The prevalence of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes is disproportionately high among African Americans. Reaching this population with public health messages that address African Americans' lack of knowledge and awareness of preventive health behaviors will require comprehensive communication strategies (19
). Black radio, a culturally tailored community information resource, could prove effective in filling this need.
Low health literacy — the inability to read, understand, and use health care materials — is consistently associated with race/ethnicity, and studies show that African Americans have lower health literacy than whites. Low health literacy is associated with worse health outcomes and poorer health status (21
). For example, low health literacy among African American men is associated with diagnosis of prostate cancer (23
). Authors concluded that low literacy may be a barrier to the diagnosis of early-stage prostate cancer among this population and recommended the development of culturally appropriate, low-literacy materials to improve diagnosis of early-stage prostate cancer. Similarly, another study recommended the development of culturally appropriate, low-literacy smoking cessation materials for African American and Hispanic women to successfully promote tobacco abstinence (24
). Black radio has advantages over print media for circumventing low health literacy.
Low health literacy has been associated with less knowledge of preventive measures, misunderstanding about risk, failure to appreciate the benefits of early detection, and lack of knowledge about available treatments for cancer (25
). Low health literacy may influence choice of information source, how well information is absorbed, and how complex messages can be while still being effectively conveyed. Given the prevalence in the United States of low literacy in general and low health literacy in particular among elderly and minority populations (25
), print media may not be the most effective way to influence these groups. An intervention that added an easy-to-read printed brochure to a physician recommendation for a mammogram was no more effective at increasing screening mammography rates than the recommendation alone among a low-literacy audience (26
). Older African American men were asked how they preferred to receive messages about prostate cancer screening (27
). Although respondents sometimes considered printed information such as newsletters and brochures to be helpful, on the whole, they did not view print materials as the best way to communicate health information. Participants said that talking with others about prostate cancer and finding out about screening practices through "word-of-mouth" were the most effective strategies for reaching African American men with prostate cancer prevention messages (27
). Black radio supports the strategy of "word-of-mouth" dissemination by trusted sources.
Call-in shows and personal on-air interviews are formats unique to radio that can be effective for promoting social learning, whereby people reciprocally learn from each other. Messages on such shows can be tailored to target audiences and designed to contain interactive elements customized to local community concerns. Radio provides a forum for 2-way communication via live radio shows, during which listeners can engage messengers and each other to obtain health and other information. In a recent study on mammography promotion, social learning and listener interaction via radio was an effective way to disseminate health information (11
). In this study, on-air discussions between a moderator, health professional, and breast cancer survivor prompted several calls to the local radio station from listeners and increased calls during the next several months to a national helpline to inquire about low-cost mammograms for low-income women (Ingrid J. Hall, African American Women and Mass Media Study, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009, unpublished data).
Although some researchers have identified television as a major source of health information, studies have shown that television messages raise awareness but do not educate or adequately inform audiences (25
). In contrast, radio can provide an interactive forum that focuses on education, patient action, motivation, and self-empowerment (28
). In one study, African American community members and radio listeners trusted black radio to "talk their talk" and were enthusiastic about interactive participation in black radio's conversational activities (30
). This study supports the notion that black radio (especially talk or conversational radio) is an empowerment tool for public discourse in the African American community.
Shows such as "The Michael Baisden Show" provide this sort of interactive and conversational platform for discussing social, political, and economic issues. Black radio also serves as a forum for valuable "everyday talk" that remains an uncultivated dimension of communication for eliminating health disparities (19
). In this way, black radio is not only a communication channel or strategy as defined by traditional health communication literature but also a trusted communication source for information about issues such as politics, economics, racial identity, community, and health. Because the roots of health disparities extend into socioeconomic and political conditions (30
), black radio, as a forum for dissemination of health messages and deliberation about health concerns, holds promise as a communication channel and information source to eliminate health disparities.