iHeartRadio modernizes the radio call-in with launch of ‘Talk Back,’ a tool for sending voice messages to show hosts

In a move to make radio and podcasts more interactive, iHeartRadio today is launching a new feature called Talk Back which allows listeners to participate with their favorite shows directly from the iHeartRadio mobile app. With a push of a button, listeners can offer feedback or respond to hosts’ questions by recording a 30-second voice message. What makes this offering unique is that the recordings aren’t just going to some inbox somewhere — Talk Back is integrated with the proprietary iHeartRadio CMS (content management system), so the voice recordings are available to use, live on air, within about 10 seconds after sending.

In the current version of the iHeartRadio app, there are a couple of ways to access the new Talk Back feature. Its red microphone button will appear on the full-screen player page for the show or podcast, and there’s a Talk Back button on the station’s profile or podcast’s profile page, too.

When you push the button, a countdown timer will appear to let you know the recording is about to start, then users can record their message. The 30-second limit is meant to keep the recordings concise, but there’s nothing to prevent users from sending multiple messages. However, if the system is abused, the host can block users on their end — though this may not be obvious to the user as the in-app feature would still appear to work.

After recording, you can hit play to preview the message before sending it. And if you don’t like your recording, you have the option to re-record.

Image Credits: iHeartRadio

On-air posts may prompt users to introduce themselves by name when leaving a recording, but there’s nothing in the feature that specifically requires you to identify yourself. That said, you’re not really anonymous — all iHeartRadio users would be identifiable on the backend by their user ID, which is associated with their email address and a general location. In some cases, the company may have a full name and cell phone number, as well, if the user had engaged with other features in the past — like contests — where this information is required.

In other words, it wouldn’t be a good idea to use the new tool for online bullying or harassment.

According to iHeartMedia’s Chief Product Officer Chris Williams, Talk Back has been in active development since Q3 2021, which also happens to be when Spotify rolled out its own interactive podcast tools, including polls and Q&As, to those who use its Anchor podcast creation platform to publish and distribute their shows. But iHeartRadio’s tool isn’t limited to podcasts — in fact, it’s largely designed for on-air talent who want to make their radio programs more interactive, given the tool’s near real-time nature.

The feature will initially be made available to all 900-plus owned and operated broadcast stations across iHeartMedia starting today, and will roll out to interested iHeartRadio podcasters who opt-in sometime in early April.

The idea for Talk Back was conceptualized early last year by the iHeartRadio air talent and podcast hosts themselves, notes Williams. The on-air talent loved that the audience would text them and post on social media, but they also wanted their voices to be heard.

“That’s our lifeblood. We want the audience to participate as much as possible,” Williams explains. “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.”

Image Credits: iHeartRadio

Longer-term, iHeartRadio hopes the feature will help it to attract and retain more publishers, including those beyond its own. The feature may not be always limited to iHeartRadio’s owned-and-operated broadcasters and over 750 original podcasts programs — it could later become available to anyone who wants to use it.

“We not only distribute an extra 500,000 podcasts beyond the ones that are produced by us, we also distribute 3,000 broadcast stations that aren’t owned and operated by us from NPR to Cumulus to Cox,” notes Williams. “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.”

This wouldn’t prevent the show hosts from having their shows and podcasts distributed elsewhere, of course, but it could attract more consumers to iHeartRadio’s digital app in order to participate in the program by sending messages.

Though sometimes left out of a discussion about podcast streaming services, iHeartRadio still has significant reach thanks to its broadcast radio listener base. The service today reaches over 270 million monthly listeners, who spent around 30 minutes per day listening to broadcast radio across platforms, per Nielsen. On mobile, the iHeartRadio app has over 150 million registered users, the comapny says, and is a top U.S. podcast publisher with a monthly audience of over 30.3 million, per Podtrac data.