The Argument Clinic
June 17, 2016
The other week, a friend of mine quit Twitter. He had a large following and a reputation for being alternately hilarious and pointedly, aggressively political in social media, but he was pretty well known there and his departure was a surprise, even though he'd threatened to do it before. His reason? He wrote extensively elsewhere about it, but to boil it down to the essentials, I'll borrow one of his descriptions: "ugliness." And another: "divisiveness." It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and after years of jousting with people on Twitter, he figuratively lost that eye.
I would chalk that up to his tendency to get into arguments about politics, which drew the kind of hostility, even from people at the same end of the political spectrum, that he should have expected, but I think it's more than that. After Orlando, all this week, I saw people posting to Facebook how they were taking a break from social media or even the entire Internet, based on the things people have been posting about the attacks. And then there was the gator, and I saw people speculating about things in a way that was... uncomfortable. And there are the Trump supporters vs. #NeverTrump vs. the Hillary supporters vs. the Bernie supporters vs.....
It's exhausting, it's aggravating, it's blood-pressure-raising no matter what your politics are, or even if you're apolitical. It's hard to take all the vitriol of this election year even without adding the kind of stuff posted in the wake of the horrific events in Orlando. There have been several moments where I seriously considered whether social media was worth the trouble, whether the arguments and, yeah, ugliness were worth the stress I feel whenever I see that stuff. I'm not bailing, because for me, on balance, I think I get enough out of it to counterbalance the stress, but the thought was there.
What does this have to do with talk radio? I've been thinking about that, and I realized that a lot of political talk radio is the same as social media right now, and, in some ways, has always been like that, only bigger in this election year. I'm-right-you're-an-idiot. Arguments, arguments, arguments. Conflict. We built the format on conflict, but it was fine when it was presented in an entertaining way. And then we forgot about the entertainment factor, began to believe that we really were politically powerful, that what we were doing wasn't entertainment but was more important than anything.
I wonder how many listeners will feel about talk radio the way they feel about social media -- that they need to take a break from it, that it just adds stress to already stressful lives. You have bills to pay, kids to shuttle to school and activities, the house needs repairs, you don't know what to do for dinner... and you need to hear people call each other names and portend the end of civilization if the other side wins? There HAS to be another option.
And there is. There's music radio, no conflict there unless you're worried about TayTay dumping Calvin Harris for Loki. There are podcasts for every conceivable taste. There's sports radio, which does involve conflict and the occasional shouting match but over things that aren't quite as serious. You can fill your audio requirements without talk radio if you choose to do so. Lately, I've found political talk radio to be too depressing to bear, and comedy and sports podcasts (see disclaimer below) more relaxing, and relaxing beats getting riled up any day.
I'm not saying I have research showing that talk radio, or even social media, have gotten as bad as a YouTube comment section and are driving people away. Maybe it's not that bad, but considering the anecdotal evidence of all the people saying they're taking a break added to my own changing media habits, I think there's something to the idea that maybe, as we get through the election and look towards the future of the spoken word radio format, we should be thinking about whether we're adding to people's burdens or offering something they'll welcome as entertainment that doesn't cause hypertension. I think there'll always be an audience for the angry guys in ties talk, but it might get smaller. There's definitely an audience for something else, though, and I think it's already growing fast, if you're looking at podcasts and streaming, that is. Life's too short. And life's also aggravating enough that you don't need to add more stress to it from people yelling at each other.
No matter what kind of show you do, there's plenty of material you can use at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes galore, all lined up for you, stress-free, and available by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. And more coming soon. Just a vague warning there. More is nigh.
You can follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well? And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon. My accounts are remarkably stress-free, too. For you. My stress is your entertainment.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. But as for that mention of listening to podcasts above, I listen to all of ours AND lots of others. I'm very diverse that way.
Oh, and a scheduling note: I will be at Podcast Movement in Chicago June 6-8 and The Conclave Learning Conference in Minneapolis-adjacent (a/k/a Bloomington, or "You Know, Where The Mall Is") July 13-15, and I'm on a podcasting panel at the latter. I hope to see you at one of those, or both -- they'll both be worth attending....