Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The problem with talk radio

Since I was in elementary school, I have liked talk radio.  I can remember listening to sports talk radio as my dad drove me to school in 5th grade.  I was disappointed when the station announced that they were going to move to more music and less talk.  I do listen to music in the car sometimes, but I am drawn to talk, which engages me more directly.

Unfortunately, there are two major problems with talk radio.  To become a talk show host, and spend hours every day telling people your opinion, you have to have a certain amount of ego.  (Arguably, this is true for blogging as well, but probably not to the same extent.)  Talk show hosts therefore tend to be insufferably self-centered.  I suppose that many people get into news because they, too, like to tell people what they think, but the dynamics aren't the same.  In news, you are basically paid to tell people what happened; you may do so in a very biased fashion, but you can't just give opinions without mentioning facts.  Besides, news is typically broken up into small segments, and one person is rarely talking for long about the same thing.  This brings up the second problem with talk radio:  repetition.  Because the host has to fill up several hours, he tends to repeat himself, and repeat himself, and repeat himself.  It's never enough to make a point and move on; he has to make a point, restate it, emphasize it, and then make it again several times.  This gets tedious very quickly.  Remember, a host is not only giving the audience the benefit of his opinion, but he is also often trying to stir up controversy to drive his ratings higher.  For instance, last week Jim Rome talked about Yoda as a mascot for the San Diego Padres.  He said Yoda was not worthy, because he was a coward.  Fine, he offended that part of his audience that cared, which is probably not many people.  But then he proceeded to expatiate on why Yoda was a coward and what he should have done for the next five minutes.  He seemed to forget that he was on a sports talk show, that this was really about the San Diego Padres.  Yoda might be worth a mention, but it is definitely not worth the trouble to hear a long discussion about his moral virtues or lack thereof.  At least, it wasn't worth it for me; I turned off the radio.

When there is a single host, as on Jim Rome's show, the egomania and repetition tend to take center stage.  I generally prefer shows with multiple hosts, because if one guy doesn't have something to say, he can be quiet for a while and let his partner talk.  Also, the differences of opinion between the hosts is often a source of insight for me.  I enjoy Mike and Mike, for instance, although Mike Greenberg often dominates the conversation so that they lose the benefit of having two hosts.  My favourite sports talk show host is Dan Patrick.  He came across as conceited on SportsCenter, but he is more likable on his radio show, and he doesn't exhibit the same ego as most hosts.  Also, even though he is the only host, he talks frequently with several other people in his studio, so one rarely has to listen to him drone on and on about some subject to fill up time.

I can't end this blog entry without mentioning political talk radio, specifically Rush Limbaugh.  I have to be honest:  I can't listen to Rush for long, for the reasons that are common to talk show hosts enumerated above.  I don't think he is particularly insightful.  On the other hand, I am grateful that Rush is broadcasting, because I am convinced that the so-called mainstream media is hopelessly, incredibly biased toward the left.  The only way to deny this is to compare American media to Swedish politics; compared to Sweden, a liberal might say, American media is really middle of the road.  Very well, but we are not in Sweden, and I see no reason for privileging Swedish politics (or those of any other country) over American; and the American media is undoubtedly far to the left of the American public on political matters.  Since newspapers and television stations seem intent on going bankrupt rather than changing their politics, Rush and his ilk are one of the only ways that conservative views get heard publically (outside of politicians, of course).  It's a lot better now because of the internet, but 15 years ago the situation was very different.  I am grateful that Rush has been carrying the conservative banner, and, even though I wish a more profound thinker occupied his position, I realize that such a thinker could probably never reach such a broad audience.

Ironically, now that there are liberal talk shows (chiefly in television), we have seen that Rush is not extraordinarily opinionated for a member of his profession.  In particular, Keith Olbermann is utterly insufferable as a loose cannon prone to the most absurd exaggerations and demonizing of anyone who disagrees with him.  I'm not surprised, since he was the same way as SportsCenter host (though thankfully with fewer opportunities to vent his opinions), and because it is endemic to the job.  I'll refrain from mentioning my favourite political talk show host  here; I'll save it for another time.

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