Real Change For A Broken Band
November 20, 2012
My thoughts rambled during a night powered by the emotion of a raucous election evening, but today are focused as a radio person showing the wear and tear of over three decades, almost exclusive of Talk radio, and I've awoken clear-eyed and steely on the surety that I, and most obviously, the American radio listener, has had enough of Talk radio as it exists today. Very clearly the format is completely and totally disempowered after the count of the votes; talk's clownishness and Goebbels-like bloviating must end. Talk radio's self-proclaimed grapple-hold on the issues of the day have been rendered a circus act, and I don't just mean the elephant.
While my business is focused primarily on the music formats, my love of the spoken word rules my listening world, as it does for so many of us. Handel and Hannity, Stephanie and Smerconish, they're all on my one-way speed dial. They talk, I listen. Have any of them moved me? Yes; very often to turn the dial. Certainly a point of view can be many things: Ivory Soup pure, hilarious, wrong ... but when a far righty like Sean who only began supporting Romney after his guy was smothered in the primaries, and only then to defeat his evil Obama; after Savage, who began as a "compassionate conservative" and now sounds like an arsonist; when Rush, whose notion of women's rights is derived from an episode of "Boardwalk Empire," frightens advertisers far enough away to sell their wares on Hip-Hop stations, then the format is in need of serious repair.
Certain radio press friends, whom I admire greatly, say the format needs to expand their menu of discussion points and subjects, but in all obvious sincerity, it needs to go further than that. Its relevance as a format is now lost on the American public. They influence virtually no one and entertain few. The proof, as my grandmother would say, is in the pudding (actually it was lemon meringue): The results of the election are clear and evident. Americans want four more years of our president after having listened to and then ignored the most one-sided juggernaut in broadcasting: right wing radio. And the left is often no better.
The problem, like most in radio, is one of talent. Some of the best, most intelligent personalities are still on the music side and think well enough of their personal viewpoints to keep it to themselves. Smart talk is relegated to the voices in our heads! What's left is someone like Sean telling his listeners, days after Hurricane Sandy, that it was Obama's Katrina. Previously, the day after the storm hit, when his listeners were actually underwater and Obama was on site, he was ranting on Bengazi? Is it right for Ed Shultz to be asking his listeners for text messages as answers to a poll taken of 96% Democrats? Is that news, entertainment, or what exactly, succor? It's enough that Super PACs fill up the airways with one-sided attacks that amount to distortions. All the while, Rush has singlehandedly frightened away advertisers from network radio, all while puffing on his Cubans. This is NOT good broadcasting.
We can do better. We can delve into issues without burning the other side's house down. We can stop implying, nay stating that women fighting for birth control are whores and that elected officials who have dedicated their lives to public service are not ignorant in the face of national disasters, even as they stand on the Jersey shore promising help, and delivering. We can start talking about peoples' lives, what makes Americans great, what moves them, what gets them up in the morning. We can find inspiration in the beauty of words written by great writers, move people to action by telling them what's happening and not lying about it.
Are we relegated to be entertained by only distortions and scare tactics? I've dedicated my entire adult life to broadcasting and I'm watching an entire band of it wither away. I welcome discussions about what we can all do to fix the AM band, a dry, aging rubber band, cracking and in need of replacement.