The Air America / WCRB Problem

Barry Cabbage
Tue Dec 19 10:23:52 EST 2006

Two different broadcasters, the same problem:  Too wrapped up in their own 
world to realize the business is about fooling as many people as you can; 
fooling them as often as you can, and fooling them into writing down the 
calls for as many quarter hours as you can.

AirAmerica missed the point about why Rush and so much of right-wing radio 
is successful. It's the entertainment first, politics is a distant second.  
You're not changing anyone's opinions with a damned radio talk show. Rush 
wasn't the first right winger with a radio microphone, but in the early days 
he was the first to be entertaining, in that entertainingly pompous persona 
he assumed from the start.  More than that, he knew how to drag people 
across those magic quarter-hour lines.

Radio as polemic doesn't work. The days of tea-bag mail-ins are over. That's 
why Ingraham is unlistenable. That's why Graham is working off his contract 
at night while Greater Media counts the days until it expires and they're 
rid of him. And that's why liberals have so much trouble doing radio, policy 
wonks are not entertaining and outraged stunts don't lead to habitual 

Offhand, I can only recall three talk show hosts of a liberal or progressive 
bent who have understood that their job is to entertain, and two of them 
Jerry Williams (in his WMEX/WBZ/WITS/WTIC days)  and Bob Lassiter (WLS, 
WFLA)  are dead. Stephanie Miller is the other, all she really needs to take 
off is to be picked up by a 50-clear or a flame-throwing FM (her 50K L.A.  
flagship has a pattern that looks like the Hindenberg flying off to the 
southwest).  Air America didn't need consultants, either, it needed to lock 
everybody in a room and force feed them WKXW Trenton for a couple of weeks, 
not for the politics, but so they could steal Sabo's formatics.

There's nothing new here, careers this business are built on ripping off the 
occasional successful innovator.  Even Paul Harvey stole his act, virtually 
intact, from Bill Stern.  Morning drive radio has transitioned from funnyman 
with funny voices, to Zoo-like team with traffic girl/entertainment reporter 
and  bad-boy producer to Stern imitators and more recently to O & A 
imitators (yes, there's a difference).

And while we have the liberals shooting themselves in the left boot.  We had 
WCRB also locked, loaded and taking dead aim at the foot.  While the cowboy 
station was braying about how expanded its coverage was, turning the 
frequency swap into a celebration,  the theme on WCRB was "oh well, at least 
we're still alive."  Listeners don't know about coverage maps, ERP, HAAT or 
any of the rest of it.  Tell them something better than "at least we're 
still alive," tell them "we're in a more convenient dial position", tell 
them  "we're expanding to all the listeners in southern new hampshire who 
have been clamoring to hear us," tell them "your mug is now a collector's 
item," tell them any line of bull that makes you seem like the greatest 
thing ever but don't ever tell them you were near your death bed, that 
you're lucky to be alive, or that a frequency change is anything other than 
the greatest thing that has happened to your radio station in the past 
half-century.  I don't think Mazza would have allowed this defeatist tone 
that came through on the air, but then he's scorned by the "true" classical 
music crowd because he thought 'CRB should programmed like what it is -- a 
commercial radio station,  not a private listening auditorium for 
self-styled sophisticates.

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