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Talk Radio and the Fairness Doctrine

April 2009

For some reason,  many talk radio hosts fear return of the Fairness Doctrine, which requires radio and TV broadcast stations to allow opposing or different points of view on the public airwaves. It wouldn’t force Rush Limbaugh to have a Leftist on half his show. Stations that air Limbaugh or other conservatives could include talk hosts of the Left on their station. Currently on WABC in New York, for example, Don Imus’s own show includes diverse points of view, as he frequently interviews conservatives Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham and Monica Crowley, as well as Lefties John Kerry and Doris Kearns Goodwin. And conservative Sean Hannity allows people of the Left plenty of time on his show. Imus is also on WTKK in Boston, as are conservatives Michael Graham and Jay Severin who surround Lefties Margery Eagan and Jim Braude. And Michele McPhee herself is a balanced “fiscal conservative, social Liberal.”

I’ve been listeneing to talk radio for 30 years, starting with WOR’s Arlene Francis and Bernard Meltzer, and continuing with WBZ’s Larry Glick. And then in Boston, WRKO’s Jerry Williams, whose show was constantly #1 in the ratings, was my favorite. His show was successful while the Fairness Doctrine was still in place, even though he was very one-sided to the left and always critical of then-President Ronald Reagan. And since most talk radio listeners and callers are generally conservative, he received mostly conservative callers. Jerry lost his temper much of the time because he was very passionate in his left-wing views, and, because he had such a great sense of humor mixed in, he had no problem with calling annoying callers “biddies” and “Nazis.” And when Jerry became more of a “populist” and turned against left-wing then-Governor Michael Dukakis and Massachusetts state government, his ratings continued to be #1, and he was the anchor for the all-#1 WRKO along with Janet Jeghelian and Ted O’Brien, and Gene Burns (now on KGO in San Francisco).

Talk radio is generally not as interesting now as it was in the 1980s, when hosts would include interviews with people outside of politics, such as show-biz celebrities and scientists. Now, while it’s a bit overkill with the politics,  it is still somewhat informative and entertaining. I see Michael Graham as a potential Jerry Williams-like talk host, because he’s similarly passionate in his views and articulate, and has a lot of talent. They both have a similar performance background, with Jerry having been an actor and a singer, and Michael Graham a stand-up comedian. Jim Braude has similar passion in his left-wing views as Jerry Williams, has a background as a lobbyist, and he also seems like someone who doesn’t take any crap from callers. And, if Jim could let his hair down a little, he also can get away with calling a caller a “biddy,” or a “Nazi.”

However, President Obama says he opposes the Fairness Doctrine and calls for “diversity in ownership” of broadcast stations. Does that mean forcing owners such as Entercom and Greater Media to sell a certain number of their stations even if they don’t want to? If so, that kind of policy goes with Obama’s other generally fascist economic proposals. Jerry Williams was very “anti-Establishment,” especially in his anti-Vietnam War, anti-Reagan and anti-Dukakis views. Now, the same anti-Big Government Establishment label can be given to Limbaugh, Graham, and Severin, whether it be Bush’s Big Government or Obama’s Big Government. If Obama wants to take over broadcast stations to use them as White House or Congressional mouthpieces, who will then be advocates for the average citizens? Certainly not government. The Establishment already has most newspapers in its back pocket (That’s why they’re going bankrupt.), much like the old Soviet Union’s Pravda.

I’m glad WBZ had the good sense to bring back Steve LeVeille. Now if we could only bring back Jerry Williams.

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