transubstantiate into news!
This tiny sample of people who are phoning a radio station become the only thing that the news and the politicians can focus on. Because they are now 'public opinion' but as we know The Public are numpties who are scared of everything and want to meet out summary violence.
It will always be the same until broadcasters decide that it's nice to let people phone in but ultimately the experts in the field are the people to listen to. They are people who aren't The Public.