"I mean is that right?"
Frame ambiguity and troublesome advice-seeking on a radio helpline
This chapter analyses the operation of the “expert system” for the provision of advice in the setting of a call-in radio programme. It investigates the sequential properties of calls in which the central communicative activity of advice-seeking is merged with another activity, that of troubles-telling. In most calls, advice-seekers (members of the public) succeed in identifying a clear advice topic and advice-givers (the radio host and a social welfare expert) succeed in advising on that topic, albeit within the distinctive constraints of the broadcast setting. In a small number of cases, however, there is a difference in that the advice-seeking turns instantiate an ambiguous framing in which it is unclear whether the caller is seeking advice about, or making a complaint about, the social welfare system. This poses a problem for the expert system comprising the show’s host and accredited expert, in terms of how they design the reception of advice-giving turns and the development of subsequent sequences. It is shown how the different speaker identities of caller, host and expert operate in different ways as the expert system responds to the call’s frame ambiguity and seeks to re-invoke the standard features of advice-giving.