Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Talk Radio's Troubling Post Trump Dilemma
Let's talk about talk -- talk radio, to be exact.
And let's begin by facing the fact that all media of all persuasions are sort of lost without Donald Trump to praise, accuse, exalt, deride, revere, ridicule, adore or abhor. He was a lightening rod for all media. He knew it; he cultivated it; he delighted in it. So now, there is a vacuum -- sort of. I say "sort of" because some columnists, like Peggy Noonan for example, are still writing about Trump and using him as a crutch to fill out their weekly allotment of words. (Poor Peggy, she's lost her way.)
In talk radio, the post Trump chasm is vast. And it's been made even more evident and vivid since the passing of the modern-day inventor of conservative talk radio, Rush Limbaugh.
Here in the Philadelphia area, morning drive time talk radio is dominated by two conservative personalities who have each launched onto their favorite topic in this new era. One seems obsessed with the idea that you don't need to get the COVID vaccine. He basically comes across as an anti-vaccine zealot. The other finds it hard to complete any session without reiterating his contention that COVID was most assuredly developed in a lab in Wuhan, China and was directed at the US. These two spend hours on these favorite topics. Now, I'm not necessarily arguing with their contentions. I'm just saying that it's become tiresome. It's the proverbial broken record. And they too often seem to be at a loss for alternative topics.
One bright spot in the panoply of talk comes with the new Clay and Buck (Clay Travis and Buck Sexton) Show in Limbaugh's old time slot from noon till three. But we're unable to get that here in the Philly market because the station that used to carry Rush has now moved its nine till noon talker into that spot. So, no Clay and Buck for us, though you can access the show via the internet as I often do.
Yes, Clay and Buck are attractive because they're new and they have an advantage in that there are two of them and they can switch back and forth. Let's face it, few if any talkers can singly dominate a daily three-hour segment in their own voice the way Rush did. He was The Master. Rush also had a talent for letting those who called into the show have their say and he really, really listened to them. So many talk show hosts talk over the caller or cut the caller off. They abbreviate or annotate or even intimidate the caller. Sean Hannity, for example, rarely allows his guests or callers to fully answer the rambling, pseudo questions he poses. What we've just mentioned may be a quick any/or easy devices to "control" the program but they're not very smart and they do not make for a compelling or informative or entertaining show.
Of course, we hear so much about podcasts these days.
C'mon! I was doing podcasts 15 years ago and, in fact, you can link to them right here. There's nothing new about podcasts. And podcasts aren't live radio. They just don't have the same immediacy and/or the same relevance.
Live talk radio is something very special -- it's real, it's engaging, it's intimate. Above all, it's a conversation.
The radio giants of yesteryear (people like Paul Harvey, Charles Osgood, Arthur Godfrey and others) all understood that you had to talk as if you were having a special, private chat with just one person. Indeed, Ronald Reagan became the Great Communicator precisely because he got his start in radio. That's where he learned the real art of communication. Reagan always knew how to use his voice, his modulation and his pacing to set the proper tone.
A talker who shouts his way through the show (Mark Levin comes to mind) become tiresome no matter how smart or perceptive he or she may be. Likewise, those who seem to whisper their way through the broadcast in that touchy-feely NPR style are just as irritating and, ultimately, boring. And a shock jock/talker like Howard Stern simply isn't very shocking any more. His schtick has worn thin.
And so many of these radio talkers are just terminally egotistical. One guy who has made his drive time mark on SiriusXM's POTUS is so taken with himself that even in a few minutes you will lose count of the number of times he says "I, me, mine" or "my". It's absolutely suffocating. And please, spare us the sycophant co-host who sucks up to the Grand Ego, endlessly agreeing and adoring. Ugh!
The best talkers don't see themselves as Radio Gods. They aren't terminally promoting themselves and their books or novelties or whatever. They give guests and callers ample space, are self-deprecating, find new and surprising topics each day, don't droan on and on, are well (and broadly) versed, recognize the power of the popular culture and know how too weave that into their conversation. They're also authentic and confident in who they are and what they're all about.
That's a tall order, for sure.
But in the post Trump era, it's never been more important!