Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Putting Faces To Voices

Above (L-R): WOR's Mike Savage, WABC's Mark Levin, WWRL's Sam Greenfield & Sam Seder

what some of the more popular talk radio hosts here in NYC look like. What they smell like is their own business. But with around three weeks to go to the midterm election, before we either restore some democracy to this country and take back the republic or else sink further into a morass of corruption and one-party misrule, I need my political fix, so I turn to the AM dial, for better and usually worse.

With the reshuffling of Air America personnel, my whole radio schedule and listening pattern has been shot clear to hell. But maybe that's not entirely a bad thing, as it gives me an opportunity to spin up and down the dial in search of intelligent discourse. Or at the very least, it allows me to feel superior as I scream at my inanimate, non-responding radio, "Die already, you right wing asshole!" Of course, that particular nomenclature applies to the myriad of uptight, reactionary talking sphincters that populate AM talk radio, serving as an insipid echo chamber for conservatives who like nothing more than to see their viewpoints given the rubber stamp of self-congratulatory approval. It starts with with the fact-free blowhard Rush Limbaugh and that sanity-challenged, sociopathic polluter of the airwaves, Michael Savage, before proceeding apace with know-nothing Sean Hannity, born again Clinton-hater Laura Inghram and Mark "I'll Shout So I Sound Authoritative" Levin. And then there's free-thinking, political independent Bill O'Reilly, making it all up as he goes along, full of blarney and bluster but very little else of substance. WABC Radio stands firm as the biggest perpetrator, their lineup of priggish personalities spewing out a patented brand of anti-liberal, anti-progressive bias with a hateful tone that has done much to poison political discourse in this country. It will be their one lasting achievement.

Aside from Air America Radio, the radio frequency remains a vast wasteland for those of us still operating in a reality-based universe. You see, on WABC and like-minded stations, Iraq is a booming beacon of democracy, freedom is everywhere on the march, and the American economy is humming along like a finely tuned 8-cylinder sportscar -- for those of you not working two or three different jobs to support yourself. (Yeah, we do class warfare here on WardensWorld.) And of course, right wing radio is a place where it's oh so comforting to hear those time-tested bumper-sticker slogans: Fight Them Over There So We Won't Have To Fight Them Over Here, The Democrats Are Weak On Security, etc. It's a political worldview based on fear, on always feeling victimized and outraged by a world that is so damn confusing that it's of great consolation to wrap yourself around simplified cliches, when you're not wrapping yourself around the flag.

You have to look long and hard sometimes, but there are some bright voices in the radio wilderness. I stumbled upon The Lionel Show one night shortly after Mike Malloy was silenced by Air America. I was hooked from then on. An ardent atheist who calls himself a political centrist or libertarian, Lionel is rightfully (no pun intended) much harsher on conservatives and Republicans these days, especially the imbecilic shut-ins who call to defend the madness of George Bush. He's funny, articulate and combative, on WOR-710AM for only two hours nightly, 10 pm to midnight.

I can't say I consistently listen to Randi Rhodes anymore, but it's nice to know she's there. Rhodes makes a point to always back up her arguments and positions with facts (she has a great Website), which alone sets her apart from her bloviating competitors. A lot of people have trouble with her voice, a unique blend of harsh New-Yawkese and sex phone softness. She's on Air America (WWRL-1600) weekdays from 3-6 pm.

In the mornings I've been gravitating toward the Air America Morning Show, with hosts Sam Greenfield and Armstrong "Pay Per Viewpoint" Williams, now that I have boycotted the Imus in the Morning show. Greenfield is the smooth-talking liberal and New York native who kinda adopts a jazzy black patois, Williams the black conservative who daily mangles the English language while steadfastly praising President Bush.

The best thing about the Air America realignment is the demise of the dreaded Satellite Sisters, whose unlistenable chattiness was thankfully sent to the radio cornfield. Unfortunately, neither Mike Malloy or Marc Maron is a part of the new lineup. Maron's Morning Sedition show was the best and most original programming Air America ever offered, but that horse has long left the barn. Sam Seder now does mornings (9am-12pm), but I've usually left for work by that time. He really belongs on nights, in my opinion, because the roster of talent Air America puts on at night has yet to distinguish itself, although I have started listening to Rachel Maddow's show (6-8pm).

I just thought of Vin_Scelsa. Some of my best radio memories come from his Sunday morning show, Idiot's Delight, that used to be on WNEW-AM. He used the medium masterfully -- playing terrifically eclectic sets of music, reading from books he recommended, hosting musicians and writers. His freeform shows were always literate, intimate and passionate -- everything good radio used to aspire to before the age of number-crunching demographic pollsters and soulless, cardboard cut-out program directors. He had a recent illness but can still be heard live most Saturday nights on WFUV.

And there's still WBAI-FM-Pacifica, a progressive, non-commercial outpost for those who like their politics radical and with a dash of dogma. But when they're not fundraising, they're doing more original political programming than perhaps any other radio station in the country. Although I haven't listened consistently in a long while, I did hear the basso profundo rumblings of the legendary Bob_Fass one recent night, whose Radio Unnameable program for years provided an alternative voice for insomniacs from Midnight to 5AM. I especially liked how Fass would allow listeners to call in and talk to each other while he stayed in the background for long periods. You could almost see him smiling wryly to himself while the voices competed against each other to make their points, or just conversed amiably among themselves.

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