Confessions of an Aging Radio Host
A broadcast consultant told me it was no longer enough to be interesting but instead compelling. Twenty years ago.
He’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but in the 90s made the transition to talk radio
There were 50 channels and the Internet had just arrived. No YouTube, Netflix and hundreds of channels available with a satellite subscription. He was telling us to be prepared and give people a reason to watch TV. I think it applied as well to radio and a few years later when I started working as a talk radio host I remembered his words.
In my first full time radio talk gig I befriended an industry veteran, Joey Reynolds. He’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but in the 90s made the transition to talk radio. Reynolds carved a niche doing the last variety show on radio syndication. He used to ask me a rhetorical question: “Do you believe George Noory actually believes his guests?” Of course not. He thinks most of them are insane or just trying to make a buck off conspiracies and paranoia. The same can be said of Alex Jones but the subject matter often differs.
I host political talk. Or mostly. When I see talk radio job postings I read where the station is looking for something “different” than standard political talk. Then they guy who gets hired does the standard cookie-cutter conservative program. Why? Because liberal talk, lifestyles talk and sexual dysfunction advice talk didn’t succeed in the marketplace.
I’m a mostly conservative talker. Not because I’m a registered Republican but because I’ve got traditional beliefs about culture and religious faith. While I strive to be entertaining it’s not shtick like you heard with the late Morton Downey, Jr. He was acting and I’m not. The GOP has learned talk hosts aren’t working for the party. Townsquare Media signs my paycheck. And not the Second Amendment Alliance or the Liberty Caucus.
When I’m at events or shopping people will tell me it’s great my station gives them a platform where they can be heard. A few points. If recordings of my snoring made money you’d be listening to me sawing away. Talk radio isn’t a community bulletin board. It’s about creating a show that “moves” in broadcast parlance. The host is charged with not only keeping it moving but also giving the hook to callers who don’t keep the pace. We get statement callers. The people who believe if they call and pontificate for 5 minutes they’ve schooled my studio guest. Who may have all of twelve minutes and never a chance to respond. We’ve got the shouters who scream over the host and/or guests and believe they’ve achieved a victory. We’ve got the caller who has been chiming in everyday for 40 years and saying the same thing and believes he’s changed the world. As if we didn’t hear the same spiel the first 9,473 times. I’m reminded of the people I would meet at my last talk radio job who would tell me they prayed I never left the station. Yes, thank you for praying for my penury. In 7 years while on-air I did nothing to change the political culture. All I did was reinforce the values of Christian conservatives and annoy liberals to the point they called for boycotts in hope of achieving my ouster. Never mind I’ve never restrained anyone in their personal behavior. Never passed any laws and never enforced any laws!
By the way, in my personal life I eat too much, drink too much and am estranged from most family. And, yet, I get a daily hit of dopamine on the radio. I’m nobody you would shine a light on as virtuous. I read a lot of books but dropped out of graduate school because of boredom and took a job spinning records. It seemed an easy way to get a check for not working. It’s not admirable.
We’ve got a guy who calls the show I’ve dubbed “The Notorious Slow Talker”. If he bores me how do you think thousands of people listening react? My ex-wife used to listen to Larry King on one of my stations and said he was mean to callers. There was Larry, trying to hold an audience, so his boss could sell advertising and make money to pay Larry, and some fellow telephones and gives a weather report, explains he’s listened for years, loves the show, loves Larry, recites the 23rd Psalm and then gets offended when Larry demands to know his question. Larry is looking at the clock tick away, looking at his guest’s time tick away and he gets a Hallmark greeting card from some meandering voice. Or the caller repeats his point over and over and over as if he doesn’t know how to end a conversation. I think after the third repetition I’ve had enough. Oh, and I don't believe United Nations black helicopters and blue helmets are coming to Idaho to enslave us and for the wider audience there are more pressing subjects.
You’re listening in the car, kitchen or office and you can’t understand why the host is so abrupt. Because you’re messing with his/her livelihood! While you may be listening alone keep in mind the total audience, depending on market size, could fill a basketball arena or rival the population of mid-level states. Unlike an auditorium you don’t see the guy next to you but he’s there.
I spend hours prepping a show when instead I could be watching a ball game and then in 80 minutes of talk time a day people call me, make a quick comment about the subject and then make a U-turn and start pontificating about an obscure topic covered in the previous half-hour (when they didn’t call) and hijack my show. Why should any of you be surprised when I’d like to say something in response but am prohibited from shouting by the FCC?
You go to work every day and I don’t interfere with your efforts to make a living and do the job. I don’t call your boss and whine you took the forklift in the wrong direction. I don’t threaten you, your children or to burn down your house. Why do you make these threats to my livelihood, family and home? It’s just a radio show! Greater minds haven’t solved the problems of a troubled world.