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From the Archives: Hi, is any person out there? (1997)


By Leslie Stackel

Conservative voices have held sway in excess of speak-radio’s airwaves considering the fact that the 1960s, promoting a backlash versus progressive concepts to a frightened public married to the position quo. How did it come about? Why does it continue, and in which can an individual tune in to listen to a voice having the liberal or, heaven forbid!, leftist posture on political problems?

A 12 months soon after comic Al Franken released Hurry Limbaugh Is A Large Body fat Fool (Thorndike Push, Thorndike, ME), the obese sultan of proper-wing talk radio continue to policies the airwaves. Limbaugh and his ultraconservative cronies, most notably G. Gordon Liddy and Ollie North, rant consistently versus “feminazis,” environmental “wackos,” minorities and all points progressive in a rolling firestorm of sock-it-to-’em hate radio. Their model of vitriol has acquired them more than 600 station spots, mainly Rush’s, on nationally syndicated radio, reaching additional than 20 million listeners. And even with reams of lousy push, reproach from a lot more moderate Republicans and sagging rankings, the Limbaugh ilk proceed to infect our country’s talk-radio continuum like a bad flu it just cannot shake.

Where by will the overcome for this epidemic virus occur from? The place can the very long-struggling listener tune in for a liberal shot in the ear? Who will present a balanced sensibility for the other side, and an overdue public hazing of Limbaugh and his prating dittoheads?

According to Michael Flarrison, editor of a broadcast publication named Talkers Magazine, converse radio isn’t fully a conservative wasteland. Dozens of liberals can be discovered about the dial on neighborhood stations, he contends. “About 40% of radio dialog is liberal,” he estimates, “but the media have performed up the rightists.”

Maybe. But his 40% determine really obviously is dependent on one’s definition of “liberal.” In one modern research on speak radio by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, for instance, these kinds of political speaking heads as former New York Mayor Ed Koch and Washington, DC centrist Diane Rehm have been by some means deemed “liberals.” By any realistic definition, 1 is challenging-pressed to discover any nationally recognized leftist name in speak radio these times. Harrison concedes there is no Limbaugh of the remaining, no “national superstars with devoted followings.”

Dial all-around, nevertheless, and two likely candidates start to emerge from the static. Jim Hightower, a former Texas point out agriculture commissioner, is a populist hell-raiser from Austin whose sharply twangy political assaults and sly humor (as in his standard “Hog Report,” covering “pork” in governing administration dealings and large organization) have fetched him a 100-station listening public “from Maine to Maui” because 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 no one during his four-hour afternoon broadcasts on Westwood A single radio, syndicated to 220 other stations, and he’s been performing at it for 26 a long time. Former California Governor Jerry Brown could have a lot more title recognition than possibly of these on-air personalities, but his “We The People” system is broadcast strictly around Pacifica nonprofit radio, constrained in market scope.

However, neither Hightower nor Leykis, the two top rated-rated lefties, can be heard in New York City, or in quite a lot of other huge-town radio markets—an absence not entirely accidental. Jim Hightower briefly broadcast his exhibit about the ABC radio network before 1995, when it was summarily canceled without having warning—immediately soon after phrase leaked of a planned merger between Disney and Money Towns, which owns ABC. Regardless of drawing a sizable audience, Hightower was dropped from the network lineup, presumably for his outspoken criticism of this Mickey Mouse merger and the new Telecommunications Act that permitted it, aside from his standard muckraking options aimed at corporate America.

The Mouse That Censored

ABC claimed insufficient ad income as an excuse for the cancellation, but Hightower factors out that the community neglected to pursue his very best identifiable supply for sponsorship and advert dollars—labor unions. In simple fact, ABC rejected one particular union’s $20,000 provide to acquire advertisement space, and dismissed all other people as “advocacy advertisers,” unacceptable as professional supporters. (Of system, the community would under no circumstances contemplate that the corporate funders of their a lot more conservative exhibits might harbor a political agenda, would they?)

Which raises the dilemma irrespective of whether leftslanted, populist chat radio is mutually unique with broad-scale business success. Hightower would seem poised to find the respond to. Considering the fact that mid-1996 he’s been airing a new simply call-in program from Austin’s downtown Chat & Chew restaurant above United Broadcasting, previously identified as the People’s Radio Community. With his unshakably leftist politics, he may well provide as an excellent take a look at situation for progressives in all places.

As Hightower factors out, “We’re absolutely about naming names. Compared with most liberal radio hosts, I really do not just converse about vague, social will cause of things, but seriously concentration on companies, and do it by title. When getting on an issue, we go at it in terms of who’s placing up the income for the policy which is included with the situation.”

United Broadcasting, Hightower describes, resources itself basically by performing as “a marketer of produced-in-the-Usa products. They’re like a Home Buying Channel, so they’re not at the mercy of significant model-identify advertisers.” Co-owned by the United Vehicle Personnel union, founded by libertarian Pat Choate—a former Ross Perot jogging mate—the community is very little if not political. With a nod to the current stagnant wave in radioland, United has signed as its other on-air movie star, ironically, Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan’s sister.

Micropower to the Persons

Matters are not probable to get considerably much better ahead of they get even even worse, either, with Newt Gingrich et al slashing federal money from National General public Radio, contacting their studiedly neutral tone “too liberal.” Even lower-profile, listener-supported broadcasting venues are step by step caving in to conservative force, such as the five-station, 50-affiliate Pacifica Community.

Federal assaults on their funding base have predictably prompted inside energy struggles at some of these stations, even further threatening their progressive programming. At Pacifica’s residence-base station, KPFA in Berkeley, CA, the board of administrators in 1994 purged the most radical voices and put in a slicker, a lot more “professional” corporate-design and style management team. Now there are similar tugs-of-war raging at each KPFK in Los Angeles and WBAI in New York City—Pacifica’s flagship and longtime bastion of local community activism and totally free speech. All this is primary still left-wing converse radio in only just one direction, say observers: underground.

“I see progressive voices on radio staying forced underground, and I see pirate radio spreading all about the region, which is both equally excellent and terrible,” says High Occasions editor-at-significant Invoice Weinberg, cohost of “The Moorish Orthodox Crusade” on WBAI (a combine of anarchist political examination and pop lifestyle that he suggests is “hanging by a thread”). “Bad since when underground, issues get more precarious and much less people get to listen to it. And superior due to the fact getting underground is purer and retains you in that hardcore adversarial spirit, which has been eroded by progressive radio staying on the federal teat for so prolonged.”

Stephen Dunifer, an outspoken chief of the unlicensed pirate-radio movement, established the rebel station Free Radio Berkeley in 1993. Dunifer claims he was driven to defy the Federal Communications Commission by a combination of factors: the Reaganite political climate of the 1980s and early ’90s media protection of the Gulf War and other foreign challenges by push release and sound chunk, and by the abandonment of nearby grass-roots activism on Pacifica’s stations.

The final straw came in 1993, with KPFA’s muting of Dunifer’s pal Dennis Bernstein, soon after Bernstein had challenged the mayor of Berkeley’s assert that she’d had no involvement in mobilizing a police riot squad all through a protest that 12 months in People’s Park. During an on-air interview, Bernstein generated some of the mayor’s correspondence, procured through the General public Documents Act, concerning her and the UC Berkeley chancellor, proving they’d worked jointly “hand in glove” all through the law enforcement action.

“She freaked out on the air,” claims Dunifer. “Two months later on, Dennis will get a concept from the station manager stating ‘lay off the mayor.’ Pretty evidently, we had been working with an set up progressive-liberal political machine.” KPFA was no extended “the people’s station,” and so Dunifer established up Cost-free Radio Berkeley at 104.1 on the dial to fill the void.

Dunifer and other radio rebels “are reacting to a problem in their areas, the place community radio is not fairly as general public as it’s supposed to be,” suggests Estelle Fennell, information director of KMUD (91.1 FM), a community station in Garberville, CA, 200 miles north of Berkeley. KMUD, she acknowledges, is “unique” in its independence at a time when all conventional alternate options to mainstream media are failing their listeners. “College stations are tied in to university politics,” she observes, “and too lots of group stations are tied in to a sort of polish and topdown mentality,” leaving activists with little alternative but to search for other retailers.

KMUD, Fennell contends, exemplifies the needed alternative—stations committed to their nearby listeners, irrespective of the threat. Situated in Humboldt County, a weighty potgrowing location, KMUD routinely airs up-to-the-moment experiences and warnings of helicopter raids of growers’ fields—some even though in progress—to the ire of regional cops and federal DEA brokers. Apart from a couple other stations “like KAOS in Seattle,” she says, “I cannot feel of many other area [licensed] stations with a great, committed, free of charge perspective.”

But other people do exist, on both of those coasts. Chuck Rosina of Boston, the news director at MIT’s college or university station, WMBR (88.1 FM), is a hardcore homeless-rights advocate. On his personal two-hour clearly show, “No Censorship Radio,” Rosina states he typically pushes the limitations of absolutely free speech on the Pacifica affiliate, and suggests administration “looks the other way so very long as we do not get main grievances.”

At his residence studio, “W Bla Bla Bla,” however, Rosina puts alongside one another demonstrate segments for normal distribution, typically collaborating with “pirates” from Boston and Berkeley, and in these tasks, “no censorship” is the guaranteed uncompromising rule.

Stephen Dunifer, elaborating on Invoice Weinberg’s opinions, says enormous quantities of independent thinkers and activists are turning to outlaw radio. The chosen term is “micropower broadcasting,” due to the fact pirate radio makes use of small wattage as opposed to professional enterprises, and it is been “popping up in all places about the state.” Dunifer estimates about 400 stations now exist border-to-border. On the West Coast it’s rampant, and elsewhere as well its guerrilla reporters and interviewers are frontline activists, not just conversing heads.

In Texas, the 3 politically-minded co-founders of Form Radio San Marcos (105.9 FM), southwest of Austin, for instance, acquired a diploma of notoriety as customers of the San Marcos 7, a group that was arrested and served shorter jail conditions in 1991 just after a spontaneous pot smoke-in at the Hays County Jail. Their pirate procedure, started past March, characteristics irreverent coverage of pot use and legalization, plus other timely and typically taboo concerns by using information, interviews, chat, radio theater, poetry and audio. “We devoted an whole ‘Common Sense’ get in touch with-in display to people’s very first ordeals with marijuana,” recalls co-founder Joe Ptak. Environment up and functioning a micropower station, he states, “is simple and enjoyment.”

Even extra bold in stamping out censorship is No cost Speech Television, the Boulder, CO alternate-programming company which packages and distributes reveals to about 70 cable and general public-accessibility Tv stations nationwide, and runs a web-site (www.freespeech.org) using content from both equally pirate and licensed radio. “We consider in the aim of micropower radio, to get the airwaves away from the powers that be,” states Internet editor Joey Manley. “We use things from men and women like Napoleon Williams of Black Liberation Radio in Detroit, who’s presently embattled in disputes with the FCC, and some other microstations.” This content is blended in with excellent legit radio, like Mike Thornton’s “Full Logic Reverse” on KVMR in Nevada Metropolis, CO. “Any situation the remaining champions doesn’t get access to the media,” Manley notes. “What we want is to get these thoughts into the mainstream of society.”

Having organized is crucial, insists Paul Griffin, a No cost Radio Berkeley demonstrate host and founder of the Affiliation of Micro-Electric power Broadcasters. He urges people to get included with the group, and to show up at the once-a-year conference for micro proponents, held this 12 months in Carson, CA.

FCC You, Limbaugh!

Absolutely free Radio Berkeley made heritage very last April following profitable a precedent-location court docket scenario brought when the FCC tried out to shut it down. Federal District Choose Claudia Wilken refused to grant the fee an injunction to near the rebel radio operation, the to start with repulse at any time for the FCC in these kinds of a situation, pointing out that “there were serious constitutional issues listed here that should be solved in a demo,” in accordance to Dunifer. Primarily these questions revolve all over clear To start with Modification free-speech issues.

Dunifer expects that the FCC’s second motion to reduce off the station, now awaiting a ruling, will hold the case in the legal procedure until all around the year 2000. By then, the micropower motion ought to be flourishing. Like all radical action, this systematic motion could influence and even empower mainstream, liberal and still left-leaning “legitimate” broadcasters.

Meanwhile, progressives in industrial radio are fast paced attempting to contend with the tidal wave of conservative on-air hosts, striving to bowl over the two listeners and station proprietors by way of type as much as compound. Pumping up listenership for these option hosts, though, frequently signifies understanding to change frequencies—not in conditions of airwaves, but in their on-air personality and normal modus operandi.

Tom Leykis, for a person, thinks that just before station proprietors will arrive calling, progressives have to disprove the sticky fantasy that liberals make for tedious radio.

“See,” he states, “Limbaugh has confident persons that no liberal is entertaining. There’s some real truth in that,” he jokes, “but it’s not 100% accurate.” Moderates are all way too frequently, by definition, average: “A large amount of liberal hosts are worried to consider stands,” diagnoses Leykis, “’cause they’re worried of offending people today. You get all these awesome liberals stating, ’Well, I can comprehend on the a single hand how people today would come to feel this way, and on the other hand how they’d sense that way’, like NPR, which induces coma.” Radio hosts, he insists, “have to be willing to get down in the mud with anyone” and “not fearful to acquire quotable, audio-chunk stands.”

A one-time music DJ and stand-up comedian, Leykis claims that what ultimately tends to make a gab-demonstrate zing is simple enjoyment, not political discourse slanted either left or suitable. Political advocacy, he reckons, is secondary. And the fact that Hurry Limbaugh’s megasuccess as an entertainer has been matched by neither liberal nor conservative stands as evidence of Leykis’ canny insight.

No matter what the components for results in professional radio, cracking the current conservative hegemony on call-in shows won’t be straightforward, suggests Steve Randall, senior analyst and resident chat-radio pro for Reasonable (Fairness and Precision in Reporting). Traditionally, he clarifies, “Political speak radio arose as a major phenomenon in the 1960s, and the very first star of the variety was Joe Pyne on KABC, who was viewed as a serious hatemonger. Converse radio in these days was a bunch of white guys on the suitable railing towards the civil legal rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War motion, women’s liberation and so on. It was born in backlash, and has been that way for 35 many years.” By now, Randall claims, appropriate-wingers have effectively-paved inroads: “They’ve cultivated an audience who are utilised to their strategies, their political viewpoints, and what they consider humor.” Liberals have to do the very same.

Jim Hightower says liberal voices are on their way. People today are certainly acquiring weary of Limbaugh: “He’s getting unexciting and he’s in essence out of product, for the reason that he spends all his time on the air just attacking Monthly bill Clinton and defending Newt Gingrich. He’s come to be the countrywide press spokesman for the Republican Party.” Folks, he thinks, are ready for genuine populism on the airwaves, not the “faux populism” of Hurry. As for his kneejerk copycats, they are getting rid of not only believability but scores. In truth, notes Hightower, “If it weren’t for the Christian networks, Ollie North would be lengthy absent.”

High Periods Journal, November 1997

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