Archive for March, 2009

Shortwave Souvenir (part 1)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Admitting you listen to shortwave radio in modern-day America is rather unlikely to impress anyone. Most won’t know what you’re talking about. And those who do (and they won’t be youngsters) will probably assume you’re a nostalgic fart wasting time in some antique technology bubble (and perhaps you have too much time on your hands). Years ago, I mentioned some shortwave broadcast I’d heard to my neighbor George. I still remember how he scrunched up his forehead at the time. And in a voice an octave higher than usual he said: “Shortwave?”

I think it’s safe to say that George doesn’t really know much about shortwave broadcasting, but he knows enough to make some assumptions about his neighbor who still listens to it in the 21st Century. And while we get still get along fine, I think the "shortwave factor" might just have changed the way he looks me in the eye some days. And then just a week ago, I happened to hear from someone I’ve known since high school. In an email recounting my life of late, I happened to mention this blog. “I was wondering about the short-wave interest,” he wrote back. “What exactly is the appeal?”

Well, that’s a good question. And even after writing about shortwave radio for years, I don’t have a stock answer. It’s no secret that the accepted wisdom of most who remember shortwave radio’s heyday is that it’s a fossil technology. Whatever miracles it once offered, all the magic has been more than replaced by all the data pipelines that drown us in information and intellectual property. Not only all that, but the truth is quite a bit of the international radio programming that shortwave was known for, now can be heard in a more tidy and clean fashion though streaming audio on your computer.

But to simply write off the technology (and medium) as outdated and unpopular, is to miss what is fantastic and extraordinary about shortwave listening. For one, it’s as wireless as you can get. While some of us are having a hard time getting a good signal from the router to our home office upstairs, major shortwave radio transmitters blanket huge swaths of the planet (without cables or wires or touching base with something in orbit). And then there’s all those exotic and interesting and beautiful radios that were built to hear signals from around the world. These wonderful toys made it a real adventure to tune.

No doubt some shortwave DXers also enjoy the ease and convenience of clicking over to a satellite channel or the URL of an audio stream to get to some compelling content. But almost all of them will tell you that it is NOT as much fun as sitting down with a shortwave radio and finding what’s out there. There’s a sport to it.

Listening to shortwave radio in the developed world was already a waning pastime when the popularization of the internet made it seem even more irrelevant. At least this has become true where the web at home and work has become ubiquitous (in North America and most of the overdeveloped world. In some far-flung wilderness or out in the South Pacific, bringing a portable shortwave radio along would still be a smart good idea.) And what’s kinda funny is that during the last BIG boom and bust cycle eighty years ago, shortwave radio was an innovative disruptive technology, like the web and digital technology today, that shoved a few industries into the abyss, like the makers of mammoth "longwave" transmitters that had previously ruled the airwaves, and all the business surrounding all the huge cables strewn across the oceans to connect the world together. It was the first wireless era.

But for "shortwave enthusiasts" (you see those two words together a lot on the web when you read about people who refuse to give up on shortwave) here in America, the fix was in. By 2001, the mothership of English language programming on shortwave, the BBC World Service suddenly quit filling our sky with their HF band programming. You wanna hear the BBC? Look around on the internet, or try to find out which hours may (or may not) be simulcast on local public radio. Thanks.

And now we’re zooming toward 2010, and world broadcasters are still unplugging their English language services to America. The most recent loss was Radio Netherlands excellent English programming. Turning on a shortwave radio is a different experience these days. (And I won’t even mention all the RF pollution in our "always on" gadget-enabled homes.) Some nights the 25 and 49 meter bands are strangely quiet in sections, like decimated neighborhoods of New Orleans and Detroit. Instead of crack addicts filling the void, the frequencies still standing are now inhabited by spooky preachers and nasty crackpots (and occasional squatter pirates).

Okay, there is Spain, and Greece and Iran and Russia and Turkey and the Ukraine. And more when the propagation improves. And of course, there’s always Radio Habana Cuba (and everything else Cuba…). And round the clock happy talk from China. On a good day you might come across a ham operator talking about something besides their rig or the quality of someone’s carrier. If you’re lucky.

While the release of the Eton E1 blew some minds in the radio world just a few years ago, what’s one of the most complicated and fantastic portable shortwave ever made compared to an iPhone? And all these other globally networked gadgets people attach to themselves? When you get right down to it, it’s easy to see how that buzzy box full of demented preachers, lo-fi ethnic music and plenty of barely audible content (most not in English) might seem oddly primitive. Or even a bit precious– like you’re in some grandpa world– like the anachronistic hipsters I see in the neighborhood, decked out in suspenders and Brylcreem. ("Hey let’s see if we can find that Rocky Marciano fight on the radio!")

But instead of carrying on about paradigm shifts and Williamsburg fashion, let me tell you about my weekend in Pennsylvania with the family. Not relatives. Shortwave radio people.

After a few years of putting it off or forgetting about it, I finally managed to escape the big city and attend the “SWL Winterfest” in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania this year. Finally. It was the 22nd gathering of the faithful in this part of the world. And once I got there I began to wonder why I had stayed away so long. And if you’re wondering what such an off the wall gathering might be about, it was right there in the paperwork that was handed to me at the hotel. It said the mission of the Fest was “to provide a place to relax and just talk radio.” That’s it.

Sounded good to me. My kind of weekend.

In case the lingo’s new to you, SWL stands for “shortwave listening,” or “shortwave listeners.” And that’s become shorthand for the hobbyists and listeners, radio professionals, writers, and all the radio pirates and scanner people who make this annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia area for this conference. It’s an eclectic bunch to be sure. Yes, mostly guys. Not everyone wore glasses. And not everyone was balding or grey, or slightly padded around the middle. No, not everyone.

Actually, the youngest contingent there was the pirate radio folks. And they’re not kids any more either. There is no youth movement in this hobby. And the word “hobby” seems so quaint doesn’t it? If you’re life is navigated with a blackberry or an iPhone, isn’t that a hobby too? (Albeit, a much more intense and convenient one.) Or maybe you might call that a lifestyle.

Shortwave radio enthusiasts may be a little old-fashioned, but we’re not stupid. The reality that they keep getting together to celebrate (what many would consider) a doomed pastime doesn’t escape the attendees in Kulpsville. There’s a touch of gallows humor to the events, and every year everyone wants to know for sure if it’s going to happen next year. (And in case you’re curious. It certainly will, March 3-5, 2010.) However, nobody seems to make any long range plans for the Fest. At least, not that I heard about.

Not one to let a little futility get in the way of having a good time, I was happy to attend this yearly reunion of listeners and radio heads. And if you’ve gotten this far, I’d wager that you might like to have been there as well. (Or maybe you were there!) But either way, in this post and the next I’m going to share some audio and video highlights from my little vacation. And as you probably noticed, a few pictures too.

The first speaker on the first day seemed like a nice enough guy. Paul Ladd. Young professional. Dark hair. He’s the lead reporter (and a PR man) for a large religious radio operation broadcasting to the world from Alaska. And in their pursuit of world domination (which is, don’t forget, the whole purpose of Christianity), his company is in the process of setting up another huge transmitter on the opposite side of the world. In Madagascar. That’s what his presentation was about– the realities of making such a huge project happen. And from what I understand, this may be the last major shortwave construction project in the world.

On one level, it was quite inspiring– Highly motivated people, working hard to reach out to people in distant lands. And it was kind of fascinating seeing how they shipped every western amenity and tool they might need (including generators to power it all) over to the Indian Ocean, and over a hostile landscape. Just keeping adding fuel and parts and a little food and water (and most likely make regular payoffs to the proper authorities) and you’ve got yourself a high-power soap box at a prime spot in the Southern Hemisphere. Too bad they don’t have something less selfish in mind than turning more people into “us” (and probably away from native beliefs).

And that’s a funny thing. Despite the heavily evangelical nature of (domestic) American shortwave radio, there was very little representation of Christian broadcasting at the Fest. I did see a bumper sticker or two. Then again, I’m sure all the shortwave freaks and believers have their grand locations for their style of fellowship and enlightenment (like the annual meeting of the NASB). On the other end of the spectrum, the more entertaining event at the Fest was a presentation put on by a couple of English fellas who have a wonderful pirate radio operation on the AM band at the edge of London. And they’re not choir boys.

They went through quite a slide show taking the crowd through a brief pictorial history of pirate radio around the UK. However, when they started showing videos, showing off the “technical” (and occasionally hilarious) methods they’ve come up with to hide, protect and power their secret operation.

For many it was the high point of the fest. And I had actually posted a couple of videos of their presentation on You Tube, but after a request from the gentleman to take them down for “security” reasons, I complied. That said, I didn’t think there was anything particularly implicating in what I was going to show you here. Suffice to say that half the fun was Andy Walker’s contiguous mischievousness and his skills as a raconteur. But now you’ll just have to take my word for it. (However, I was kinda shocked when I heard an archive of a certain Canadian radio show that seemed to recount every secret the Brit’s revealed during their thrilling confessional. I guess if it’s not on You Tube, it’s not a security breach.

But what I can offer you hear is the sound of their station, WNKR. As an added bonus, a number of pirate radio operations set up shop at the fest every year. I think most of what I heard through the weekend was a mix of ‘”greatest hits” archives of pirate radio shows mixed with live programming. While it’s all very low power, it is like a big almost-secret cloud of radio that surrounds the fest itself. There’s nothing official about it. It is tolerated. I’m sure for a few it’s the only reason they come.

I recorded several of these temporary radio stations, filling up a few tapes over that weekend. And I’d have to say that, musically, this would have to be my favorite recording of the bunch. I guess I’m just partial to the sound of old 1960′s pop singles, especially some British rare gems. And it’s good radio.

WKNR (recorded in Kulpsville, PA) March 2009
(download)

While there were more thrills and surprises in the pirate radio presentations at the Fest, the yearly “Listening Lounge” put on by David Goren is where the faithful come to commune in sound– to enjoy and honor and fool around with the sound of shortwave radio itself. To listen.

David has a nice website– "Shortwaveology," and a wonderful podcast that resides there. And actually there’s only one. The second one has been almost done for quite a while now. And while a number of us with there were more podcasts from David (and more of his intriguing archival recordings there to hear), the first couple podcasts (I’m heard the demo…) are great– low-key atmospheric overviews of shortwave and DXing and a (grown) boy’s fascination with far away signals in the night. And there’s some great exotic radio clips there for you too. Check it out when you get a chance.

David played (the pre-release version) of his podcast, as well as some of the favorite moments he’s unearthed in his archives, sounds he’s rediscovered in some recent excavations through his boxes. (A few nugget’s from David’s aircheck archives now reside on the playlist of my streaming radio station– Radio Kitchen Radio.”) And this very topic came up in discussion during the Listening lounge.

Many DXers have kept recordings of their listening habits over the years that usually reside on cassettes and reels in closets and attic and storage bins. And many of us feel an urgency to start getting these recordings digitized, so they can find entry into the public square one way or another. (Kinda like what happens on this site.) As shortwave radio broadcasting has changed so radically over the last few years (and is in some sense in its death throes here in the developed world) we want to have more than just memories when it’s all gone (or when it has turned into something completely different).

Makes sense, right? (And if you have intriguing radio recordings you’d like to digitize some recordings and/or share them with others, drop me an email.)
                       
Goren’s Friday night Listening Lounge is always a grab bag of radio related entertainment and conversation, and usually includes a performance or two. Here’s a topical number. A DX Blues. It’s Skip Arey on guitar and vocals accompanied Saul Brody on harp and CQ. It’s the “Cycle 23 Blues.” (Or perhaps “Where have all the sunspots gone? Long time passing…”)

And that’s another thing. Adding insult to injury for the DXer– right now the solar weather is BORING. And that’s not good. No sunspots. The least amount of solar activity in a hundred years they say. And it’s all the stormy details of those dark spots on our closest star that energizes our atmosphere to carry and bounce all those short radio waves around the globe. They make DXing really happen.

All the solar action occurs in regular intervals. It’s an eleven and half year cycle, and right now we are officially at a “solar minimum.” However, we can be relatively sure that in a couple years things are going to get a little wilder up there on the sun. Maybe too wild! But DX conditions will inevitably improve. However, there are other ongoing “minimums” that offer less hope for shortwave radio. Like the dearth of meaningful shortwave broadcasting in English from Europe, and the damn economy (which was still in a downward spiral last I checked.) Of course, this means that the recent spate of new shortwave radio gadgets (and associated improved technology) is over. And it’s even less likely that anyone (other than christians or crackpots) is likely to invest much cash into new shortwave transmissions to the world in the near future.

One of the idiosyncracies of international shortwave (that prevails to this day) is the interval signal. These are snippets of music or sounds or voices that are little audio logos for the station or shortwave service that play before (and in between) programs, usually right before the top (or bottom) of the hour. Like familiar lighthouses along the shore, these recognizable audio bits help the DXer navigate their receivers to the particular station or program they may be looking for. And it gives the listener a chance to adjust or move or tweak their receiver for the best reception of the coming program. Avid DXers memorize many dozens of these, or more, as sign posts for the distant signals they come across.

And they some interval signals come and go, they become part of the lore and culture of shortwave listening. And so for the Lounge this year, David had VOA’s Dan Robinson run the annual informal quiz of exotic interval signals, many a bit buried in the noise and artifacts of the aroused atmosphere that brought them here.        

While shortwave radio fans may enjoy this video for the challenge of the quiz itself, like most of you I had no idea what I was hearing or where it might have come from. While I’ve sampled shortwave radio off and on since the 1970′s, it’s really only been the in the last few years that I’ve been anything more than a casual listener. And well over ninety percent of the people at the Winterfest are far more knowledgeable about the history of shortwave than I am.

But even if you’re more clueless than I was, you may enjoy this video just to witness the aural realities of DXing. You might find it slightly amazing that such a mess of noise would inspire anyone to think of far away lands and how cool the technology was that made it possible to hear such racket broadcast wirelessly from such an incredible distance. And on top of that, these raspy old blurts of sound invoke more than a little nostalgia for the acclimated ears in attendance.

And it’s the same kind of noise that makes more than a few radio wives wonder how their husbands can spend so much time in THAT damn room with all those squawky radios. Of course, nowadays we have the internet. Not much static there (but there were no naughty pictures on shortwave either).

Toward the end I briefly came up to talk about this blog, and specifically about the late John Parker, and the Roadgang program that was on WWL in New Orleans for many years. There’s a couple posts here about Parker already, and probably more to come in the future. David and I were both big fans of the man, and from the number or hits and comments I’ve gotten here when I’ve posted some clips, there’s lots of folks out there who miss ol’ John on the radio.

Not surprisingly, it’s not unusual to see people carrying around shortwave radios at the Fest. It’s almost normal. And while I was at the Listening Lounge I saw Dan Robinson showing off (and kinda fondling) a portable radio a few rows behind me. And as I squinted at it, I was trying to figure out what it could be. Then I thought might know. And I had to go back and see if I was right.

It was indeed one of the holy grails of portable shortwave collectors– a Barlow Wadley. Like a few radios I saw at the Winterfest, before I’d only seen pictures of this South African receiver. They show up on ebay every once it a while. And they’re never cheap.

A 1970′s product from the former apartheid state, the Barlow Wadley is a quirky imperfect radio, but has been a highly prized portable for the shortwave DX crowd. Although Robinson has quite a collection of SW sets back home, you could tell that the recent addition of the Barlow really meant a lot to him. (If you’re interested, you can read plenty about this cool radio here.)

And lucky for me, Dan was nice enough to park his latest acquisition in the exposition area the next day for folks like me to come by and pay their respects. And I was able to sit down and get familiar his Barlow Wadley. It was really something.

I’ve tried to play with shortwave sets while deep inside buildings before (with all those florescent lights and multiple walls between the antenna and the great outdoors), and you never hear much. At least not until you get near a window. But this radio, with just the standard whip antenna was completely alive on 19 meters when I went through the dial. And while I didn’t look for any identifiers and didn’t keep a log, you can hear how rich the band was with signals (clearly audible over the crowd noise behind me). They say this radio is very sensitive and selective. I believe it. Simple and attractive too.

That’s it for now. I actually have more to share with you from my time the radio tribes, including a few more videos and airchecks. But this one has gone on long enough. I will follow up with a part two soon. But I do have to write it first…

Let me leave you with one other sample of pirate radio I recorded Thursday night in Kulpsville. They call the station WBZO. I suppose it might be the sound of a glowing laptop in the corner of a hotel room. Or maybe it was the magic of radio. Either way, lots of old punk rock and the like. Which is okay by me. And the period music also roughly fits the demographic of the pirate people I’d seen lurking at the Fest.

WBZO (recorded in Kulpsville, PA) March 2009  61:13
(download)

I really do like a lot of the music in this aircheck. Reminds me of the kind of radio I was listening to back around 1980. And then in the middle of all the rock and roll you get a little dose of adolescent dick humor out of the blue. More about that in the next installment. I’ll catch up with you there.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Leave ‘em below. Thanks.

(If you missed it and you don’t see it above, part two of this post can be found here.)

Remember The Fifth of November?

Monday, March 9th, 2009

It was kind of hard to be in a bad mood that Wednesday morning. At least for many of us. Barack Obama had won the big election. Fair and square. It almost felt like optimism. Then I wondered about all those right wing propagandists who have taken over the AM dial across America… What the hell would they have to say on a day like the fifth of November?

This led to an online scavenger hunt for conservative talk radio from that fateful day. And I found plenty. It was like putting buckets out in a heavy thunderstorm. When it was all over I had captured close to a hundred hours of right wing radio broadcasting from November 5, 2008 (as MP3 files). I’ve gone on archiving binges like this before. And typically what I do is sample some of what I collected (just to get a flavor of the stuff) and then store it away in a digital attic for historical purposes. And you never know. Archival collections like this can come in handy for some future project.

Then I got to thinking… Hey I have a radio blog. And gosh, the future is now!. And wouldn’t it be so much fun to post a bunch of clips of all these deflated propagandists having a bad day. Just to make it simple, I came up with a plan. I’d post the opening monologue of each show. Nothing more. What would come out of their mouths on day one of this new reality? Of course, this meant that I would have to listen to each one and write a litter teaser/synopsis to lure you into listening. Right? I mean I guess that’s what I do here. It didn’t seem like an insurmountable task.

Anyway, the only problem was that I had to really listen. I wasn’t going to put up vile propaganda without providing some context. Then again, perhaps I hadn’t thought the process through very carefully. And in a sense, I was defeated by the very material I had assumed I would enjoy (in a schadenfreude fashion).

Okay, I wasn’t defeated (It didn’t turn me into a Republican or anything). But ingesting hours of right wing radio propaganda is probably not a very good idea (unless your a dittohead or a masochist). In fact, there was something rather toxic in the strange amalgam of boredom, nausea and repulsion that swept over me in all that listening. I began to feel like I was trapped in a Room 101 of my own creation.

As it happened, the great media buffoon, Glenn Beck, just brought this whole blogging experience to a halt for me. It was just the final straw after listening to awful radio for days. I became increasingly averse to putting myself through one more minute of Beck’s thoughts. After all, I did have other things to do. And for a while I did them, intending to eventually finish this post… soon.

Of course, this is why Media Matters for America was founded. For a long time, the smears, lies and distortions aired on right-wing talk radio were barely noted and rarely challenged– because unless you subscribe to the consensus reality of the media right (Fox News, Murdoch papers, talk radio, etc.), you will find getting immersed in it for any length of time to be an unnerving and uncomfortable experience. Now we have intelligent and thoughtful people to monitor these broadcasts for outrageous and false content. But just like the people who take care of your trash at the curb (or what you flush down the toilet), they need to be paid. It’s thankless work.

The truth is I spent way too much time attempting to get a grip on the slippery Mr. Beck. I’d listen to the same few minutes repeatedly trying to ascertain his point, or viewpoint, or something. But each time my brain would naturally tune out. I’m human. I have limits. In retrospect, it felt rather like getting trapped on a barstool next to a loud mouth drunk. Which kinda makes sense. Not only is Glenn Beck a recovering alcoholic, but a key element of his persona is flaunting that fact.

Just recently I came across a news story where Beck admitted that during his last spree of championship drinking (the late 1990′s) he had become quite an asshole. Now if you ask me, I doubt Glenn Beck has changed all that much. Except he’s apparently quit drinking. Which I guess is a good thing, but it all kind of reminds me of a certain president we used to know.

Glenn Beck Intro Monologue – 11-05-08 8:36

(download)

Then it all started to make sense. For me, lending an ear to a meandering egoist like Glenn Beck is a constant struggle against a visceral urge, not just to ignore him, but to physically move away from the radio (or just shut off it off). Then again, I guess some people are really inspired by Glenn Beck. His radio show has proven to be quite popular. And he’s traded in his gig as a right-wing CNN gadfly for a shiny sideshow booth over at Fox News. (Check out Steven Colbert’s humorous parody of Beck’s new show here.) Although I must admit that I am heartened to hear that Glenn. Beck (and other conservative media types) aren’t giving up on Sarah Palin anytime soon. (There’s a balloon to pin your hopes on.)

And how grandiose Beck sounds, making the Obama election a national "self-help" event and invoking the founding fathers. Beck is the master of cocky half-wit profundity. And all discussions on Becks’ show seem to lead back to his throbbing self-importance and sense of drama.

If you’re not familiar with Glenn Beck’s radio antics or the huge rightist talk radio industry in general, I can’t blame you. If I hadn’t developed a taste for talk radio a long time ago, I would never wallow into that mess either. But if you’re wondering what it’s all about, the machinations of right-wing talk radio are pretty simple. It’s a massive and effective propaganda machine that masquerades as informative entertainment. It’s become a massive media movement employed by the moneyed interests of the US and their corporate associates to convince people of lesser means to happily support laws and lawmakers who favor the privileged and the upper class (and to habitually vote against their own economic interests). While Rush Limbaugh kind of invented this method of political warfare on a national scale, in the last twenty years it’s proven to be a very effective method for electing Republicans for local and national office. Of course, over this last election cycle rightist talk radio just didn’t provide the kind of political support it generated in previous years. Which in a sense, led me to put together this post.

While there’s always been political opinion in talk radio, since the Fairness Doctrine was scrapped at the end of the Reagan Administration, there’s been something else– Political radio warfare. It has gotten so bad after Bush took over, that there was a grassroots movement to develop a left-wing talk industry to counter the many-headed media monster the right had developed (which I talked about here).

And since there’s so many varieties of independent and moderate Americans, there’s all sorts of right-wing talk hosts (each with their own approach and style) working day and night to make them angry and blind– to inspire people who should know better to hate Democrats and fight the "evils" of liberal policy and progressive politicians. After some consideration, I’ve decided against offering all of the thirty-five propagandists I’ve archived. Instead, what you’ll find here is a reasonable and representative sampler of conservative bile and blather collected during the first full day of "President-Elect Obama."

And one thing to keep in mind that the far-right propaganda performers hate political moderates. That’s why they didn’t really have their heart in supporting McCain. While they loved Sarah, they suspected old John might not be the far-right ideologue he portrayed himself to be during the campaign. And remember Bill Clinton? Very moderate. Almost a Republican. The talk radio mob really hated him. Pounded on him daily. They still do.

So, let’s take the temperature of the golden goose of the 1994 Republican revolution at the dawn of a new era, and see if he’s cooked yet.

Rush Limbaugh Opening Monologue – 11-05-08

(download)

The top dog of right wing talk, Rush Limbaugh set the tone for the genre over twenty years ago. And although there’s all sorts of shapes and sizes of rightist talk these days, the basic mold created by Limbaugh has proven effective– putting forward a host who is provocative, haughty and unwavering– in your face. Provide an over-confident rightist asshole with a microphone, and don’t apologize for the indignities that arise from the all the entertainment that ensues.

With so much joy and relief sweeping around the world after Obama’s win, it was only natural that the news industry would start seeking out the disgruntled right-wing pundits who didn’t get their way. Just to keep everything fair and balanced. And you would think that with McCain getting thrashed in the polls for weeks that Limbaugh would be better prepared for what was bound to be the most scrutinized intro monologue since his drug addictions became public knowledge.

It would appear that Limbaugh didn’t put much thought into this big moment. The material he brings to the table is scattershot at best. He starts out congratulating Obama for defeating Hillary Clinton (which of course happened months ago), and then he gets lost in an extended train wreck of football metaphors. (With only a high school education, football is where Limbaugh usually goes for analogies and comparisons in most of his oratory).

Toward the end of this clip you ll hear Limbaugh somehow re-imagine that the crowd at Grant Park on election night started to turn on Obama when he mentioned they might have to sacrifice and work harder to bring a better world. Notice the cute way Limbaugh embodies "black thought" by ending each exclamation with the familiar black to black slang noun "bro."  (as in "That wasn’t the deal here bro!" ) This is a constant Limbaugh theme, to create fictitious scenarios where where blacks openly lack the ambition and initiative of white folks.

Considering the bad news, Rush comes off as rather carefree and chipper on November 5th. As a somewhat moderate Republican, John McCain has been a topic of derision on Limbaugh’s program for years, and his approach here is that there wasn’t a real conservative in the race anyway, so no big deal. "This wasn’t any big landslide," Limbaugh mocks the portly Limbaugh.  “And how many of those votes were stolen?”

Yeah, right. No hard feelings I guess, eh? It sounds to me that Limbaugh is the one who’s going to have to work harder to make things happen over the next four years. It’s bad enough when your job is to publically denigrate and mock an inspirational figure who has so many important qualitites you lack (like class, intelligence and grace), but it’s gotta be even worse when the inspirational figure is black and you obviously have a big problem with that fact. Barack Obama makes life a little harder for Rush Limbaugh. He forces him to edit himself.

When the big man gets to talking, now and then something rather racist falls out of his mouth. Whether he’s telling black callers to take the bone out of their nose or contending that all newspaper composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson.  Another dumbass comment he made about a black quarterback cost Limbaugh his coveted gig on ESPN a few years ago.

Angry and white radio rightists like Limbaugh and Michael the Savage Weiner energize racist factions within their core audience by saying racially insensitive stuff that doesn’t quite go over the line. And it seems that Obama and his media operation is more than aware of Limbaugh’s vulnerabilities, and the way he magically repels moderates, women, Latinos and younger people away from the Republican party. Maybe you noticed how the administration has been teasing and taunting the opiated blowhard into more public foolishness than usual. And Limbaugh’s swollen ego makes it impossible for him to avoid taking the bait.

While getting pushed into the top arc of the news cycle has to be driving up his listenership in the short term, it also makes Limbaugh much more vulnerable. When he says something fatally stupid, or some new Limbaugh scandal breaks, it’s going to happen right square in the public spotlight. Of course, when Humpty Rush takes his fall there is a prince in waiting…

Sean Hannity Intro Monologue – 11-05-08

(download)

Like Rush, Sean is rather sloppy out of the gate on day one of the new era. And I just have to wonder if all these righty talkers just never considered the most likely scenario would really come true. And then a shocker– Hannity theorizes that "the left" has been fighting dirty, spending years orchestrating a failure of President Bush just for their own political benefit! (I tend to think that the thousands of lives that might have been saved was a little more of an incentive, but okay) I guess that means that all of Bush’s failures have been caused by those evil genius liberals. Who knew?

Compared to the portentous Mr. Limbaugh, Hannity is able to at least feign some measure of momentary grace in defeat. Only to note that the Obama win wasn’t quite the election landslides of Hannity’s heroes– Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. You see, Hannity walked a fine line that Wednesday, trying not to sound too much like a bitter partisan hack while never missing a chance to demean or denounce Obama. Yet, although Hannity is pretty repulsive, there are more vile and ridiculous voices on the radio.

Michael Savage Intro Monologue – 11-05-08

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It would be easy to write off Michael Savage as a hateful xenophobic little prick, but he’s really so much more. If you listen carefully, what you’ll hear is a really boring self-absorbed old fart, who seems to drop in something outrageous, vicious or crazy every once in a while– just to make sure you’re still paying attention. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve heard a man on the radio who seems to need so much attention (Remember, Randi Rhodes is actually a woman…).

Not surprisingly, Savage has no allegiance toward McCain or the Republicans. Actually, there’s not quite enough hatred toward gays and brown people in either major political party for Michael Savage. He says in this clip that he spits in McCain’s face. Nice. However, most of what you’ll actually hear is a just pathetic homely man who needs listeners so bad. It’s odd. A couple of people I actually respect actually find Savage’s act entertaining (or at least compelling). It just reminds me of early onset dementia.

Speaking of dementia…

Bill O’Reilly Intro Monologue – 11-05-08

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Okay, O’Reilly isn’t really so much demented as depraved. But that’s beside the point. Mr. O’Reilly imagines himself a bigger and better version of the average American, and a righteous media advocate for religious and fact-deprived Americans. And when he tries to explain complex and profound issues and current events on the radio or TV there’s something poetic in his inarticulate and ignorant analysis and insight that might either help you understand why the U.S. has been the laughing stock of the world or make you feel even more enlightened by your own lack of knowledge and curiosity.

With a relatively successful TV show underway, I ve always wondered why O’Reilly wanted a daily radio show too. Perhaps just because Sean had one. And any hotshot talk host has a staff at hand, some hosts are more involved in the process in their own preparation than others. But here, O’Reilly sounds like he might have rolled into the studio fifteen minutes before air time with a hot coffee and a roll of Tums.

In fact, not long after the election O’Reilly announced that he was getting out of radio. Perhaps the looming election kept old Bill at the microphone another year or so, but not long after this broadcast he called it quits. Supposedly this will give Bill more time to make his TV show even better. How exciting.

Okay, I’ve had enough of the highly paid hacks and hucksters. Bring on the freak show! Ladies and gentlemen, the mostly highly decorative officer in Phoenix, Arizona history. (Or maybe she said “decorated”…)

Jack McLamb Intro Monologue – 11-05-08 8:36

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For me, full-bore kookiness is a lot more fun than hardcore RNC talk radio. Officer Jack has retired from the force, and today he conducts his conspiratorial talk radio program from America’s survivalist playground, the high Rocky Mountains of Idaho, USA. Like many fringe and freaky rightist radio shows, McLamb’s daily program is carried by the Genesis Communications Network. Many of their shows can be found on a few little AM stations scattered across the countryside (mostly in the south and out west). But the main outlet for McLamb’s (and most GCN content) is WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio), the shortwave multi-frequency international powerhouse in Tennessee (and on the web).

A retired cop (who can’t seem to give up the uniform), McLamb also founded an organization called "Police Against the New World Order," which should give you an idea where he’s coming from. And Jack doesn’t like Obama much. But the far right wackies never liked Bush much either. I don’t think the conspiracy fetishists ever like any elected president, or any leader for that matter. Government is always the enemy, run by monsters in cahoots with the infamous elites and the secret societies. “Well, you see who the international criminal elite chose to be our President,” McLamb tells us. “We now have an Obama-nation as President of the United States.”

McLamb is concerned that this election may bring on the great American “race war” that so many survivalist/patriot extremists have been predicting for so long. And how might that happen?. According to McLamb, the satanic international criminal elites don’t like brown people, and they might have Obama killed, and then blame all the white supremacists. Thus starting a “race war.” All of which might make you wonder if McLamb might be a bit of a bigot himself.

And maybe his is, but doesn’t want you to think so. In fact, this monologue kicks off with one of the more extravagant “some of my best friends are black” expositions I’ve heard in quite a long time. To hear McLamb tell it, he has a real passion for people “of color.” The problem with Obama however, is that he’s a communist. And MAYBE a Muslim. And McLamb hates Communists (He might not like Muslims much either.) And on the day after the election there’s just something very creepy about getting on the radio and talking about Obama getting shot in the head.

And then the more you hear McLamb ramble, the more you begin to see how the conspiracy paranoia and religious mental illness all dovetails into a colorful worldview that’s very popular on U.S. shortwave radio (and in the dark corners and back roads of the internet). It’s a general fear of the “new world order,” which often translates to worries about elites in general, the pro-Satan forces, and space aliens. And then there’s the concerns about immigrants (at least they exist). As you might imagine, there’s more than a little bit of racial hatred at the heart of all this conspiracy thought as well, but the true nature of the bigotry is often masked or coded into the public presentations of all the kooks and preachers spreading their messages of fear and intolerance. Actually, if you take away the religious apocalypticism and the science fiction, and it’s really not that all that different than the worldview of Limbaugh or Michael Savage.

In closing, Jack brings up what has become the lynchpin topic for most of the Obama hating paranoids on the air and on the web. Out of all the rumors and smears spread during the campaign, the meme that Obama is not a natural born citizen is the one that continues to fire up the hoards of fringe fraidy-cats out there. Despite substantial proof debunking the rumor, the idea that Obama is some foreign agent (or just not quite American enough) is very appealing to people who already feel ill at ease about Obama’s skin color, or that he has Muslim relatives.

Perhaps we can take McLamb at his word and assume he really does “love people of color.” I guess that would make Obama one of McLamb’s “black brothers and sisters.” It’s the people who employ Obama (and Bush as well) who concern him– the international criminal elite. And of course, you know what Jesus called them: “The Anti-Christ Communist Synagogue of Satan.” (Hmmm.)

So, let me wind up with post with another talk host on the outskirts of radio. This one’s kooky, but not quite a kook. And while I don’t think he’s a racist, I’ll bet I wouldn’t be the first to say he’s  either. And back in the 1980′s, he seemed to be on the verge of hitting the big time.

David Paul Intro Monologue – 11-05-08 8:36

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It’s David Paul, a guy who used to have one of the sleaziest overnight talk shows in radio history on WSB in Atlanta (which could be heard probably a couple dozen states on their 50,000 watt signal) during the 1980′s and 90′s. It was called “Off The Wall with David Paul,” and that’s just what it was. It was stupid and entertaining and often irritating, and it was hard not to listen when you came across Paul’s oily voice and goofy persona in the middle of the night. His show was his own blend of soft-core shock jock fare, with lots of slutty girls calling in keeping David interested in the proceedings and keeping a lot of dirty old men up all night long.

I’ve intended to write about David Paul in more detail for a little while now, so I won’t say so much here. But the short story is after his gig at WSB ended he ended up in Florida (WIOD) I think, and maybe another station or two. And then he disappeared. Occasional internet searches to check if Paul had popped back up somewhere never panned out. Until a year or two ago, when I found out he’s doing a morning drive show at a teeny tiny little radio station down in Georgia.

I’m not totally convinced that David Paul is a right-winger. Although he may be. It’s just that Cartersville, Georgia is such a Republican zone in an already Republican state that it’s probably a good idea for his radio persona to be Republican, whether he is or not. After all, he did need a job. Who doesn’t these days?

As Paul comes on the air he has good news for his listeners. Except for Obama, just about every local and state candidate down there went for the GOP. Although Chambliss would have to call in Sarah Palin some other big Republican stars to help him finally re-secure his Senate seat in a run off election.

Did you know the Democrats want to control everything you see, hear and read? Right. For chrissake, only a hard core Republican (or a dumb ass) would believe that. I know this has been a big talking point bandied about by a lot of right-wing nutballs and crazy Christians out there, the idea that the power hungry Democrats are going to legislate the end of the dominion of right-wing talk radio. It’ll never happen. But I suppose it could be interesting if somehow the voters could became more educated on the corruption and collusion between the far-right in this country and a number of corporations that has led to the vast majority of American talk radio hosts doing shows that are both political and very right wing. It didn’t used to be that way. And America has always been home to a whole range of political beliefs, and has never been a rightist (or leftist) nation.

According to David Paul, without having a radio dial full of right-wing voices people (let’s assume he means Georgians) wouldn’t know what to think and how to vote. And he gives an impassioned reason why his listeners should fear the Democrats: “People can be led.” Exactly. People can be led. “You have a choice!,” Paul says, raising his voice. And his listeners do have a choice, probably between two or three right wing talk show hosts at a time. While progressive talk radio has a foothold in the business these days, there’s plenty of towns and counties where it’s almost impossible to find anything resembling progressive talk radio or any talk radio that isn’t obnoxiously espousing hard right Republican talking points. While Paul is kind of a hoot some days, when it comes to politics he really is a maroon.

Since Obama’s election I’ve heard many in rightist media scream like monkeys about how the Democrats are going to bring “fairness” back to talk radio (and shut down the far right wing dominance of talk radio). While I don’t believe anything quite like the “fairness doctrine” of old will return, I do believe that all the conservative talk radio hosts on the air don’t want their monopoly of talk radio to become a topic of discussion in the media, and especially in the halls of congress. It just wouldn’t be fair.

I have a hunch that right wing talk radio may take a big hit in this new post-bust era, as more and more Americans find they’ve lost their savings and/or their job (and their health insurance), the rightist media figures who have championed illegal and very expensive wars and all of the toxic corporate and financial deregulation that took our economy into this ditch. And all the while smearing unions, environmentalists, anti-war activists, and promulgating specious arguments against the minimum wage, universal health care or anything else that might benefit the middle-class, the working poor or the unemployed. And just like folks who turned over their millions to Bernie Madoff, millions of listeners turned over their common sense, compassion and cultural outlook to contrarian ideologues like Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and Beck. And one day they’ll realize they have nothing to show for it, besides a seasoned ignorance on how government policies and economic principles play out in the real world. And a lifetime supply of mega-dittos.

In four-hundred ways, we’re in uncharted territory these days. Especially when it comes to media, information and politics. And the political talk radio industry that rapidly grew during the Clinton administration, and became more diverse during the eight years of Bush and Cheney, now finds us in an era that still doesn’t have a name– where the rules keep changing and nobody knows where we’re heading. And when Obama quoted from the King James Version at his inauguration, saying– “The time has come to set aside foolish things,’ I think he was really onto something.

And so let me put aside these foolish voices, and move on. Occasional casual monitoring of conservative talk radio just to get a flavor of the RNC media machine is one thing, but sitting down and getting personally acquainted with dozens of hours of this garbage is something else all together. I’m not saying I was damaged, exactly. But from the beginning, this blog has been a labor of love. Although I occasionally do find right wing talk fascinating, I find nothing to love while I’m immersed in the dogmatic swill of it all.

There are changes afoot in the talk radio scene. To what end? I don’t know. But you wanna hear something really weird. I think it’s weird. It’s Rush Limbaugh– all spastic and sullen and bitter. It’s quite a change from the cocky pill-head strut of Clinton impressions and chuckle-packed regular features demeaning activists and thinkers and the poor. Listen to his petulant whine as he complains that those awful Democrats are “mean-spirited…heartless….horrible winners.” Is he serious? When I first heard this clip I really thought he was going to fucking cry (as some Republicans do, at the strangest times). But he never really does.

Actually, instead of the audio, here’s the video! I’m sorry. I know it’s not easy to watch. And the man does not look healthy or happy. And one wonders what might be taking the place of his beloved painkillers. I imagine it’s hard to be Rush Limbaugh… without a little numbing now and then. And if you’re wondering why you should waste bandwidth on a chubby Republican emoting, let me tell you that the arm flapping is worth the ticket to the show.

Is that just sad, or what? And while I think right wing talk radio may be in for a world of hurt, the progressive talk radio format that organically rose to challenge the chorus of scary repug voices on the AM dial has always been a problematic commercial undertaking. It doesn’t help that many of the hosts espouse political positions quite different from the official positions of corporate interests who sponsor, syndicate and promote radio shows and radio stations. And the simplistic solutions and god and country mumbo-jumbo of the rightist talkers has a broad easy appeal that trumps any real discussion of the issues or accidently bumping into the true complexity of human affairs. Then again, maybe the Democrats are just lousy businessmen, and hard-selling a harsh reactionary political agenda on behalf of big money just makes people feel good. I sure don’t have all the answers.

While I’m not going to drag this post on any further, I should mention that there has been a lot of news in the progressive talk radio business. Let’s see if can get all I’ve heard and read lately into a few quick coda paragraphs here…

Amid lots of drama and a little mystery, liberal talk syndicator “Nova M” is gone. Their home station in Phoenix has switched back to Spanish programming. And of their two big stars, Mike Malloy is scrambling to syndicate himself without missing a week, and Randi Rhodes will probably show up back on WNJO sometime soon. And I’m sure she’s land some type of syndication deal somehow. While Malloy was live on the web last Friday night, I have no idea if he’s going to be on the air this week. And as of this writing Rhodes is still sulking in her Florida bungalow, or condo, or whatever she calls home down there.

And Air America? You gotta wonder. They finally lost their biggest star, Rachel Maddow. All that’s left is a vestigial morning hour where they broadcast the audio from her previous night’s TV show on MSNBC. And Thom Hartmann (who just cracked the top ten of Talker’s Magazine’s “Heavy Hundred” talk show hosts) has abandoned Air America as well. One time CEO Mark Green is pulling out as well, to get back into NYC politics. And in the vacuum created by Rachel pulling out of AAR’s evening lineup has come Ron Reagan, son of the oft-heralded Republican hero. And I must admit, he’s not bad.

Perhaps the most interesting thing going on over at Air America is what former hosts Sam Seder and Marc Maron are up to. They’ve created a daily web-only videocast (which is also a free audio podcast) where they can freely be ridiculous and creative and even utter dirty words now and then. It’s called “Break Room Live,” and it takes place at 3pm every weekday in a real break room at the Air America headquarters. While it’s rather unprofessional, it is produced. Actually, it’s a Brendan McDonald production, and fans of McDonald and Maron’s efforts on Morning Sedition will probably enjoy this somewhat primitive progressive news sitcom. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I Iike this show. And occasionally it is hilarious. 

I don’t know how long Air America is going to spend money on this offbeat experiment, but there’s worse ways to waste an hour or two sitting at your computer. Like listening to Michael Savage or Glenn Beck or Dennis Miller (oooh, that’s really bad). But I am starting to think that Rush Limbaugh may just go down in a ball of flames. And it might happen sooner than you think. Until something wonderful like that happens, I think I’ll take a vacation from conservative talk radio for a while.

Let me get back to something more whimsical and heartwarming? Like shortwave radio perhaps. And maybe I’ll see you at the SWL fest!