I discovered talk radio in the early mid 1980's. Well maybe that's not quite right. I do remember listening to various talk shows on WBZ out of Boston, WJR in Detroit and some other shows both local and on the clear channels. WLW and WBNS locally had Sally Jesse and Bruce Williams from Talk Net.
Local radio station WCOL 1230 affiliated with ABC's talk radio and made it a 24/7 offering. That was my mid 80's discovery. And it was short lived. When the format was pulled by ABC, I truly missed hearing the format.
At the time, many friends used to tease me that I was so conservative that I made Reagan look like a New Dealer.
Then I began hearing about conservative talk radio in the 90's. I heard about a fellow by the name of Rush Limbaugh from my then father in law. Rush wasn't carried locally, but at lunch I would go to my car and pull him in from either Dayton or Cincinnati. I loved the show. So much so that I listened through the hiss, crackles and pops to hear the show. When you make that kind of effort, it sort of shows how far you would go to get what you want.
Eventually his show made it to the Columbus airwaves. Others soon followed. Barry Farber, G. Gordon Liddy and others began to grace the air. At first, I was in 7th heaven. But as time went on, I began to lose my interest. The hosts had somehow disconnected from me and my values. While I was conservative, I wasn't the "stuff it down your throat conservative". The 'embelish the facts to fit an outcome" conservative. A red meat needer.
There was a time when prior to audio streaming I would listen to hosts on scratchy far away signals. And some of the more "exotic", to be polite, hosts were sought out in the 90's on shortwave radio. I listened as their programs faded in and out on a circa 1940 Zenith Floor model radio that had the shortwave band on it. Robby Noel, Karen Bixman, Chuck Harder (profiled earlier), Tom Valentine and others bought time on the WWCR and other shortwave stations and beamed their ideas around the world. Not that I bought into those hosts values and beliefs, but talk radio, even the looney side of it, spurred me to think beyond just my environment, values and self.
As Bill Clinton and his team took the White House, I became concerned. No, not that I loved Clinton. It was quite the opposite. But there was something about talk radio that wasn't just conservative vs liberal and who would win in the battle in the arena of ideas. It was that even if Clinton were right on an issue, he couldn't be seen as being right or successful. Even on that one topic or issue. Everything had to be discredited. Sure it hurt Clinton, but did it help the Country? I don't think so and that's not good.
At the time, a gentleman who wrote a financial newsletter that contained a large amount of political commentary, wrote in the newsletter that even if their accusations against Clinton were wrong, it was important to keep team Clinton occupied and off balance so they couldn't be successful even in the things the news letter editor believed in.
If it were limited to ideology, I could understand. But he was writing about the doing everything possible to discredit to leader of the free world. This President couldn't be successful whether he was doing what was good for the country of if it was not the proper course. Either way, destroy him.
The newsletters contents and thoughts frequently made it's way to talk radio shows.
That deeply concerned me.
In addition, while Bill Clinton did lie under oath about his affairs with Paula Jones, those issues were unearthed by people working to discredit the President over his sexual affairs and lack of fidelity. They would claim it was about the rule of law, while denying it was about sex. Yet the underlying issue was the sex. Their investigations of his sexual escaped is what lead to the lying under oath issue.
The cause of the depositions where the lying under oath took place were caused by the search for his sexual misconduct. They were deeply disappointed the country wasn't more shocked and outraged about the sexual revelations and wondered why there wasn't a bigger disire to remove him for office. The guy was a cad. In their world, get rid of him.
Yes, Clinton's personal life was deeply disgusting. And yes, those who sought to unearth and expose it were just as disgusting. But they couldn't win the argument of ideology, so they sought to destroy him through his sexual indiscressions. And my fear wasus in the process.
As the 2000's unfolded, the war in Iraq began and continued, I became even more disappointed at talk radio and conservative talk radio in general.
Let's take Iraq as an example. I deeply believe had this war been executed as it has been to date and the results were the same, but the occupant of the White House was a democrat, conservative talk radio would have been lambasting the democrat President and their use of the military. The pass and passes the current administration has received and continues to receive would not be there. There would be no talk of "if you don't support the President, you don't support the troops". There would be a lot of talk against a democratic president not having a plan for after the invasion. For not making a factional group of people play well together in Iraq. For allowing Al Qeda to further instigate anger in a fragile area. For all the things that Vice President Cheney voiced in 1994 about why it wouldn't be wise to take down Saddam.
I read a blog writing by Phil Boyce, program director of WABC radio. He says that the most popular talk rado hosts are talking about what is important to talk radio listeners. But by that analogy Jerry Springer, Maury Povich and other trash tv shows are programming to what's important to tv audiences. Maybe instead they all are hitting the LCD of both mediums?
Also this writing is not to let liberal talk radio off the hook. While I've not taken them on as much as I have the conservative hosts, I have just as much heartburn listening to them as I do those who I more closely identify. The desire to destroy at all costs is high. And while that may be good for developing and maintaining an audience, especially if you strike a chord with the listeners, it doesn't mean it's what's needed to improve society. It doesn't matter whether you're Rush Limbaugh or Randi Rhodes, Sean Hannity or Ed Schultz.
Maybe I'm not alone. Through the years, Talkers Magazine compiles numbers of talk radio hosts and their listenership. Through the years, Rush is down from a once purported 22 million to about 13.5 million. The 22 million figure was Rush's. The first Talkers stab at the data was 18+ million. But still, that number is now down to about 13.5+ million listeners per week from their estimated peak of 18+. Through the years, almost 5 million people no longer tune in. Has talk radio become the next Detroit? Will talk radio soon become living corpses like GM, Chrysler and Ford?
I don't have an answer. I just no longer seek out hosts, listen to scratchy or fading signals. I seldom turn my radio in my office on unless there is breaking news.
It at one time was my workday companion. Now it's just a dusty article in my office.