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Sunday, April 04, 2004

RANT, RAVE AND REAP THE REWARDS 

The best revenge is to refrain from imitation. – Marcus Aurelius

It’s been suggested I lend an ear to the recently debuted Air America Radio which is being hyped as a liberal alternative to the conservative dominated talk radio format popularized by such intellectual luminaries as Rush (Feeling No Pain) Limbaugh, Michael (Yes, I am a) Savage and Bill (Shut up! I’m exercising MY 1st Amendment rights) O’Reilly. I have promised my friends that in the spirit of fairness I will devote to AAR the same amount of listening time I typically give to conservative talk radio. This is something of a cheesy reply on my part because I give conservative talk radio exactly zero minutes of my precious life.

For those who have never punched the “scan” button on their car radio and suddenly hear what sounds like a group therapy session hosted by a hyper-active, spleen venting know–it-all and populated by the detached voices of paranoid, apoplectic males, ages 25 to 50, then lucky you because this is right-of- center radio in its most popular format. Here life is explained away by a simple proposition: your existence is being threatened by liberal democrats who go out of their way to insure that: you will never work again; are surrounded in your neighborhood by swarthy immigrants who eat stinky foods cooked from household pets; are deluged by loud rap music with graphic lyrics about all the sex you aren’t having in your constitutionally protected straight marriage, and thus, you are compelled to ingest to massive quantities of liquor and hard drugs to cope with your miserable existence. Conservative talk radio hosts typically provide the following palliatives for rectifying these terrors; renege on NAFTA and create extensive trade barriers; close all the borders immediately and move your pets indoors; censor all music that doesn’t feature Jesus or flags in the lyrics and, of course, vote Republican.

When you think about it, subject matter of these programs is ultimately unimportant. People tune into talk radio to commiserate in their collective misery, not to engage in constructive discussion that might resolve a real problem. Limbaugh, Savage et al, are the electronic equivalent of the blowhard at the corner bar who is always flapping his gums about some personal miscarriage of justice and why his (and your) tormentors should be hung from the nearest tree. After four or five beers, his usual group of acolytes will be urging him on to greater rhetorical lows and some drunken idiot will be found passed out in the parking lot after dutifully fishing through his car trunk for a serviceable rope. The next morning everyone agrees that old Buddy/Rush was really onto a great truth last night, too bad we can’t remember what it was.

All talk radio exists because of its ability to attract advertisers who spend like drunken sailors in hawking male enhancement pills and debt consolidation services to guys who have maxed out their credit cards on various male enhancement products. These programs are cash cows for their owners and the subject matter is irrelevant as long as it helps post large profits. If it created staggering revenue numbers, Rush would be the King of Transvestite Talk Radio and be sponsored by Victoria’s Secret and Ann Taylor.

According to its web site, Air America Radio’s mission (other than returning a dividend on its investor’s $30 million) is to bring “…to the marketplace an un-served need. We give voice to what millions of Americans are thinking, but can't hear on radio.”

Now that’s some scientific breakthrough! If AAR can capture and broadcast people thoughts, then perjury is pretty much a thing of the past and we can reduce presidential political campaigns from years of ceaseless obfuscation to a ten minute brain scan. But as it relates to radio programming, I’m not so hot on the idea of listening to what millions of Americans are thinking. Take a quick look at the Nielsen ratings and it’s pretty clear that million of Americans aren’t thinking at all so AAR could be broadcasting a lot of dead air.

And what could be worse than dead air derived from the brain waves of “Everybody Loves Raymond” viewers? Simple, AAR decides to adopt the tone and tenor of right-wing radio programming and chooses to substitute left-wing rhetoric in its place. Since the Limbaughs, Savages and O’Reillys owe their success to exploiting the fear and anger in their audiences, a left leaning talk radio show that takes on a similar strident, angry pall is merely a cynical play to exploit the same emotional hot buttons from a different point on the political spectrum and sell a lot of soap, cars and organic groceries. Air America Radio founder and host, Al Franken, has recently exhibited the kind of bizarre behavior reserved for drugged out rock stars or celebrities named Russell Crowe. Franken has been observed tackling hecklers at a Howard Dean rally and shouting insults at conservative media figures while attending press dinners. Something tells me that AAR might not be the oasis in the media desert some of us are looking for.

If Air America Radio is about “us” versus “them”; “good” versus “evil”; “right” versus “wrong” and complex issues that otherwise require deliberation and thinking get distilled into rants conveniently explaining why you, Mr. or Ms. Liberal are getting screwed, then we can be assured that we are getting more of the same blame game that enriches its producers and hosts and impoverishes public discourse.

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