Lynn Woolley, a radio talk show host in Texas, recently addressed an audience of talk radio fans and offered some keen insight as to how the industry has evolved.
I stand before another assembly of talk radio fans, entertaining them as best I can with stories of the “good old days” when FM was still an alternative medium and rock and roll deejays still ruled on AM. I explain that talk shows were often programmed late at night or on Sunday morning for the purpose of fulfilling a station’s “public affairs commitment.”
Wow. I remember when FM radio stations in Cleveland, WNCR and WMMS, were considered “underground”. The DJs had low, mellow voices. They played the King Biscuit Flower Hour, National Lampoon, Cheech and Chong, and an eccentric variety of artists from Phil Ochs to Led Zepplin. They had a free form/progressive rock format, and they advertised head shops, for those of you who remember what they were. But, I digress.
……I go on to relate my first experience in talk radio—as news anchor on “The Ed Busch Show” on WFAA in Dallas in 1973.
……Someone asks, “What about politics? Did the show ever cover political issues like Rush does today?”
“No,” I say. I explain that, while politics wasn’t taboo, it was considered stuffy and boring. When radio dabbled into political issues, it was usually on Sunday morning, it was canned (recorded), and it seemed purposefully dull.
Ed’s show was anything but.
He delighted in bringing on controversial figures such as the atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and once paired her with Dr. W.A. Criswell of Dallas’ huge First Baptist Church in a debate that was picked up by a statewide radio network, and videotaped to run on the Dallas ABC affiliate.
……As to the question of why Ed Busch rarely delved into the politics of the day, I explain that Ed’s show was simply intended as entertainment in a day when no one thought a political show could be anything but dull. Ed obviously enjoyed the subject matter, as did his late-night audience. I tell the crowd that I suspect that Ed did an occasional episode that could be counted by station management as “public affairs,” thereby fulfilling one of the requirements of then-current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations.
Then, I mention the Fairness Doctrine.
The audience is stunned. They can’t believe that speech was regulated by government rules and regs—and during such a recent time. “How can that be?” they want to know. “What about the First Amendment?”
I attempt to explain the old argument that the broadcast spectrum is “owned by the people,” but my audience isn’t buying it. They are incredulous that government once interfered with their right to tune in to open political discussions on radio or TV.
“If you don’t like a radio show, change the channel,” someone yells out.
“Agreed,” I say. But back in the “good old days,” we were all used to the regulation of free speech. We had never heard or even heard of Rush or Sean, and virtually no one had any idea what he was missing.
Woolley goes on to explain the leftwing campaign of censorship under the guise of “fairness”. The Left, having lost the war of ideas, has resorted to legislative tactics of intimidation to get noticed.
……I tell the crowd that it’s entirely possible to return to those days when the government could yank a company’s license to broadcast if it deemed a political show to be not “balanced” under the rules.
I explain that mainstream broadcasts were protected because of the exemption for legitimate news programming. Of course, that meant, that under the guise of news, ABC, CBS and NBC were free to be as biased as they pleased. But if a radio show stopped talking about UFO’s and started commenting, Rush-like, about President Nixon, the war in Vietnam, or the emerging welfare state—better call in someone with an opposing viewpoint.
……the Left doesn’t like to be challenged. After decades of near-complete control of all major media outlets, the New Media revolution caught them by surprise. They can’t believe that they actually have major on-air opposition. Sure, they still have the three networks and big newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, but network viewership is rapidly declining and newspapers face unprecedented competition from the Internet, talk radio and cable television.
……If you’re U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, you crusade to bring back the Fairness Doctrine in the name of, well, fairness. Who could possibly want to “fight against fairness” she asks. And so, Rep. Slaughter’s MEDIA ACT seeks to do just that.
I make sure everyone in the room understands fully that the Left has tried repeatedly to bring back this most-favored regulation only to see prior bills vetoed (or stopped due to threat of veto) during the Reagan and Bush-41 administrations. The crowd is astonished, not realizing that the efforts to regulate on-air speech had come so close to reinstatement.
……When a liberal talk-show host has three hours a day to explain kooky ideas such as nationalizing the healthcare system, his arguments collapse under their own weight. But when conservative ideas and values are stripped of emotion and analyzed with truth and logic, they stand up to the scrutiny.
And so, I tell the fans, if liberal values go nowhere under the microscope of long-form radio, the next-best thing to do is find a way to get the opposing viewpoint that DOES make sense off the air.
……The Democrats now control both houses of Congress. Many of those Democrats now in power look with favor on Rep. Slaughter’s MEDIA ACT and would not hesitate to plunge us right back into the days of regulation. If they gain enough seats, they might override the veto of a Republican president. Or, if a liberal Democrat were to reach the White House, the Fairness Doctrine could be reinstated with nothing more than a few key appointments to the FCC.
That, of course, would make life much more difficult for people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, and Mark Levin whose affiliates would then have to find liberal viewpoints for balance.
There are individuals such as Howard Dean and organizations such as Media Matters that are working behind the scenes to bring back the old regulations—perhaps with more teeth than ever before. And if that doesn’t have the desired effect, there are other ways to shut people up.
The Don Imus affair, for example, showcased the power of the Rev. Al Sharpton and others to have a few seconds of on-air patter designated “hate speech.” If you can accomplish that, you can get rid of the offending host altogether. Was the Imus firing a tune-up to see if other hosts can be accused of hate speech?
Perhaps. But it points out a salient truth: Those who called for the dismissal of Rosie O’Donnell for her outrageous statements on “The View” and those who’d like to see MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann fired for his nightly spewing on “Countdown” had better be careful of what they wish for. The Left would throw Olbermann to the wolves in a heartbeat if it meant that conservative talk radio and TV would go down with him.
Free speech is a double-edged sword. You have to take the bad with the good, and that means having to tolerate the existence of wackjobs like Olbermann. I practice my own form of ‘censorship’ by simply not tuning into his nightly regurgitation.
Free speech should mean free speech for all—even those points-of-view that drive you crazy. So you’ll forgive us if we champion the right of Rosie and Keith and even good old Al Franken to say what they will over the airwaves. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander—maybe even better. In the marketplace of ideas, conservatism will win on the merits. It’s Leftist thought that must suppress the other side.
But, with free speech comes responsibility and consequences. This is why slander, libel, and defamation of character result in lawsuits. That’s why Dan Rather’s attempt to discredit George Bush’s National Guard service with doctored documents was reamed by observant bloggers.
If a commentator makes an allegation, they damned well better be prepared for the ensuing reactions. ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and CNN have each falsified and deliberately skewed reports to their political liking. To their displeasure, the advent of savvy internet bloggers and pundits has become the new ‘watchdog’.
Olbermann, Russert, Matthews, CNN, and Air America are either floundering or dying an inevitable death due to a scant number of listeners. The main stream media no longer have a monopoly on political analysis and opinion. The hard Left’s ownership of the airwaves is being challenged by competition from conservative owners, viewers, and supporters.
We grew tired of the standard party line, and instead of just turning them off, we now have an alternative we can turn to.