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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

21 August 2021

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Studying senior adults’ radio use

Does listening to the radio make you happier and healthier? JCU Psychology lecturer Dr Amanda Krause researches the benefits of listening to the radio especially for older adults.

Studying older adults’ radio use

People live more than twenty years longer today than they used to a hundred years ago, but this doesn’t necessarily make people happier. “I'm really interested in the idea of radio listening for wellbeing, especially in older age,” says Amanda Krause, who specialises in music psychology.

“We have an ageing population, which is, in a way, a massive global crisis. We're living longer, which is great, of course,” Amanda says. “With that comes a lot of challenges and stresses on our healthcare system.” This is why Amanda’s current research focuses on the impact of the radio on older people’s lives and how the radio can be used to improve wellbeing.

The radio still has a role to play in Australia, especially outside the major cities.  “It is broadcasted and works in regional and remote areas, even in times of crisis and emergency where mobile phones don't always work,” says Amanda.

The active radio listener

For her recent radio study, Amanda asked twenty-five women and men between 66 and 87 about how the radio fits into their lives.  “What's really interesting is that people had routines. Some people listened to the radio all the time, other people listened at specific times,” Amanda says.

Some of her research participants looked forward to a specific radio program every week, while others didn’t care too much about the particular program. “You can put their engagement on a continuum, from 'very specific' to just having the radio on all day,” Amanda says.

On the surface, it appears that listening to the radio is a passive activity, especially when the radio is running all the time. However, Amanda found out that this is not correct. “If I choose to pull up my phone and pull up YouTube and search for an artist, that's quite active,” she says.  “But so is the act of turning on the radio and selecting a station or a programme. Music listening is quite an active choice.”

Amanda Krause.
A small radio set.
Photographs: Amanda Krause (left), istockphoto (right)

The radio presenter and the community

Music beats talkback and sports

Not everybody likes the same programmes on the radio, though. “Talkback radio programming was a bit divisive, some people like it and some people don't like it,” Amanda says. “The majority of the people I talked to liked music, while only few people liked sports.”

Some radio listeners were very aware about the role of the radio in their lives. “Some were saying that they were managing their moods through music. There were also people saying that it was something about the human voice that was special,” Amanda says.

“It's not simply music on the radio, there is something else that is special about the radio,” Amanda says. “I want to understand what that is and how we can capitalise on this to create radio programming that might be better for mental wellbeing.”

Wellbeing through music

In the course of her research, Amanda read over two hundred research papers about music and wellbeing. “There were more than five hundred different reported benefits ,” Amanda says. “That shows how much being involved in music is good for us.”

People reported benefits for mental wellbeing, social wellbeing and physical wellbeing. “There were also spiritual-related elements and quality of life elements,” Amanda says. “There's a whole range of benefits that are not mutually exclusive. You can receive multiple benefits from engaging in music.”

Connecting with people through the radio

Committed radio listeners also seem to create remote relationships with the presenters. “There is something about the regularity of hearing the same person speaking to you. We know that regularity is important for people, when involved in activities,” Amanda says, adding that looking forward to certain radio programmes is something that can create positive emotions as well.

“For example, on Wednesday at 3pm there might be this particular programme, so they tune in. It's a familiar voice, they know what's going on,” says Amanda. “That gives a lot of power to the role of the radio and the presenter.”

The radio presenter and the community

In this respect, Amanda is looking at what community radio presenters do to build relationships with their listeners. Being volunteers, community radio presenters don’t get paid for their work.

However, there are other benefits for all involved.  “The presenters are conduits to creating wellbeing for the listeners and the communities they work in.  They also get benefits to their own wellbeing, through that volunteering work,” Amanda says. “There is this really nice multiple layering of wellbeing benefits that are built through presenting on the radio.”

This is something that Amanda also noticed when she was working with community choirs . “It was that social interaction that people were looking forward to. The radio is offering something quite similar in that same way.”

Radio broadcast technician.
Woman listening to music.
Photographs: istockphoto

The downsides of triggering emotions

However, music does not only create positive feelings. “While we are able to use music to create these positive associations, there are also negative memories that can be brought up,” Amanda says. This is especially important when it comes to working with older adults.

“We need to make sure that music is a tool that people can use for a positive experience while limiting those potential negative side effects,” Amanda says.  “So, it's not one hundred percent roses. We need to continue to research the effects that music has on people so that we can capitalize on it being a low-cost tool we can use to promote wellbeing.”

Accessing music: How do older and younger people compare?

Looking into the future, Amanda is currently working on a research project that compares radio usage by older people with media usage in younger people. This research means to find out if the radio is for older people what YouTube and Spotify are for younger people.

“With older listeners, I did a survey about how often they listen to the radio and how it relates to loneliness and depression as measures of wellbeing,” Amanda says. “I have given the same survey to undergraduate students. I haven't been able to analyse the data, yet. But I think there will be a difference in terms of the way that people are accessing music, even if it is the radio for one person, CDs for another and streaming for somebody else.”

A voice that matters

No matter the age of the listener, Amanda’s research shows that listening to the radio - or its streaming counterparts - can help us feel less lonely. This is even more important in times when the loved ones are not within in easy reach, and the healing voice on the radio become all the more important.

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Featured researcher

Dr Amanda Krause

Lecturer, Psychology

As a music psychology scholar based at James Cook University, Dr Amanda Krause studies how we experience music in our everyday lives. Her research asks how our musical experiences influence our health and well-being.

Amanda is the author of numerous academic publications and currently serves as President of Australian Music & Psychology Society (AMPS). She has also spoken on her research to students, academics, and industry leaders around the world, and to members of the general public via radio show appearances and events like Pint Of Science.

Her current research collaborations explore the role of the radio in promoting individual and community wellbeing.