Dan Shelley reveals “secrets” of talk radio

Back in my radio days I co-hosted a daily, hour long talk show. It was mostly the kind of silliness you find on morning shows but we (Tom Colvin did the show with me) had a good time. And we were never angry.

Most of the talk show stars with which I’m familiar are a) pissed off and b) really, really conservative. Before I stopped listening (many years ago), I often wondered why they were so angry.

My old pal Dan Shelley offers something of a behind-the-scenes look at talk radio as practiced at WTMJ in Milwaukee, where he was news director and program director before taking a job in New York.

“To begin with, talk show hosts such as Charlie Sykes – one of the best in the business – are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.”

“To succeed, a talk show host must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims, and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners.

“This enemy can be a politician – either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a “RINO” (a “Republican In Name Only,” who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the “mainstream media” – local or national, print or broadcast.”

“Forget any notion, however, that radio talk shows are supposed to be fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions. The Fairness Doctrine, which required this, was repealed 20 years ago. So talk shows can be, and are, all about the host’s opinions, analyses and general worldview. Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.”

While reading Dan’s article I found myself thinking of talk radio hosts as “professional” wrestlers who get really mad once in the ring. They forget it’s not real and they are entertainers, not athletes or warriors. Of course that wouldn’t work in the WWF. Somebody would get hurt.

If anyone knows of a soft-spoken, optimistic, not-mad-at-anybody, conservative talk show host, gimme a shout. I’d love to hear what that sounds like. And if there are any WTMJ listeners out there, I’d love to know Charlie Sykes’ on-air response –if any– to Dan’s article.

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