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Radio Just Got More Interactive With Launch Of iHeart’s ‘Talk Back’ Feature.

Air talent at iHeartMedia’s 850+ radio stations now have access to audio freshly recorded and uploaded by listeners– directly from their content management system. The brief messages feature audience feedback or a response to a question posed on air by the host. They’re available to use live on the air within 10 seconds after they’re sent with the push of a button from the iHeartRadio app.

The new Talk Back feature, which launched Monday, is intended to make radio more interactive and increase time spent listening by getting listeners more involved with the show. In its current form, there are two ways to Talk Back, according to a report in TechCrunch. Either through a red microphone button on the full-screen player page for the show or podcast, or via a Talk Back button on the station’s profile or podcast’s profile page. Push the button and a timer appears counting down the seconds until the recording begins. Listeners are limited to 30-second messages but can send multiple messages and preview them before hitting send. Hosts can block users who abuse the feature. While on-air promos encourage Talk Back participants to introduce themselves by name, it is not required.

In development since third quarter 2021, the feature is initially available to iHeart owned radio stations before expanding to iHeartRadio podcasters who opt in in early April.

Chris Williams, iHeartMedia’s Chief Product Officer, says the idea was conceptualized by iHeart air talent and podcast hosts who wanted to receive listener feedback in the form of actual human voices in addition to social media posts and texts. In other words, the 2022 equivalent of the request line.

“We want the audience to participate as much as possible,” Williams told TechCrunch. “We want to be able to hear from them and to use that to help drive the conversation and expand the voices that are being heard on the air.”

While it’s not the first-time technology has been enabled to let listeners upload audio – Spotify introduced interactive podcast tools including polls and Q&As last year and iHeartMedia last July beta-launched a new song request feature for its Alexa skill – Talk Back appears to be the most ambitious. The feature may be made available to non-iHeart owned radio stations and podcasts distributed on its platform.

“We not only distribute an extra 500,000 podcasts beyond the ones that are produced by us, but we also distribute 3,000 broadcast stations that aren’t owned and operated by us from NPR to Cumulus to Cox,” Williams says. “We’re very open to the idea of a phased rollout and offering up to third-party broadcasters and podcast publishers down the line as well.”

While these shows would still be available on other platforms, having the ability to participate in the program by sending messages could make listening to them on the iHeart app more attractive to some listeners.

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