Project: Talking You Through

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

PhD project by Marith Dieker (funded by NWO through the ‘PhD in the Humanities’ programme)

Supervisors: Karin Bijsterveld & Wiebe Bijker




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.



Bijsterveld, K. & Dieker, M. (2015) A Captive Audience: Traffic radio as guard and escape. In: Journal of Radio & Audio Media, vol 22(1), pp.20-25.


Media Appearances:

Marith Dieker was featured in the programme “Wetenschap Vandaag” (Science Today) of the Dutch radio station BNR, 28 September 2016. Read and listen (in Dutch).