Saturday, January 23, 2010

The "Air America" Lesson. Such as it is...

The amazing Deanna Durbin slipcueing Liz Phair out of PJ Harvey. Now THAT's radio!Al Franken! Janeane Garafalo! Rachel Maddow! Chuck D! Lizz Winstead! Jerry Springer...
Six years ago. Air America Media/Radio/Bad Check Whatever was... umm... well... like an ill-conceived and under-supported oddity that seemed to be either a satire of popular talk radio or a satire of damaged Democrats. Today is its last official broadcast day, but I can't remember the last time I even heard it.
I listened to Al Franken on my way to work four or five years ago; my car radio was the only receiver I owned that could pick up the signal of the one area station that aired it. I will admit that there were some clever bits and light-handed ribbing of some little-known Republican pols who may have said something irritating on the Floor, but I was never truly moved -- even when they popped in Jon Lovitz's sounder: "LIARS!" (Which was funny, but only because it was Lovitz.) Like all of talk radio, it was derivative, whiny, and not particularly informative. (What is up with talk radio and its need to reinvent the wheel every half hour? And then give it flash rims and say that you can't live without it?)
It is my personal and formerly professional belief as a broadcaster -- and here I freely solicit readers' own postulations since they are of commensurate validity -- that a generation or more of one-note talk radio has dissipated and dominated the medium in just the way that nutrient-rapacious crops like sugar beets deplete soil.
One predominant mindset won the field after ruining the field. And then burnt the bridges and mined the access roads.
So-called "terrestrial radio" is a barren echo chamber that is truly useful to nobody. Local emergency information is pre-empted by network NASCAR coverage. Local hosts and newsreaders are illiterate, unschooled, and possessed of annoying speech impediments or distracting odd verbal quirks. Music is available -- and much better -- on mp3 players or online music libraries, programmed to personal choice rather than market vagaries; sports are more visible and convenient and often without some washed-up hack babbling over the action online; and news is easily found and readily edited and sorted for veracity, style, and predilection anywhere else. Radio station owners and managers are more skilled at rationalizing failure than they are at avoiding it.
Terrestrial radio has, for two or three decades, kept literally the same voices saying exactly the same thing to the folk who need that assuring predictability. Like that Boston station that played Supertramp at 9 in the morning and "Born To Run" at 5 and "Crazy Train" at 9 at night. For like eight years.'I'm a bit of a nerd, I wouldn't mind working in a shop selling records, or having a radio show where I could play obscure singles.'It would be a nice public service, if it weren't so offensive to so many. Instead, we were left with impolite, self-important, narcissistic reactionaries blabbing at and to each other, watering down the message of either party and polarizing what few listeners happen upon them.
Had a concentrated effort begun in 1980 by what we consider today "left-wing broadcasting," the "Right is Right" argument wiykd never have been so constantly and consistently framed. C'mon, it was fun last century to flip on the crazy fat über-righty whose talent was absurdly and ill-advisedly self-portrayed as "on loan from God." We didn't agree with most of his ranting and even those of us who worked in radio characterized it as "entertaining hyperbole" that merely echoed some over-the-top very strident Reaganites -- cranks. It seemed like parody.
That novelty was bolstered by the spurious assertion that impartial fact-based news wasn't engaging. Talk-show hosts and commentators would spice up the program day by exhibiting bias and even outright prejudice.
Their defence was usually simple, if not simplistic: "It's only entertainment." "It's not offensive if an entertainer says it. It's a joke!" "It's show biz." "You can always just shut it off."
These entertainers deluded themselves, and listeners began to switch to cable teevee news. It was no leap for talkers to accuse the cable stations of being one-sided, inventing the "left-wing media" lie.
The silly commentators then took to repeating over and over and over that they themselves were valid sources of news. And listeners, without other optionss believed it too. Air America wandered unprepared into this one-note landscape, although radio itself was in its death throes. They blundered into a broadcast atmosphere capable of sustaining only one tenor: desperate ad hominem attacks and blind insistence on sophomoric predications wrapped in blasphemy and institutionalized selfishness. Philosophically, they were bringing a cannoli to a gunfight.
Perhaps -- and I venture that I err wildly -- if "Air America" programming had first been expelled into the ether twenty years earlier, all of radio would be different today. A constant and consistent voice from the other side of the aisle would have habituated listeners to a mainstream which allowed both sides' differences. Maybe that left-right give-and-take would have challenged both sides to reach solutions and compromises, and make that type of discourse a national one, reaching for more challenging processes rather than for cheaper shots. Maybe if neither political opinion were marginalized, both would be able to abandon their most extreme behaviors. Without their respective pig wallows of radical misapprehensions to splash about in, both sides would put away filthy tactics. People might actually have been listening out of curiosity to illuminating entertainment and revelatory programming. NBC was a radio network too Once
Stations would probably be back to first-run radio drama by now.Not a Senator from Minnesota.Luckily, some of the Air America personalities have other talents.


Andrew Weiss said...

I miss Larry Glick and Norm Nathan.

karie said...

Gotta love those green dreds and Janeane's kickass bowling-to-win gaze!

PJ said...

Yeah. Let's see Brudnoy do that! (Well, he could play the Dad part.)