From the Archives: Howdy, is anybody on the market? (1997)

By Leslie Stackel

Conservative voices have held sway over talk-radio’s airwaves because the Nineteen Sixties, promoting a backlash towards progressive concepts to a frightened public married to the established order. How did it occur? Why does it proceed, and the place can somebody tune in to listen to a voice taking the liberal or, heaven forbid!, leftist place on political points?

A 12 months after comic Al Franken printed Rush Limbaugh Is A Large Fats Fool (Thorndike Press, Thorndike, ME), the overweight sultan of right-wing discuss radio nonetheless guidelines the airwaves. Limbaugh and his ultraconservative cronies, most notably G. Gordon Liddy and Ollie North, rant repeatedly towards “feminazis,” environmental “wackos,” minorities and all issues progressive in a rolling firestorm of sock-it-to-’em hate radio. Their model of vitriol has earned them over 600 station spots, principally Rush’s, on nationally syndicated radio, reaching greater than 20 million listeners. And regardless of reams of dangerous press, reproach from extra average Republicans and sagging scores, the Limbaugh ilk proceed to contaminate our nation’s talk-radio continuum like a nasty flu it could’t shake.

The place will the remedy for this epidemic virus come from? The place can the long-suffering listener tune in for a liberal shot within the ear? Who will current a balanced sensibility for the opposite facet, and an overdue public hazing of Limbaugh and his prating dittoheads?

Based on Michael Flarrison, editor of a broadcast publication known as Talkers Journal, discuss radio isn’t completely a conservative wasteland. Dozens of liberals might be discovered across the dial on native stations, he contends. “About 40% of radio dialog is liberal,” he estimates, “however the media have performed up the rightists.”

Possibly. However his 40% determine fairly clearly is determined by one’s definition of “liberal.” In a single latest examine on discuss radio by the College of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Faculty of Communications, for example, such political speaking heads as former New York Mayor Ed Koch and Washington, DC centrist Diane Rehm had been one way or the other deemed “liberals.” By any affordable definition, one is hard-pressed to search out any nationally acknowledged leftist title in discuss radio as of late. Harrison concedes there isn’t a Limbaugh of the left, no “nationwide superstars with devoted followings.”

Dial round, although, and two probably candidates start to emerge from the static. Jim Hightower, a former Texas state agriculture commissioner, is a populist hell-raiser from Austin whose sharply twangy political assaults and sly humor (as in his common “Hog Report,” protecting “pork” in authorities dealings and large enterprise) have fetched him a 100-station listening public “from Maine to Maui” since 1991. And there’s Tom Leykis of Los Angeles, a rousingly souped-up, no-holds-barred, left-leaning political riffer with the aptitude of an AM-radio DJ. Leykis spares nobody throughout his four-hour afternoon broadcasts on Westwood One radio, syndicated to 220 different stations, and he’s been working at it for 26 years. Former California Governor Jerry Brown could have extra title recognition than both of those on-air personalities, however his “We The Individuals” program is broadcast strictly over Pacifica nonprofit radio, restricted in market scope.

Nevertheless, neither Hightower nor Leykis, the 2 top-rated lefties, might be heard in New York Metropolis, or in very many different big-city radio markets—an absence not completely unintentional. Jim Hightower briefly broadcast his present over the ABC radio community earlier than 1995, when it was summarily canceled with out warning—instantly after phrase leaked of a deliberate merger between Disney and Capital Cities, which owns ABC. Regardless of drawing a large viewers, Hightower was dropped from the community lineup, presumably for his outspoken criticism of this Mickey Mouse merger and the brand new Telecommunications Act that permitted it, other than his common muckraking options geared toward company America.

The Mouse That Censored

ABC claimed inadequate advert income as an excuse for the cancellation, however Hightower factors out that the community uncared for to pursue his greatest identifiable supply for sponsorship and advert {dollars}—labor unions. Actually, ABC rejected one union’s $20,000 supply to purchase advert house, and dismissed all others as “advocacy advertisers,” unacceptable as industrial supporters. (In fact, the community would by no means think about that the company funders of their extra conservative reveals would possibly harbor a political agenda, would they?)

Which raises the query whether or not leftslanted, populist discuss radio is mutually unique with broad-scale industrial success. Hightower appears poised to find the reply. Since mid-1996 he’s been airing a brand new call-in program from Austin’s downtown Chat & Chew restaurant over United Broadcasting, previously often called the Individuals’s Radio Community. Along with his unshakably leftist politics, he would possibly function a super take a look at case for progressives all over the place.

As Hightower factors out, “We’re undoubtedly about naming names. Not like most liberal radio hosts, I don’t simply discuss obscure, social causes of issues, however actually give attention to firms, and do it by title. When taking over a problem, we go at it by way of who’s placing up the cash for the coverage that’s concerned with the problem.”

United Broadcasting, Hightower explains, funds itself primarily by appearing as “a marketer of made-in-the-USA merchandise. They’re like a House Procuring Channel, so that they’re not on the mercy of huge brand-name advertisers.” Co-owned by the United Auto Staff union, based by libertarian Pat Choate—a former Ross Perot working mate—the community is nothing if not political. With a nod to the present stagnant wave in radioland, United has signed as its different on-air movie star, mockingly, Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan’s sister.

Micropower to the Individuals

Issues usually are not more likely to get a lot better earlier than they get even worse, both, with Newt Gingrich et al slashing federal funds from Nationwide Public Radio, calling their studiedly impartial tone “too liberal.” Even lower-profile, listener-supported broadcasting venues are steadily caving in to conservative stress, such because the five-station, 50-affiliate Pacifica Community.

Federal assaults on their funding base have predictably prompted inner energy struggles at a few of these stations, additional threatening their progressive programming. At Pacifica’s home-base station, KPFA in Berkeley, CA, the board of administrators in 1994 purged probably the most radical voices and put in a slicker, extra “skilled” corporate-style administration group. Now there are related tugs-of-war raging at each KPFK in Los Angeles and WBAI in New York Metropolis—Pacifica’s flagship and longtime bastion of group activism and free speech. All that is main left-wing discuss radio in just one course, say observers: underground.

“I see progressive voices on radio being compelled underground, and I see pirate radio spreading all around the nation, which is each good and dangerous,” says HIGH TIMES editor-at-large Invoice Weinberg, cohost of “The Moorish Orthodox Campaign” on WBAI (a mixture of anarchist political evaluation and popular culture that he says is “hanging by a thread”). “Dangerous as a result of when underground, issues get extra precarious and fewer folks get to listen to it. And good as a result of being underground is purer and retains you in that hardcore adversarial spirit, which has been eroded by progressive radio being on the federal teat for thus lengthy.”

Stephen Dunifer, an outspoken chief of the unlicensed pirate-radio motion, based the insurgent station Free Radio Berkeley in 1993. Dunifer says he was pushed to defy the Federal Communications Fee by a combination of things: the Reaganite political local weather of the Eighties and early ’90s; media protection of the Gulf Battle and different overseas points by press launch and sound chunk, and by the abandonment of native grass-roots activism on Pacifica’s stations.

The ultimate straw got here in 1993, with KPFA’s muting of Dunifer’s good friend Dennis Bernstein, after Bernstein had challenged the mayor of Berkeley’s declare that she’d had no involvement in mobilizing a police riot squad throughout a protest that 12 months in Individuals’s Park. Throughout an on-air interview, Bernstein produced a number of the mayor’s correspondence, procured by way of the Public Information Act, between her and the UC Berkeley chancellor, proving they’d labored collectively “hand in glove” in the course of the police motion.

“She freaked out on the air,” says Dunifer. “Two weeks later, Dennis will get a message from the station supervisor saying ‘lay off the mayor.’ Very clearly, we had been coping with a longtime progressive-liberal political machine.” KPFA was now not “the folks’s station,” and so Dunifer arrange Free Radio Berkeley at 104.1 on the dial to fill the void.

Dunifer and different radio rebels “are reacting to a state of affairs of their areas, the place public radio isn’t fairly as public because it’s alleged to be,” says Estelle Fennell, information director of KMUD (91.1 FM), a group station in Garberville, CA, 200 miles north of Berkeley. KMUD, she acknowledges, is “distinctive” in its independence at a time when all conventional alternate options to mainstream media are failing their listeners. “Faculty stations are tied in to school politics,” she observes, “and too many group stations are tied in to a sort of polish and topdown mentality,” leaving activists with little alternative however to hunt different shops.

KMUD, Fennell contends, exemplifies the required different—stations dedicated to their native listeners, whatever the danger. Situated in Humboldt County, a heavy potgrowing space, KMUD routinely airs up-to-the-minute studies and warnings of helicopter raids of growers’ fields—some whereas in progress—to the ire of regional cops and federal DEA brokers. Aside from a couple of different stations “like KAOS in Seattle,” she says, “I can’t consider many different native [licensed] stations with an excellent, dedicated, free angle.”

However others do exist, on each coasts. Chuck Rosina of Boston, the information director at MIT’s school station, WMBR (88.1 FM), is a hardcore homeless-rights advocate. On his personal two-hour present, “No Censorship Radio,” Rosina says he typically pushes the bounds of free speech on the Pacifica affiliate, and suggests administration “appears the opposite method as long as we don’t get main complaints.”

At his house studio, “W Bla Bla Bla,” although, Rosina places collectively present segments for common distribution, typically collaborating with “pirates” from Boston and Berkeley, and in these tasks, “no censorship” is the assured uncompromising rule.

Stephen Dunifer, elaborating on Invoice Weinberg’s feedback, says huge numbers of unbiased thinkers and activists are turning to outlaw radio. The popular time period is “micropower broadcasting,” since pirate radio makes use of low wattage in comparison with industrial enterprises, and it’s been “popping up all over the place across the nation.” Dunifer estimates about 400 stations now exist border-to-border. On the West Coast it’s rampant, and elsewhere as nicely its guerrilla reporters and interviewers are frontline activists, not simply speaking heads.

In Texas, the three politically-minded co-founders of Sort Radio San Marcos (105.9 FM), southwest of Austin, for instance, gained a level of notoriety as members of the San Marcos Seven, a bunch that was arrested and served quick jail phrases in 1991 after a spontaneous pot smoke-in on the Hays County Jail. Their pirate operation, begun final March, options irreverent protection of pot use and legalization, plus different well timed and sometimes taboo points by way of information, interviews, discuss, radio theater, poetry and music. “We devoted a whole ‘Frequent Sense’ call-in present to folks’s first experiences with marijuana,” remembers co-founder Joe Ptak. Establishing and working a micropower station, he says, “is straightforward and enjoyable.”

Much more bold in stamping out censorship is Free Speech TV, the Boulder, CO alternative-programming service which packages and distributes reveals to about 70 cable and public-access TV stations nationwide, and runs an internet site ( utilizing materials from each pirate and licensed radio. “We imagine within the purpose of micropower radio, to take the airwaves away from the powers that be,” says Internet editor Joey Manley. “We use stuff from folks like Napoleon Williams of Black Liberation Radio in Detroit, who’s at the moment embattled in disputes with the FCC, and another microstations.” This materials is blended in with nice legit radio, like Mike Thornton’s “Full Logic Reverse” on KVMR in Nevada Metropolis, CO. “Any challenge the left champions doesn’t get entry to the media,” Manley notes. “What we wish is to get these concepts into the mainstream of society.”

Getting organized is essential, insists Paul Griffin, a Free Radio Berkeley present host and founding father of the Affiliation of Micro-Energy Broadcasters. He urges of us to get entangled with the group, and to attend the annual convention for micro proponents, held this 12 months in Carson, CA.

FCC You, Limbaugh!

Free Radio Berkeley made historical past final April after successful a precedent-setting courtroom case introduced when the FCC tried to close it down. Federal District Decide Claudia Wilken refused to grant the fee an injunction to shut the insurgent radio operation, the primary repulse ever for the FCC in such a case, mentioning that “there have been actual constitutional questions right here that must be resolved in a trial,” in keeping with Dunifer. Principally these questions revolve round apparent First Modification free-speech points.

Dunifer expects that the FCC’s second movement to chop off the station, now awaiting a ruling, will preserve the case within the authorized system until across the 12 months 2000. By then, the micropower motion must be flourishing. Like all radical motion, this systematic motion might affect and even empower mainstream, liberal and left-leaning “reputable” broadcasters.

In the meantime, progressives in industrial radio are busy making an attempt to compete with the tidal wave of conservative on-air hosts, striving to bowl over each listeners and station house owners by way of type as a lot as substance. Pumping up listenership for these different hosts, although, typically means studying to change frequencies—not by way of airwaves, however of their on-air character and common modus operandi.

Tom Leykis, for one, believes that earlier than station house owners will come calling, progressives must disprove the sticky delusion that liberals make for boring radio.

“See,” he says, “Limbaugh has satisfied those who no liberal is entertaining. There’s some reality in that,” he jokes, “nevertheless it’s not 100% true.” Moderates are all too typically, by definition, average: “A number of liberal hosts are afraid to take stands,” diagnoses Leykis, “’trigger they’re afraid of offending folks. You get all these good liberals saying, ’Properly, I can perceive on the one hand how folks would really feel this manner, and then again how they’d really feel that method’, like NPR, which induces coma.” Radio hosts, he insists, “must be prepared to get down within the mud with anybody” and “not afraid to take quotable, sound-bite stands.”

A one-time music DJ and humorist, Leykis says that what finally makes a gab-show zing is apparent leisure, not political discourse slanted both left or proper. Political advocacy, he reckons, is secondary. And the truth that Rush Limbaugh’s megasuccess as an entertainer has been matched by neither liberal nor conservative stands as proof of Leykis’ canny perception.

Regardless of the formulation for achievement in industrial radio, cracking the present conservative hegemony on call-in reveals received’t be simple, says Steve Randall, senior analyst and resident talk-radio professional for FAIR (Equity and Accuracy in Reporting). Traditionally, he explains, “Political discuss radio arose as a serious phenomenon within the Nineteen Sixties, and the primary star of the shape was Joe Pyne on KABC, who was thought of an actual hatemonger. Discuss radio in these days was a bunch of white guys on the suitable railing towards the civil rights motion, the anti-Vietnam Battle motion, ladies’s liberation and so forth. It was born in backlash, and has been that method for 35 years.” By now, Randall says, right-wingers have well-paved inroads: “They’ve cultivated an viewers who’re used to their concepts, their political viewpoints, and what they think about humor.” Liberals must do the identical.

Jim Hightower says liberal voices are on their method. Persons are clearly getting bored with Limbaugh: “He’s turning into boring and he’s primarily out of fabric, as a result of he spends all his time on the air simply attacking Invoice Clinton and defending Newt Gingrich. He’s develop into the nationwide press spokesman for the Republican Celebration.” Of us, he believes, are prepared for actual populism on the airwaves, not the “fake populism” of Rush. As for his kneejerk copycats, they’re dropping not solely credibility however scores. Actually, notes Hightower, “If it weren’t for the Christian networks, Ollie North could be lengthy gone.”

Excessive Instances Journal, November 1997

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