Monday, November 17, 2008

For Evan

When I first listened to radio -- and when I started to work in it -- commercial radio was a continuous homogeneous succession of fairly sedate accent-neutral voices playing inoffensive music and reporting news, sports, and weather, with little or no editorial content.
Commercials voiced by business owners were rare and clever distractions that rewarded those sponsors who paid to humiliate themselves in the public arena in the name of retail. They did not sound professional, they had no place on the radio, and that was the joke which made those spots so effective at bringing in revenue.
Unfortunately, hearing lousy voices on the radio became commonplace, normalized. Then, radio became filled with people who had no place on the radio, mean-spirited uninformed negativists with their regionalisms and carelessness and their vulgar hollering and self-important unreasonableness.
Gosh, anyone could do that.
And anyone did.
Last Friday, local radio talk host Evan Rousseau was "laid off" from WBSM. I have no idea why, and the professional reasons I would give are probably not the actual reasons for his layoff. Evan and I worked together some, and I found Evan to be personable and affable. He throws himself into whatever he does -- radio, theater, civic activism -- with undiscerning enthusiasm.
Which I guess is the preferred contemporary alternative to "practiced cultivation."
Don't get me wrong: I know for a fact that Evan is technically competent. He worked mornings for a long time getting to know the board and idiosyncrasies at WBSM, acting as "producer" and co-host and then getting his own show. His brain is full of enough information to allow him to talk at least to the next commercial break and engage others in conversation -- or what passes for conversation on WBSM. He is a popular local personality. And he works on some community affairs with a serious dogged zeal. Which makes him a hero to the few who notice and appreciate that kind of civic-mindedness.
I couldn't listen to his show because his bizarre collection of addle-brained and fatheaded callers sometimes dimmed my glow for the Whaling City.
And ... he sounded like ... someone who had no place on the radio.
Umms and ahs and uhs and mispronunciations and inaccuracies and unsubstantiations and a just plain unpleasant voice. All of the things local radio thrives on, or seems to require these days.
Earlier this year, the news of Keri Rodrigues leaving WSAR caused great consternation. Radio discussion boards buzzed for weeks, the local newspaper ran stories, and there was no shortage of discussion, speculation, and debate over her abilities, qualifications, and future employment.
But none of that for Evan.
Is it because Evan did not address or inspire controversy the way Keri did? Because his show merely waded carefully along the shoal of safe topics that interested a very small covey of New Bedford unsophisticates?
Or is it because the "professionals" who came out so vehemently for and against Keri's place on the radio cannot appreciate Evan's place in his own town?
That says an awful lot about the people in radio.

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