Host Power Triadic Conversation Management - The Chinese ...

Host Power Triadic Conversation Management - The Chinese ...

Signature 1c instructions

1 Signature 1c is to be used for screen display. Please

Host Power





in Radio Phone-in

Talk Shows

in Hong Kong

Miao Li and Francis L. F. Lee

Host Power and Triadic Conversation Management in Radio Phone-in

Talk Shows in Hong Kong

by Miao Li and Francis L. F. Lee

Award-winning Student Paper series

Published by:

Centre for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication Research

(C-Centre) X jcMotion, School of Journalism and Communication,

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Editor-in-Chief: Professor Eric K. W. Ma

Editor: Xam L. S. Chan

Copyright © 2013 Miao Li and Francis L. F. Lee. All rights reserved.

The C-Centre conducts frontline research on media in Greater China and

communication with a comparative perspective. Aspiring to be a hub of global

communication, the C-Centre organizes seminars, conferences, workshops, and

study groups, publishes a wide range of academic reports, and provides the

research community with datasets and other services.

For more information, please refer to

jcMotion, a digital platform run by the School of Journalism and

Communication, publishes quality e-papers, e-books and e-lectures by the

teaching faculty and the School’s strong alumni network and affiliatesin the

media and communication industries. We produce academic and creative works

in accessible formats. We aspire to inspire, bridging the School and the society

at large, and opening up a lively space for dialogue among people from all walks

of lives.

For enquiry, please contact us via

Cover image by Xam L. S. Chan @ 2013.


Winning an award at a peer-reviewed conference is an honor

that most academics cherish. We like it because we enjoy being

recognized by the research community. In addition, when rightly

done, an award speaks to the quality of a paper. All this probably

explains why the annual conventions of major communication

associations of the world—ICA, NCA, AEJMC, WAPOR,

IAMCR and the like—have set up awards for top student papers.

While the authors will find the awards encouraging, the awardwinning

papers can be a source of inspiration to many others.

Graduate students and budding scholars are particularly curious

about these papers.

The graduate students in our School have been very active

in joining all the aforesaid conferences. As teachers, we are

happy to find that quite a few have won awards for their outstanding

works. To meet the demand for easy access to these papers,

the Centre for Chinese Media and Comparative Communication

Research (the C-Centre) has launched this Award-winning Student

Paper series as part of its e-publication plan. As the copyright

owner, the authors are expected to revise and publish the e-papers

in the more traditional venues of journals and books later. We

publish the e-version as working monographs in order to speed

up the dissemination of research ideas. We encourage you to share

the e-papers with others. You are also invited to refer student

award-winning papers to us for possible inclusion in the series.

Joseph M. Chan, PhD

Director, the C-Centre

Professor of Journalism and Communication

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Host Power and

Triadic Conversation Management

in Radio Phone-in Talk Shows in

Hong Kong

Miao Li and Francis L. F. Lee (faculty)


Past research on talk radio discourses have illustrated the crucial

role of the hosts in managing the conversation and shaping

the voices of the callers expressed. However, past research focused

mostly on dyadic host-caller interactions. Radio talk shows

in Hong Kong, in contrast, often have more than one host. This

study is interested in the implications of the triadic setting of radio

talk shows in Hong Kong. It uses Radio Television Hong Kong’s

Open Line Open View as a case study. Employing the techniques

of conversation analysis, this study replicates some of past studies’

findings about the source of host power. More importantly, the

analysis shows that the second host in a triadic setting can play two

important roles: the program conductor and the counterweight.

More generally, it illustrates the utility of paying attention to the

differences between dyads and triads in micro-sociological analysis

of conversations in broadcast media.

This paper was awarded the Top Six Papers in the Language

and Social Interaction Division of the International Communication

Association (ICA) annual conference 2012.


Public affairs phone-in talk shows in the broadcast media

have received plenty of research attention in the past two

decades. As a platform that provides ordinary people with

the opportunities to express opinions, share experiences, criticize

the authorities, and even challenge experts or government officials

directly, phone-in talk shows are regarded by some scholars

as constituting an electronic public sphere and a democratic forum

(Herbst, 1995; Leurdijk, 1997; Livingstone & Lunt, 1994; Kurpius

& Mendelson, 2002).

Nevertheless, broadcast talk shows are after all media programs

produced by organizations with their own concerns. Different

programs have their own set up and basic structure. And the

professionals conducting the programs may adopt specific styles,

rules, or norms. All these factors mediate the public opinion expressed

in the programs. More specifically, a set of past studies

have focused on the roles played by the hosts in managing the

program and the conversations in it (Giles, 2002; Hutchby, 1996;

Maynard, 1991; Wood, 2001). Underlying such studies are two intertwined

arguments. First, the hosts and the ordinary citizens in

the audience participation programs are not equally powerful in

shaping the conversation. Second, the hosts’ conversational management––the

way the hosts of broadcast talk shows manage the

flow of conversation within the programs in order to achieve production,

professional, and/or political goals––significantly shapes

the “voice of the people” expressed.

This article follows the above line of thinking to study radio

phone-in talk shows in Hong Kong. Phone-in talk radio has constituted

a prominent site for the communication of public opinion

in the city since the mid-1990s (Lee, 2002, 2007; Ma & Chan,

2006; So & Lee, 2007). However, very few studies have applied the

techniques of conversation analysis or other forms of discourse

analysis to examine the actual citizen–host interactions in the programs

(but see Lee & Lin, 2011). This article thus fills the research

gap, while also adding the case of Hong Kong to the international


More importantly, one specific feature of radio phone-in talk

shows in Hong Kong is that they typically have more than one


host. The citizen–host conversations in the shows thus often involve

triadic interactions in which the two hosts may take up different

roles and alignments. It is the contention of this article that

paying attention to the triadic set-up of the program and the conversations

within them is a way to discern the micro-level manifestations

of the politics of public opinion communication in contemporary

Hong Kong media.

The article begins with a brief discussion of the literature on

the role and power of the hosts in broadcast talk shows. It then

briefly introduces the contextual background and sets up the specific

research questions. The empirical analysis focuses on the

program Open Line Open View (OLOP) produced by Radio Television

Hong Kong (RTHK), one of the most popular and influential

phone-in programs in the city.

The Role and Power of the Host

in Talk Radio

While conversation analysis was originally developed to analyze

everyday sociable conversation that is not restricted to a particular

format or tied to the implementation of a specific duty, sociolinguistics

have applied the technique to institutional talk. As Drew

and Heritage (1992, p.3) define, institutional talk is “task-related

and they involve at least one participant who represents a formal

organization of some kind.” Goffman (1983) argues that analyzing

conversational interaction could reveal the institutional order linked

to the identities of the participants and to macro-social organization.

Conversations in classrooms, in court trials, or during medical

examinations are frequently analyzed examples of institutional talk

(e.g., Drew, 1992; Hutchby, 2006; Markee & Kasper, 2004).

More specifically, in many cases of institutional talk, one

group of speakers (teachers, lawyers, doctors) are assigned the role

to ask questions, while another group of speakers (students, plaintiffs,

patients) are requested to answer questions (Hutchby, 2006).

This difference of roles between the two groups is engendered

by the pre-existing institutional settings where the conversation

is conducted. Analyzing the interaction between the “questioner”

and the “answerer” is a way to examine the exercise, reproduction,

and also negotiations and contestations of power and control in

the institutional setting.

This conception of institutional talk is highly pertinent to the

analysis of conversations in various types of broadcast programs,


such as the journalistic interviews, press conferences, and broadcast

talk shows (e.g., Clayman & Heritgate, 2002; Tolson, 2001).

In a seminal study, Hutchby (1996) adopted such a perspective

and developed the notion of a “first-second” sequence in analyzing

talk radio conversations in the U.K. That is, the conversation

usually begins by the caller presenting his or her opinion on

a specific issue, and the host sequentially responds to the caller’s

viewpoint. On the surface, it would appear that callers have the

capacity and advantage to set the agenda of the conversation. Yet

due to the setting, the host can pick the weakness or mistake in

the caller’s speech and has the first opportunity for opposition in

the conversation. The host can also simply ask questions instead

of offering his or her own viewpoints. Certainly, it does not mean

that the hosts would invariably oppose the caller. Moreover, there

are instances in which the callers can successfully reverse the sequence

and take up the “second position” after successfully compelling

the hosts to express their

Yet due to the setting,

the host ... has the first

opportunity for opposition

in the conversation.

opinions. But overall speaking,

the organizational setting of

the program does favor the

host, and the realization of the

first-second sequence is a major

source of host power.

The studies by Hutchby (1996, 2006), however, focus on talk

shows in which the conversations are essentially dialogic, that is,

they occur between a single host and a single caller. In other talk

shows, triadic conversational relationships may be involved, and

the possible conversational arrangement and management may become

more complicated. Giles (2002), for instance, analyzed the

British television talk show Gilroy, which involved not only a host

and citizen-participants, but also experts as guests. In such settings,

a key question would be how the host aligns himself or herself

with either the citizen-participants or the experts, and this would

in turn bear crucially on the question of whether the programs indeed

allow laypeople to challenge elite discourses and authority.

Similarly, Lee and Lin (2011) analyzed a Hong Kong radio

talk show featuring the participation of top government officials.

But in this case, they found that the attending government officials

seldom directly interact with the citizen-callers. Rather, the

conversational flow is typically broken down into a host–caller

dialogue followed by a host-official dialogue. This set-up, according

to their analysis, is crucial in understanding how the host manages

the conversation, protects the government official from serious


face-threats, and thus constructs a relatively safe and friendly discursive

environment for the officials. This arrangement, nonetheless,

tends to prevent the attending official to perform his or her

accountability to public opinion properly.

The following analysis also focuses on talk shows that involve

a triadic conversational set-up. But instead of having a host, a caller,

and an elite guest, the case being analyzed involves a caller plus

two hosts. Having more than one host can potentially be highly

important. A radio talk show host has to handle multiple tasks–

s/he needs to engage in conversation with the caller, while also

managing the flow of the program. The co-hosting arrangement

may allow a division of labor between the hosts. More importantly,

having a second host also adds to the varieties in possible alignment

patterns in the program: the two hosts can align with each

other and against the caller, or one of them can align with the

caller against the other host, or one of the host can play the role

of a neutral “traffic controller” in a debate between the caller and

the other host. Potentially, the alignment can shift during the conversation.

Certainly, there is the additional possibility that one host

would remain largely silent during a dialogue between the other

host and the caller.

From a conversation analytic perspective, having such possibilities

of alignments is not a trivial matter. An important question

is to what extent, how, and for what effects and purposes are these

different possible alignment patterns realized in the actual talk radio

programs But to tackle this question, we also need to put the

programs and the conversations within them into the broader context

of the politics of public opinion in Hong Kong.

Context: Talk Radio in Hong Kong

Radio phone-in talk shows have existed in Hong Kong for decades.

But since the mid-1990s, such shows have become a prominent

platform for the communication of public opinion in Hong

Kong. During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak

in 2003, for example, popular morning talk radio host Albert

Cheng even acquired the nickname of “Chief Executive of Hong

Kong before 10am” (Ma & Chan, 2006). Through survey studies,

Lee (2002, 2007) showed that talk radio serve as a platform especially

for citizens with pro-democracy viewpoints to share their

views. So and Lee (2007), on the other hand, saw talk radio as “the

people’s council” in the city.


Nevertheless, within the media politics of post-handover

Hong Kong, talk radio has not been without its critics. As the

most popular radio talk shows in Hong Kong often exhibit a

“pro-democracy bias,” it is widely believed that Chinese officials

have attempted to suppress the development of the medium. In

2003, in the aftermath of a huge anti-government rally occurring

in July, Chinese officials have pinpointed “one newspaper, one

magazine, and two mouths” as major mobilizers behind the rally,

with the two mouths referring to the two most popular radio talk

show hosts at that time. In mid-2004, three famous phone-in talk

show hosts resigned in quick succession, citing political pressure as

their major reason to quit.

These events did not lead to the disappearance of talk radio.

Broadcasters continued to produce such programs in the name of

providing a service to the public, but they exhibited a tendency to

“balance” their radio phone-in programs. Radio Television Hong Kong

(RTHK), for example, invited Robert Chow, a public figure widely

regarded as having conservative political views, to partner veteran

journalist Ka-wing Leung

In mid-2004, three famous

phone-in talk show hosts

resigned in quick succession...

to host the morning phone-in

talk show Tipping Point. At the

same time, RTHK continued to

let Chi-sum Ng, well-known for

his pro-democracy and critical

views, to host the early evening show Open Line Open View (OLOV).

A “balance” is therefore achieved between the relatively conservative

morning talk show and the relatively more critical and pro-democracy

evening talk show.

Moreover, within a single talk show, “balance” can also be

achieved by having two hosts with contrasting views. OLOV, in

particular, involves a number of guest hosts to partner Chi-sum

Ng in turn, and one of the guest hosts, Ms. Pui-king Lau, is a

member of the conservative political party Democratic Alliance

for the Betterment of Hong Kong. In other words, there is a balance

between a pro-democracy host and a pro-establishment host

when Ng and Lau co-host the program.

Yet it does not mean that balance is the sole reason for the

co-hosting arrangement. Instead, the co-hosting arrangement has

been a conventional practice for talk shows in Hong Kong since

the 1970s and 1980s. It is difficult to ascertain what originally

motivated the co-hosting arrangement. But it can be noted that,

for most radio phone-in programs in Hong Kong in the past and

present, one of the two hosts would be more famous, celebrated,


and/or influential in the public arena. In this sense, one of the

possible functions of having two hosts is to allow the more famous

host to “perform” and impose his/her personality onto the

show, while letting another host to do the “dirty work” of managing

the program flow. It is therefore also understandable that the

more famous host often partners an experienced journalist. This is

the case for RTHK’s morning talk show Tipping Point, as just mentioned

earlier; this is also the case for Teacup in a Storm, the most

popular phone-in talk show in Hong Kong in late 1990s and early

2000s, with popular host Albert Cheng partnering veteran journalist

Yuk-wah Lam.

In any case, it is not crucial for us to pinpoint all possible

reasons behind the co-hosting arrangement. Suffice it to say that

the intended as well as the realized effects of the co-hosting

arrangement may be different for different programs and/or

depending on who actually partners who, as our following analysis

will illustrate.

To recapitulate, research has illustrated the important role of

the host in shaping the expression of “public opinion” in broadcast

talk shows. In a host–caller dialogue, the host can be considered

as structurally privileged by the basic conversational set-up.

Yet it is also the emphasis of conversation analysis that the “structural

privilege” has to be realized through the actual interactions

between the hosts and the callers, and there can be negotiation

and contestation of host power in the process. In the case of talk

radio in Hong Kong, the presence of a “second host” adds to the

potential complexities to the conversational interactions in the

programs. The co-hosting arrangement may facilitate different

types of division of labor between the two hosts. And within the

context of the politics of public opinion communication in the

city, the co-hosting arrangement also facilitates the achievement of

a “balanced discussion” in the talk radio platform. Based on these

arguments, the following research questions are posed to guide the

empirical analysis:

1. How is host power manifested and at times contested in radio

phone-in talk shows in Hong Kong

2. What types of role and task differentiation between the two

hosts exist in the radio programs What goals are achieved

through the role and task differentiation

3. When the caller and the hosts engage in triadic conversations,

what are the major patterns of interactions and speaker-alignment

What are the implications and significance of

the interactional and alignment patterns within the immediate

context of the talk radio programs and also the broader context

of the politics of public opinion in Hong Kong


Method and Data

This study uses OLOV as a case study to tackle the research questions.

OLOV is a suitable case because it is one of the few existing

radio phone-in talk shows in Hong Kong that have retained a

substantial phone-in component. Its main host, Chi-sum Ng, is a

prominent media commentator known for his sharp and critical

views toward the government. As already mentioned, Ng does not

co-host the program with a fixed partner. Rather, a number of

guest hosts take turns to co-host the program with Ng.

The actual sample of programs analyzed is constituted by

24 episodes aired between December 2009 and November 2010.

The 24 episodes were selected through a systematic sampling

procedure. All 24 episodes were hosted by Ng, but four co-hosts

were involved. Two co-hosts are politicians (Ada Wong and

Pui-king Lau), one is an academic (Lisa Leung), and the fourth

is a professional journalist (Yin-ping Chan). OLOV is aired

every weekday between 5pm and 8pm, with a half-hour newscast

inserted between 6:30 and 7pm. Therefore, each episode is 2.5

hours in length, and the 24 episodes combine to offer 60 hours

of materials for analysis. A total of over 300 calls were involved in

the 24 episodes.

As stated at the beginning, this study applies the techniques

of conversation analysis (CA) to examine the calls. CA was first

developed by the British scholar Harvey Sacks, while its main

intellectual inspirations can be traced to the works of sociologists

Erving Goffman and anthropologist Harold Garfinkel (Schegloff,

2003). Garfinkel (1967) indicates that CA recognizes the importance

of understanding and intersubjectivity in conversation. The

basic objective of CA, as defined by Goodwin and Heritage (1990,

p.283), is “to describe the underlying social organization—conceived

as an institutionalized substratum of rules, procedures and

conventions—through which orderly and intelligible interaction is

made possible.” The underlying social structure and power relation

could be observed through the actual conversational interactions

which are recorded (Sacks, 1984).

CA, therefore, is essentially interpretive. It shares with ethnography

the aim of providing a “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) of


empirical social and cultural phenomena. For this study, the authors

listened through the programs carefully and repeatedly to

look for specific patterns of conversational interactions between

the hosts and the callers that are relevant to the issues posed in

the research questions. Attention was paid to the issues of speaker

alignment, role differentiation between the hosts, and specific

discursive strategies involved in the reproduction and/or negotiation

of host power.

The analysis is based on Cantonese transcripts, but only the

translated transcripts are stated in the paper. The English transcript

largely follows the conventions used in Hutchby and Woffitt

(1998), but only a simplified set of notations was used. It is

partly because of the difficulty involved in applying some of the

notations after the original Cantonese transcripts were translated

into English (e.g., the placements of specific words within a sentence

often have to be changed in the translation process, and it

makes the insertion of notations closely related to the positions

of specific words within a sentence very problematic). The appendix

includes a list indicating the meanings of the notations.

As in most qualitative research, the most important concern

of the analysis is not the frequencies of appearance of specific

interactional patterns or discursive strategies. The aim is to

illustrate the range of patterns involved and to interpret their

significance in a contextualized manner. The following sections

are therefore organized thematically based on the results of the

interpretive analysis. The extracts used are “representative” not

in the statistical sense, but in the sense of being among the most

illustrative instances.

Power in a Host–Caller Dialogue

Although this article is mainly interested in the triadic set-up of

OLOV, the analysis may nonetheless begin by focusing on the

role and power of the host in a host-caller dialogue. This can illustrate

the applicability of insights developed in past research,

especially Hutchby (1996, 2006), to the Hong Kong case, while

also illustrating certain basic characteristics of OLOV and its

hosts. Specifically, extract 1 illustrates how the host’s “second position”

in the typical talk radio conversational sequence put him

in a privileged position.

Extract 1: February 15, 2010

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Lisa Leung; C: Caller)


T1 C: The government said they’d build private universities

or what, {……} but we all know that this policy actually

can do nothing to help current or future students.

Because actually I’m afraid they can’t get the recognition.



H1: Private universities won’t be recognized by the society,

you’re afraid.

T3 C: Yes, that is, for example the old ones, the eight universities,

you’d probably choose them rather than private

universities. [It’s like the private universities

T4 H1: [No, the private universities don’t exist

yet; you claim it can’t get social recognition

T5 C: No, because, for example, the Hang Seng School of

Commerce, it wants to [change

T6 H1:

[want to do

T7 H2: [Oh, okay.

T8 C: [into a private university. And it now, yes, actually its

reputation is okay, but after all we don’t know what

will happen. [Hong Kong has never tried this.

T9 H1:

[Oh, so we don’t know what will happen,

you should not conclude so soon that it won’t get social


February 15, 2010, was the second day of the Chinese New

Year. Citizens were asked to call-in to express their New Year

wishes in that episode of OLOV. The caller said she hoped the

government could increase university student quotas. At T1, the

caller mentioned the planned development of private universities.

But she argued that private universities would not solve the problem.

Throughout the conversation, Ng (i.e., H1) did not express

his views on the matter. Instead, at T2, he first formulated the gist

of the caller’s view expressed at T1. He then challenged the caller

at T4 by raising a question of logic. As the caller struggled to provide

a coherent response and stated that no one knows what will

happen, the host immediately picked up the caller’s “self-contradiction”

and articulated it at T9; if we “don’t know,” then the caller

cannot claim that private universities will not solve the problem.

Notably, Ng’s assertive style as a host is shown in extract 1 not

only by how he criticized the logic of the caller, but also by how

he repeatedly started his turns before the caller finished hers. In

both T4 and T9, Ng’s speech overlapped with the caller’s. The caller

was effectively deprived of the chance to elaborate her views.


Occupying the second position not only allows the host to

gain the upper-hand when debating with the caller; the host can

also influence the direction of the conversation by asking questions

strategically. Extract 2 provides an example. The call was

about the cancellation of flights by the Viva Macau Airlines (VMA),

a budget airline that sank into a financial crisis. The caller described

his experiences in details in the early part of the call. Extract

2 is from the middle part of the conversation.

Extract 2: March 29, 2010

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Lisa Leung; C: Caller)

T1 H1: That is they were not-so-good even before this time

T2 H2: There have already been some problems, right

T3 C: Yes. If you look at the newspapers in August or September

last year, it was mentioned. Of course it was

not as serious as this time.

T4 H1: There seems to be a lot of discussions online, right

T5 C: Yes, because I like self-guided tour, so I know this very


T6 H1: But do you know VMA’s background Like who’s behind

it, such things.

T7 C: I only know that is an entrepreneur in Macau as well as

a red entrepreneur in mainland China.

T8 H2: Yes

T9 H1: Yes, a red person.

Into this part of the conversation, the host asked the caller

whether he knew the background of VMA. The caller then

answered that the owner of VMA was a “red entrepreneur,” that

is, an entrepreneur with close connections with the Chinese government.

Although we cannot be sure about Ng’s intention, given

the fact that Ng is widely known as a pro-democracy commentator,

listeners of the program were likely to take the question as

a suggestion that the airline’s failure and the owner’s background

were somehow connected. In any case, the point illustrated by

extract 2 is how the second position occupied by the host in the

first-second sequence allows the host to direct the flow of the

conversations through strategically placed and phrased questions.

Certainly, host power can be contested and negotiated. Not all

callers would readily submit themselves to the host’s dominance.

Some callers might resist by turning over the sequence and questioning

the host. Extract 3 is an illustrative example. The subject

of the call was a protest held by university students at a graduate

ceremony at a local university.

Extract 3: December 10, 2009

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Ada Wong; C: Caller)


T1 C: I, I want to condemn those students.

T2 H1: Condemn the [students.

T3 C: [They’re really, rude and impolite, um,

selfish {……} the tassels on my hat was scratched, and

it’s over, twenty years’ efforts, I, [I hope

T4 H1: [They can keep on

scratching the tassels, [No interruption

T5 C: [Ah, so you, it’s so precious,

[you, you, you do this

T6 H1: [No interruption ah

T7 H2: [No, the ceremony today was not interrupted.

T8 C: [You messed it up. You messed up the day. How do

they feel If, Mr. Ng, your two daughters met with

such things, how would you feel

T9 H1: You, you ask me I’ll answer you, okay I would accept

that WILLINGLY, of course::

T10 C: You’re really, you’re really, you’re giving irresponsible

comments from an onlooker. Now your [daughter

T11 H1:

[What, what

irresponsible comments. You are silly. Back at my

time, there was similar situation, and I accepted that


T12 C: Other people, other people’s [happy event.

T13 H1:

[No problem ah.

T14 C: You, you, you can’t do that. Do you understand

T15 H1 [What’s the problem

T16 C: [You, you, you’re college students, you should save the

host’s face.

T17 H1: College students should save others’ faces. Why

should they learn it so:: early {……}

The caller was highly critical toward the protesting students.

The liberal-minded Ng quite predictably disagreed. In fact,

before this call, Ng has already expressed his support for the

protesting students in conversations with other callers. The caller

in extract 3, however, was also highly assertive, resulting in the

caller and Ng interrupting each other from T2 to T6. The second

host jumped in at T7, but the caller disregarded her and directed

a question to Ng at T8. At this point, the first-second sequence

was reversed.

Nevertheless, extract 3 also illustrates the limited ability of

the citizen-caller to actually turnaround the power relationship,

especially facing an assertive host such as Ng. Ng’s answer at T9


was offered in a highly confrontational manner, involving the

paralinguistic devices of raising volume, emphasis, and elongation

of vowels.

Moreover, while providing an answer at T9, Ng did not simply

accept the “first position” and allow the caller to keep posting

questions. He interrupted the caller at T10-T11, preventing him

from pursuing the graduating daughter question further. Ng even

explicitly said the caller was silly. By T15, Ng has regained the

“second position” in the sequence, and he kept challenging the

caller to explain what the problem of the student protest was.

In summary, extracts 1 to 3 illustrate how the “first-second”

sequence played out, sometimes dynamically, in OLOV. The host’s

power over the caller comes partly from the basic set-up of the

talk radio dialogue, and partly from the host’s capability to fend

off the citizen-callers’ attempts to reverse the sequence. Nevertheless,

in the examples above, the participation of the second host

was minimal or simply absent. The conversation was therefore

mostly dyadic. The following analysis turns to the triadic relationship

between the two hosts and the caller.

Second Host in the Triadic Interactions

Not as the first host who dominates the conversation, the second

host seemed inconspicuous. Nonetheless, under the division of labor

with the first host, it is the second host who manages the program

flow and contributes to the smooth proceeding of the talk

radio program. It could be analyzed in two dimensions. First, the

second host takes numerous minor, trifling but actual work such

as correcting mistakes, reminding the original theme, just to name

a few, to maintain the quality the conversation. Second, the second

host plays the role of balancing conversation which includes

both mediating the serious dispute when the first host’s and caller’s

opinions are poles apart and creating debate when the first host

completely recognize the caller’s argument for the balance and

neutrality of the program. We could name the former “program

conductor” and the latter “counterweight.”

Program conductor

The role of program conductor covers a considerable amount of

detailed work. Several basic tasks were selected to illustrate this

function of the second host’s position.


It is a common that the interlocutors deviate from the original

theme while the conversation proceeds. In an ordinary chat, the

deviation is not an important issue. However, in an institutional

conversation especially the phone-in talk radio which will be broadcasted

through airwaves to millions of audiences, the significance of

keeping the conversation on track is comprehensible. Since the first

author involves in the conversation with the caller deeply, he or she

might not even notice the divergence from the original discussion

direction. The second host, relatively, is more capable to monitor

the deviation and remind the first host and the caller to revert to

the route, which would be demonstrated in extract 4.

Extract 4: February 26, 2010

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Ada Wong; C: Caller)

T1 C: I quite support to re-implement the Home Ownership

Scheme. Because the houses under Home Ownership

Scheme is really for the Hong Kong citizens.

T2 H1: It’s more direct.

T3 C: Yes, it will benefit them {……} and another thing, just

my personal suggestion, now, it’s like the government

want more children study in Hong Kong so they allow

the people from mainland to come to bear babies,



H1: No, it’s reversed, you misunderstand the policy. Um,

government, according to the Basic Law of Hong

Kong, the people from mainland China bear babies

in Hong Kong, then the baby is qualified to be Hong

Kong permanent resident

T5 C: Oh, if the parents were not Hong Kong people [they

can come to give birth to

T6 H1: [They

also can. Because if the baby WAS BORN in Hong

Kong {……} they have rights to study in Hong Kong.

The logic is reversed, do you understand {……}

T7 C: No, their ultimate goal is they want more babies living

in Hong Kong.

T8 H1: They don’t have such a goal indeed, but have no

choice because it’s written in the law.

T9 C: No. According to my impression, many Hong Kong

citizens don’t want to have babies, so the government

has to shut down many schools, you don’t even have

enough students.

T10 H2: Let’s talk about the housing.

T11 H1: There’s no relationship between {……} you mistake the

logic again. Talk about why it’s related to housing.


The caller originally was talking about her suggestion of Hong

Kong housing policy, but somehow she jumped to the immigration

policy at T3. Because she made an obvious mistake by inverting

the cause and effect, the first host could not help pointing out

her logical error and explained the immigration policy to her at

T4. However, the caller insisted her argument and the first host

fell into a new circle to clarify the logic. This process of correcting

and reasoning––lasted from T3

to T9––made the conversation

completely deviate from the

original direction. The second

host, who did not participated in

the talk in previous turns, interfered

at T10 by saying “let’s talk

about the housing” to remind

the other two interlocutors to

return to the original theme. The first host recognized the second

host’s reminder at T11 and the conversation reverted to the track. is the second host who

manages the program flow

and contributes to the

smooth proceeding ...

In addition to reminding the original theme, the second host

also takes the responsibility to correct other interlocutors’ mistake

and provide accurate information. The next extract was about

whether it should be forbidden to fly the sky lanterns.

Extract 5: September 24, 2010

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Ada Wong; C: Caller)

T1 H1: Yes, ah, firecrackers are totally forbidden and we know

it clearly. You [cannot possess or explode firecrackers.

T2 C:

[Yes, but now someone is exploding it,

how could you punish him

T3 H1: No, no, listen to me first. Now we have two regulations,

one is Forests and Countryside Ordinance, saying

we cannot fly sky lanterns in the countryside parks,

OK And the Aviation Security Ordinance says we cannot

do that within the range of air channel, or above

a certain height. It’s not like the firecrackers, not all

the flying sky lanterns behavior are against the law.

[You should know that.

T4 H2: [It’s illegal only in certain venues.

T5 H1: Ah, you should be clear about these two regulations.

If according to those two regulations, it’s not the case

that it’s illegal anywhere. If it’s not, we just said Cheung

Chau, hold such=

T6 H2: =MUI WOK, Mui Wok

T7 H1: Mui Wok, Mui Wok holding this is not illegal, {……}


Similar to extract 4, the first host, in this case, went deep into

details again to explain the relevant regulations to the caller at T3

and analyzing the legality of flying sky lanterns at T5, but he mistook

the place as Cheung Chau. It seemed only a minor problem

that the first host said a wrong location since both of the two venues

are in Hong Kong and are not too far apart indeed. However,

as reflected in the conversation, the laws that are applicable to

regulate the sky lanterns flying are “Aviation Security Ordinance”

and “Forests and Countryside Ordinance;” therefore, whether the

place is on air channel or in country park really signifies. The second

host instantly realized this and corrected the first host at T6

by indicating it was Mui Wok. Moreover, the discussion on this

topic was originated from the news that there would be a sky lanterns

festival in Mui Wok. Therefore, the second host’s correction

to clarify the exact venue was absolutely significant.

Extract 4 and 5 illustrated how the second host remind the

original theme and correct the mistake in the conversation. The

above-mentioned two functions are of course not the entireness

of the role of program conductor, but they provide us with a perspective

to see and evaluate the setting of second host in phone-in

radio programs. Although s/he did not involve in the conversation

much as a program conductor––in fact only one turn in extract 4

and two turns in extract 5, the second host’s contribution to manage

the flow and maintain the accuracy of the conversation is not


Differentiating from the program conductor role which concerns

more the operation and flow of the conversation, the role

of counterweight of the second host––to achieve balance in the

conversation––focuses more on the smoothness and neutrality of

the program, which will be analyzed subsequently.


In the context of Hong Kong talk radio shows, as introduced previously,

the pursuit of balance could be observed in the selection

and setting of hosts, such as a pre-democratic host cooperating

with a pre-establishment host in one program. This analysis on

balance departed from the hosts’ different political affiliations.

Moreover, the pursuit of balance could also be analyzed from another

perspective, which is the second host’s counterweight role.

The conversations in phone-in radio talk shows might fall

into out-of-balance in two situations. First, there is dispute in the


conversation and one side (usually the first host) dominates and

controls the discourse over the other side (usually the caller). Second,

consensus is achieved between the first host and the caller because

their viewpoints are the same or similar; therefore, the whole

conversation inclines to their shared opinion and lacks sufficient

discussion or debate with the opposition. The second host, then,

needs to align with the disadvantaged side in the first situation and

suggest objection in the second situation, to balance the whole conversation,

which is like the counterweight on the weighing scale.

The second’s counterweight role could be first reflected when

dispute emerges between the first host and the caller. As mentioned

earlier, the first host is usually a celebrated and influential

public character. Because of his or her social status and reputation,

when having dialogue with callers, the attitude of the first

host might not be quite polite and gentle. Especially when the

caller holds a different view from the first host or even criticizes

and challenges his or her viewpoint, the first host might become

very aggressive and the situation could fall into embarrassment

and stalemate, which could be observed in extract 3. Under this

circumstance, the second host would attempt to explain from the

caller’s perspective and assist the caller to avoid awkwardness. The

next extract is an instance that the second host suggested a new

possible explanation against the first host’s questioning the caller

while talking about a medical negligence that an infant was scalded

when the nurse bathed him.

Extract 6: April 29, 2010

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Ada Wong; C: Caller)

T1 C: But you just, traced, the one who was talking just now

T2 H1: So Chui Kuen.

T3 C: Yes, your attitude, I think is really not good

T4 H1: Why

T5 C: You, “so what”, “I’ve helped bath babies”, “everyone

knows that nurse did the wrong thing”.

T6 H1: No, I have, I have a question that why the baby didn’t

cry, and why for the whole year she didn’t use elbow

but hands

T7 C: Nah.

T8 H1: How do you answer those two questions

T9 C: Nah, now I tell you. Lots of people work, >Of course

we hope


T10 H1: >Why she didn’tah, not only

talking about the consequence

Extract 7: December 1, 2009

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Lisa Leung; C: Caller)


T1 C: And if you make it more, you build more stations, it

may become even better.

T2 H2: You, you think=

T3 H1 =BUILD, build more stations, >what building more

stations, where do you build<

T4 H2: You want to build them where, [build stations

T5 H1: [where to build stations,

[there are no stations now

T6 C: [actually, three is enough

T7 H1: Actually do you know how the route is designed In

fact, do you know, Mr. Tai.

T8 H2: In fact, do we have to design it like this =

T9 H1: =No, Mr. Tai, do you know how is the line designed

Do you know there is no station in Hong Kong island

There is only [West Kowloon Station.

T10 H2:

[Only West Kowloon Station.

T11 C: Oh, then it doesn’t matter that there is no station in

Hong Kong Island. In the Hong Kong island [there are


T12 H1:

[oh, so

now IT’S THE FIRST TIME you hear about this That is,

do you know this before you agree with the proposal,

[or you just hear about it for the first time.

T13 C: [You can take a Walawala to go across to the other

side, now, don’t we

T14 H1: Use the Walawala to connect, OK

T15 C: Right, it is very easy to go across to the other side,

isn’t it

T16 H1: Which other side are you talking about

T17 C: From here, from the financial center to the other side,

it is close.

T18 H1: No. Which other side, I don’t really understand.

T19 H2: Is it West Kowloon=

T20 H1 =No, no, no, you let him talk, which other side Actually,

which other side are you talking about

It seemed that the caller and the first host were thoroughly

opposite on the issue of the construction of high-speed railway

in Hong Kong. The previous part of conversation released that

the caller was very confident with the economy and believed there

would be sufficient passengers for the high-speed railway, while

the first host was completely against the existing construction plan.

However, when kept talking, the caller leaked his unfamiliarity


on this issue by suggesting constructing more stations. The first

host acutely seized this point and questioned the caller where to

build the new stations at T3 and T5. The caller obviously had no

sufficient preparation and knowledge about this issue but gave

some irrelevant answers. The first host then directly asked the

caller at T7 whether he knew the construction plan.

The second host endeavored to mediate the embarrassment

by implying there might be other possible routes at T8. However,

the first host immediately interrupted her and continued

asking the caller whether he knew the allocation of the station.

The caller then responded that it was not important that

there was no station in Hong Kong Island because it was easy

to go to the other side (to the train station). The first host first

concluded that the caller did not even know the construction

plan before the discussion at T12 and kept asking “which other

side” that he signified. The second host tried to disembarrass the

caller and explained that it was the opposite of West Kowloon

at T19, but the first host instantly interrupted her again by saying

“no, no, no” to interfere the second host and force the caller

to respond directly.

In this instance, the second host’s effort of balancing the

conversation could be clearly observed through her two interruptions

at T8 and T19 as a counterweight added to the disadvantage

side. However, even

the second host herself fell

...the role of counterweight

of the second host

––to achieve balance in the

conversation––focuses more

on the smoothness and

neutrality of the program...

into awkwardness because of

her attempt of cooling the dispute,

which further verified the

first host’s dominant position.

Different from the abovementioned

situation that the

first and caller are poles apart,

in some cases, the caller and

the first host share completely

the same opinion and their viewpoint might not be examined

through a sophisticated discussion. Therefore, the second host

needs to take the responsibility of raising questions, which endeavors

to bring debate to the issue, present different perspectives,

and test the shared standpoint of the caller and the first

host, which is also one kind of balancing conversation. The next

extract illustrates this function that second host performs.

Extract 8: December 10, 2009

(H1: Chi-sum Ng; H2: Ada Wong; C: Caller)


T1 C: Three-hundred million for fifty years, right YOU


T2 H1: [Yes, the government didn’t do their job well

T3 C: [They didn’t check it at all. It’s like the door is completely

open and everyone can rob now. [Yes, you also

T4 H2: [No, at that

time they said, they said it was actually a good price,

because at that time there was SARS, so they said


T5 C: =No, [you can’t say that

T6 H2: [It was good enough that someone even would

like to buy.

T7 C: No, Miss Wong you can’t say that, [because, now I

would rather they haven’t signed it.

T8 H2: [No, now I’m

not, I’m just repeating

T9 C: I would rather they did not sign it.

T10 H2 No. I was also against this deal at that moment.

T11 C: [Yes, I would rather they did not sign it.

T12 H2: [But actually the government would say something

like this to refute you.

As a city which is widely believed by people that the realestate

hegemony exists, to a certain extent, the criticism against the

real-estate developers can be regarded as a common belief among

people. When talking about the issue that one of the major realestate

developers obtained the usage right of a piece of land in

Tsin Sha Tsui which is the prime area of Hong Kong for fifty

years in the cost of three hundred million Hong Kong dollars,

the caller and the first host easily reached the consensus on criticizing

the transaction and questioning the role of government in

this matter. Facing the harmonious dialogue, the second host suggested

an explanation at T4 that the transaction was conducted in

2003 which was the bottom of Hong Kong while suffering from

SARS and economic depression; therefore, three hundred million

dollars were a good price and it has been good enough that someone

was willing to purchase the right of usage (when considered

the economic environment at that moment).

Imaginably, the caller completely disagreed with this argument

and seemed being provoked and kept stating she would rather the

government not to sell the right of usage at all. However, the value

of the challenging opinion suggested by the second host can-


not be neglected because it provided the audiences with another

perspective of analyzing and understanding this issue. Under the

circumstance that both the first host and the caller held the same

opinion that predominated the discussion, the challenger––the

second host––made the conversation more comprehensive, which

contributed to a rational thinking on this issue.

Moreover, the pattern that the second host performed her

counterweight role in this case also echoes Clayman and Heritage’s

(2002) finding that the host often raised dissenting opinion

by quoting others. While the caller seemed aggressive, the second

host explained that she did not support the transaction either and

she just suggested the explanation to display how the government

would refute the criticism against the transaction, which attempted

to distance herself from the dispute with the caller.

In summary, the second host exerts important function in the

talk radio shows. On one hand, he or she takes the responsibility

to monitor the process of the program with correcting mistakes,

reminding the theme and so forth, to manage the flow of the program.

On the other hand, the second host balances the conversation,

whether the situation is the first host and the caller disagree

or agree with each other, to maintain the smooth proceeding and

present a neutral and balanced journalism product to the audiences.


The previous analysis of a Hong Kong phone-in radio show,

OLOV, demonstrated some basic features and important characteristics

of the conversations as well as the program. Because of

the qualitative and inductive nature of the study, the finding might

not be capable to generalize to other talk radio programs. However,

the significance of the research is that it provides us with an

approach, in a two hosts co-hosting set-up, to see how the power

exerts through the conversation among interlocutors.

The first section of the analysis replicates Hutchby’s (1996)

“first-second” sequence model and verifies his findings. The

caller, even supplied with the platform which is seemingly open

and unrestrained, is still in a weaker position in the conversation.

The host, with the first opportunity for opposition guaranteed by

the pre-set institution and sequential arrangement of the program,

is more capable to criticize and challenge the caller and hold

the dominance of the conversation. In addition, the host could

control the conversational flow through redirecting the discussion


to the orientation that he or she favors or wants to frame, while

it might not be ever mentioned by the caller. Although the possibilities

of the caller reversing the systematically set sequence

and attempting to balance the asymmetric relationship do exist,

it could hardly succeed because the host possesses argumentative

resources such as experience to fend off callers’ attempts to reverse

the sequence.

The radio phone-in talk show was regarded as the people’s

council in post-colonial Hong Kong, especially when the government

was confronting with administrative crisis caused by SARS

and economic depression in 2003 (So & Lee, 2007). However, according

to the findings in this research, with the elapse of time,

such an electronic democratic forum role of talk radio programs

is not really significant because

...with the elapse of time,

such an electronic democratic

forum role of talk radio

programs is not really

significant because it is the

host who dominates the

opinion expression and

controls the conversation ...

it is the host who dominates the

opinion expression and controls

the conversation rather than the

callers. Of course, both of the

two perspectives need to be further

examined in the long run.

Another contribution of

this research is the analysis of

the second host’s function in

the triadic interactions, which

has not been explored much in

previous studies. It is difficult to

trace the original intention of the two hosts co-hosting tradition

but the significance of such setting is verified through the findings

of the study. The second host, as a program conductor, guarantees

the flow and accuracy of the program. Even though the work he

or she undertakes seems trivial, these minor factors are indeed essential

for a live broadcasting program.

Moreover, because of the existence of three participants involving

in the conversations in the context of Hong Kong talk

radio shows, it is important to investigate different possible alignment

patterns among three participants which might suggest how

power exerts differently under the surface. The second host’s

counterweight function appears significant in the sense of interaction

patterns and speaker-alignment.

The second host contributes to balance the conversation,

either mediating the dispute and disembarrassing one conversational

participant (the caller in most cases) when two interlocutors


fall into serious opposition or even wrangle, or presenting different

viewpoints and attempting to challenge the caller’s argument

in order to make the discussion topic arguable and examine it

through more comprehensive discussion when the caller’s and the

first host’s opinions are identical or similar. The former pursues a

smooth process and a rational environment for the conversation;

the latter chases an exhaustive discussion and critical thinking in

the program. Overall speaking, second host as a counterweight

aiming at achieving balance in conversation echoes with the consistent

pursuit of balance in Hong Kong phone-in radio programs,

as other structural arrangement introduced in early section. Therefore,

the second host’s balance function could be regarded as an

institutional setting.

It could also be interpreted from an individual and personal

perspective. As mentioned previously, most second hosts in

Hong Kong phone-in radio programs are veteran journalists.

Their own journalist professional values––neutrality, balance

reporting, rational discussion––might also contribute to the formation

of counterweight role in the triadic interactions. For the

situation that the second hosts who are not professional journalists

but politicians, academics, or other professions, the second

host’s role especially the consideration of achieving balance

might vary to some extent. However, it is beyond this paper’s

space and capacity to examine how different second hosts perform

differently to investigate the role of second hosts’ individual

value, identity, and preferences, just to name a few, which

needs to be paid attention to in future studies.

One implication of establishing the second host is that it

might release the first host from the detailed work and being

overcautious. The first host could devote to the discussion more

without noticing some minor practical problems. Meanwhile, with

the existence of the second host as a counterweight, the first host

could also express more explicit and relatively radical attitude

without worrying about the possible consequence, which might

extend the range of discussion significantly. This implication, together

with above-mentioned findings of the analysis, remains

further investigation.



Clayman, S., & Heritage, J. (2002). The news interview. New York:

Cambridge University Press.

Drew, P. (1992). Contested evidence in courtroom cross-examination:

the case of a trail for rape. In P. Drew & J. Heritage (Eds.),

Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings (pp. 470–520).

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Drew, P., & Heritage, J. (1992). Analyzing talk at work: An introduction.

In P. Drew & J. Heritage (Eds.), Talk at work: Interaction

in institutional settings (pp. 3–65). Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs,

N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic


Giles, D. C. (2002). Keeping the public in their place: Audience

participation in lifestyle television programming. Discourse &

Society 13(5), 603–628.

Goffman. E. (1983). The interaction order. American Sociological Review,

48(1), 1–17.

Goodwin, C., & Heritage, J. (1990). Conversation analysis. Annual

Review of Anthropology, 19, 283–307.

Herbst, S. (1995). On electronic public space: Talk shows in theoretic

perspective. Political communication, 12(3), 263–274.

Heritage, J. (2005). Conversation analysis and institutional talk. In

K. Fitch & R. Sanders (Eds.), Handbook of language and social interaction

(pp. 103–147). Mahwah, N.J.: LEA.

Hutchby, I. (1996). Confrontation talk. Mahwah, N.J.: LEA.

Hutchby, I. (2006). Media talk: Conversation analysis and the study of

broadcasting. London: Open University Press.

Hutchby, I., & Woffitt, R. (1998). Conversation analysis. Cambridge:


Kurpius, D., & Mendelson, A. (2002). A case study of deliberative

democracy on television: Civic dialogue on C-SPAN call-in

shows. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 79(3), 587–


Lee, F. L. F. (2002). Radio phone-in talk shows as politically significant

infotainment in Hong Kong. Harvard International Journal

of Press/Politics, 7(4), 57–79.

Lee, F. L. F. (2007). Talk radio listening, opinion expression and

political discussion in a democratizing society. Asian Journal of

Communication, 17(1), 78–96.


Lee, F. L. F., & Lin, A. (2011). Officials’ accountability performance

on Hong Kong talk radio: The case of the Financial

Secretary Hotline. In M. Ekström and M. Patrona (Eds.),

Talking politics in broadcast media: Cross-cultural perspectives on political

interviewing, journalism and accountability (pp. 223–242). Amsterdam:

John Benjamins.

Leurdijk, A. (1997). Common sense versus political discourse: Debating

racism and multicultural society in Dutch talk shows.

European Journal of Communication, 12, 147–168.

Livingstone, S. & Lunt, P. (1994). Talk on television. London: Routledge.

Ma, E. and Chan, J. (2006). Global Connectivity and Local Politics:

SARS, Talk Radio, and Public Opinion. In D. Davis and H.

Siu (Eds.), SARS: Reception and Interpretation in Three Chinese Cities

(pp.19–46). London: Rutledge.

Markee, N. & Kasper, G. (2004). Classroom talks: An introduction.

The Modern Language Journal, 88(4), 491–500.

Maynard, D. (1991). Interaction and asymmetry in clinical discourse.

American Journal of Sociology, 92(2), 448–495.

Sacks, H. (1984). Notes on methodology. In J. Atkinson & J. Heritage

(Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis

(pp. 21–27). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scannell, P. (2009). Review essay: The liveness of broadcast talk.

Journal of Communication, 59(4), E1-E6. DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-


Schegloff, E. (2003). On conversational analysis: An interview with

Emanuel A. Schegloff. In S. Cmejrkova & C. Previanano (Eds.),

Discussing conversation analysis: The work of Emanuel A. Schegloff

(pp. 11–55). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

So, C., & Lee, A. (2007). The radio phone-in talk show as the people’s

council in postcolonial Hong Kong. In J. Cheng (Ed.),

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in its first decade (pp.

827–852). Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.

Tolson, A. (ed.) (2001). Television talk shows. Mahwah: LEA.

Wood, H. (2001). “No, you rioted!” The pursuit of conflict in the

management of “lay” and “expert” discourses on Kilroy. In A.

Tolson (Ed.), Television talk shows (pp.71–98). Mahwah: LEA.

Transcription Symbols

Underlying word Stress

Colons wo::rd Extended sound

Left brackets

Equals sign





Overlap begins


Chevrons >word< Speed-up in delivery

Question mark word Rising intonation

Capitals WORD Loud talk

Italics word Cantonese words

Ellipses {……} Omitted utterances

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines