Friday, February 16, 2007

Vox Populi

As a kid back in Joplin MO in the 1970s, I listened to a radio call in show on Sundays. I can't remember what it was called, or even what station it was on (maybe KQYX?) but it ran for a couple of hours to fulfill the "public affairs" committment that used to be required to keep your FCC license. (Most stations now don't pay much attention to concepts of responsbility or commitment to the community anymore. Gone the way of the now unthinkably unfair Fairness Doctrine. But if you tune around early on a Sunday morning you will still hear some of these public affairs shows. Most of them are fully unlistenable.) This long-ago call in show consisted entirely of an endless tirade by conspiracy nuts, probably before they even were recognized as such. Week after week, these same two or three people would call in a rag on about the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderbergers, Council on Foreign Relations, and the coded Communist messages in Bullwinkle cartoons. (Ok, I made up that last one.) The radio station's end of the deal was to plop down some DJ who answered the calls and let these people rave, there was little or no interaction. It was not a radio talk show in the sense of that we have today.

Being a fairly small town, and back in that day when there were only a handful of signals on the radio dial and only 3 TV stations (God, the deprivation!) which on Sunday morning featured nothing but oily-haired preachers, this rant-and-rave call in radio show seemed to have an audience. You could tell because people would say "Did you hear that crazy woman ranting and raving on that radio show today? My Lord, those people are nutty!" It was insanity, but it was entertaining.

So along comes the real deal a few years later, the radio talk show as we know it today. While there were always the great heritage stations (KGO, WGN, WCCO, etc) that stayed vital as FM and cable TV and other media came along, AM radio was dying. But it made a big comeback in the 1990s, largely due to the success of Rush Limbaugh. Love him or hate him, he got people listening again. You could tell people were listening, because they would say "I hate that Rush Limbaugh! Every day when I turn him on, he just makes me so mad!" (That is a verbatim quote from my mom, circa 1995.)

But there is a big difference in big time talk radio today and the charms of that rant-and-rave show I used to listen to back in the 70s. The difference is that the callers are managed by screeners, compelled to stay on a specific topic, cut loose if they stray. If someone were to start in on the Trilateral Commission, they'd be cut off like John Bobbitt.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that the good old days are back in a new form. You can now luxuriate in the radiance of unbridled nuttiness again by reading online comments. If you like them sophomoric and mostly unintelligible, read the comments on videos on YouTube. For those of us who like to know what's going on in the minds of people who live in Napa, the online version of the Napa Valley Register has become an endless source of entertainment. The current tempest over the AMGEN bicycle race passing through Napa Valley next week is a perfect case in point. Do a little reading of the comments on the news stories and editorial page items. You may find yourself saying "My Lord, those people are nutty!" The more things change, the more they stay the same.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Did you say "cut off like John Bobbitt?"

In Santa Barbara due to the mass firings of our lone daily newspaper, on-line blogs have taken on a life of their own. The SB News-Press won't report on their own mess, so we're forced to go elsewhere to get the information we need. The Santa Barbara Independent also has a comments area at the end of each story. Many times these are longer than the actual story. Many times the comments are from people from the battlefield who can add "anonymously" to the story. Other times they warn us of the aliens who have landed and who are living amongst us waiting to chop off our wee-wee's while we sleep and throw them into a nearby park.