Monday, August 01, 2005

Calling On In Transit*

A study of talk radio found that less than 10 percent of the audience for a given show participate by calling in. The study is several years old and I’d bet that the increased prevalence of cell phones has served to up that percentage as people can call during their daily commute (it’s rather unsettling to think that the car approaching in the opposite direction is being commandeered by someone working up a full head of steam while arguing the gay marriage issue.) Regardless, even a casual listener of local talk radio will come to recognize the cast of regulars who act as foil or fawn in support of the host.

Most of these callers’ names remain anonymous to the listener, their identities revealed through their voices, politics, pet peeves, and the relative merits of their comments. As big a role as a host plays in creating an interesting and insightful program, it’s these callers that can make or break a given segment.

For the most part, callers range from insightful to obvious, from eloquent to simply articulate. Then there are those that distinguish themselves by besmirching the airwaves with their very presence.

A problem with many of these frequent callers is that they seem to feel an obligation to weigh-in on every topic even if they have only the vaguest of notions of what’s being discussed. Some will call to merely second the host’s position while others will attempt to rebut it without bothering to formulate an argument. And of course there are the foot soldiers of the two political parties who will dutifully recite their side’s prefab talking points on whatever issue is being discussed.

While some callers are monogamous in their talk radio relationships, others play the field, ringing up hosts in a pathetic display of wantonness. It’s interesting to observe how hosts react to their overtures. Rusty, a regular down at WFMB, is tolerated by most of the station’s hosts, evokes what seems like concern from Sam Madonia, but is openly derided by Don Trello who attempts to drown out his remarks with selected musical cuts. At WMAY, Bill is generally treated graciously by Jim Leach, is a featured performer on Molson and Lee, but was loathed by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz who refused to take his calls.

Sometimes, the contention that arises from a thorn-in-the-side-of-the-host caller is quite entertaining.

In the past, when the “Shooting Sport’s” Tom Schaffer (sic?) would call into the Jim Leach Show, the sound of Leach’s teeth grinding would almost drown out whatever polemic Schaffer was expounding upon. I would imagine Leach sitting at the desk, his finger inching towards the disconnect button the second he recognized the caller’s voice, not unlike how Monty Burns would smile between clenched teeth while Homer yammered on, the whole time preparing to hit the secret button that would drop his doltish safety inspector through the trap door in front of his desk.

But the tension has seemed to lessen as of late and that’s why the time is right for the two to join forces on some type of news/opinion program. Schaffer could guest host one morning a week on WMAY, but I would prefer that they meet on cable access. Observing facial expressions will be a big part of the show’s appeal, and on TV the viewer will also be able to tell, should Leach demur on a point, if it was the result of Schaffer producing an irrefutable counter argument - or a handgun.

I first had theidea of creating a local Crossfire-type program when One-Eyed Jack was still debasing the airwaves. But this is better. Schaffer's libertarian leanings aren’t as diametrically opposed to Leach’s more liberal tendencies so the opportunity exists for some actual debate. I know people who think that Schaffer is nothing but a crackpot, but he does his homework on the issues and does a good job of getting his point across.

If all of the details can be ironed out, and I can’t imagine that they couldn’t be, the program should run on Saturday afternoons on Channel 4, right before the guy who sings a capella gospel songs from his wheelchair. Check your local listings.

*Thanks to Mike Stipe for the use of the title.


Jim said...

I'm game!

(Crap, I should never say that around Tom -- he might take it literally...)

upright said...

Please tell me you're joking?! To give Shafer any degree of credibility is pretty irresponsible, although WFMB has done so on a regular basis. (as has WMAY) The easy was out, one supposes. He's good for the entertainment value. At least OEJ had the testicular fortitude to protect the local airwaves from Shafer's b.s.

Anonymous said...

OEJ was just jealous that Shafer knew more about guns ... .