Grandiose gasbags, every one of them, full of sound and fury, the nation's radio talk hosts are increasingly signifying something. Yet as the economy
collapses, radio is one of the few free things everyone can access, and the ego-driven rants of airwave jockeys have never had a bigger audience.
You may find them alternatively riveting, disgusting, amusing or meaningless. But in all the chaos, more people than ever who are feeling understandably powerless, are yearning for those big voices on radio to inform their opinions - to even mobilize their actions.
Some pundits believe that Rush Limbaugh, the loudest radio voice of all, has become the putative head of the Republican Party, though party Chair Michael Steele has called him "entertainer." Limbaugh then challenged President Obama to a debate that would determine who indeed is the true
leader of the Western world.
Quickly following suit, the wannabe Limbaughs populating 90 percent of the nation's talk shows took up the rhetorical cudgel, though for most, without a scintilla of the master's talent.
One of the country's few syndicated lefty hosts, Mike Malloy (Green 960), wryly observed that Limbaugh's famous wish that the new president not succeed fit George W. Bush's definition of a domestic terrorist.
Seriously, though, who would take a talk show host's direction to do anything?
One need look no further than the hundreds of thousands of people who filled the streets of Los Angeles in March 2006. Eddie ("Tweety Bird") Sotelo, Ricardo ("The Baboon") Sanchez, and Renan ("The Boogeyman") Almendarez Coehlo put aside their radio rivalries to protest U.S. immigration policy.
It helped that their shows were among the top-rated morning programs in any language in the huge Los Angeles market. Politicians, union leaders, church ministers and community groups were shocked and thrilled by the power of radio to organize.
And who in the Bay Area can deny that former KSFO personality Melanie Morgan single-handedly began the Gray Davis recall that delivered us Arnold Schwarzenegger?
The message on the airwaves isn't always partisan. On KGO, radio and TV host Joanie Greggains effectively urges people to get healthier. Greggains also questioned the California Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's plan to aerially bombard the counties of San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, Napa and Sonoma with a certain brew called Checkmat LBAM-F.
Greggains not only got the best UC scientists to debunk the myth that the light brown apple moth was going to destroy the state's agriculture, she rallied busloads to protest in Sacramento. Since then, the aerial bombers have yet to fly again (they did spray in Monterey and Santa Cruz), and the dreaded moth has caused no calamity for California agriculture. Yet most of radio talk is negative, negative, negative. Ratings studies have shown that when Rush Limbaugh is happy, listenership dips. When he is angry, listenership is at its highest. Those findings, I'm afraid, won't go unnoticed.
Ed. Christine Craft is a liberal talk show host and attorney in Sacramento, Calif.