Dieker, Marith, MSc.

Talking You Through: Traffic Information and Car Radio, 1950s-now

Department of Technology and Society Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University, marith.dieker@maastrichtuniversity.nl

Supervisor(s): Professor Karin Bijsterveld and Professor Wiebe Bijker

Background

My interest in STS was already present when I was still in secondary school, only I did not know this was a real field of research, yet. The bachelor in Arts and Culture at Maastricht University, especially the specialization called ‘Cultures of Knowledge and Technology’, inspired me to do research on socio-technical developments and innovation.

I continued with the Research Master Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology. During this programme I became particularly interested in the so-called ‘mundane’. This led me to briefly work in thrift shop to study local re-commodification practices and ethics of waste for my thesis.

Summary 

In today’s strategies for sustainable mobility, traffic information is considered to contribute to efficient highway use. Car radio has, for almost a century already, played a crucial role in transmitting such information. Its sonic character helps drivers to keep their eyes on the road and the real-time updates continuously keep them informed. However, the ways in which radio traffic information is gathered, transmitted and presented differs from country to country. Moreover, drivers do not only listen to car radio but also to their own music, audio books, mobile phones and navigation voices.

While research on the provision of traffic information is diverging to include many of those new navigation technologies, policy makers and traffic authorities continue to invest in the development of traffic updates transmitted via car radio. But do all drivers listen to traffic information in the same way? And do the differences between the various ways of presenting traffic information make a difference in how drivers appropriate the information? These are questions that will be further investigated in this research project.

In order to examine the history and contemporary practices of traffic radio, I will study archival materials and publications of institutions that were/are involved in traffic radio. Second, I will listen back to old radio broadcasts and interview radio hosts and, finally, I aim to do ethnographic research on the listening-while-driving experience of drivers. As the methods might reflect already, this research is based on a combined interest in the history of technology, media studies and sound studies. Through this interdisciplinary framework I hope to gain new insights about radio traffic information, and thereby contribute not only to the humanities but also to contemporary discussions on sustainable mobility.