New York, New York, New Year (2010)

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I know. I KNOW. And I’m sorry.

It’s been a number of weeks since I’ve posted anything here. Perhaps the longest time I’ve been away since I started this blog. The truth is I’ve taken on a project or two that’s been taking up more of my free time over the couple months and I haven’t been able to dedicate myself to the Radio Kitchen as much as I would like. And I really am sorry.

I’m not giving up this blog. At least not yet. But I’m not a good blogger in the traditional sense. I’m not so good at firing off quick and succinct entries, and my posts generally take some time. And there’s usually audio involved and research and rumination and it’s rarely a quick process for me. However, if there was actually some money in it, you can be sure I’d be packin’ this thing with content almost every week.

But I was inspired the other night. New Year’s Eve. And I didn’t have a gig. I didn’t have a party to go to either, and the girls here at the house were fast asleep. So instead of ducking into some local dive bar for some holiday misbehavior, I stayed home– like Jack Horner. In the corner. Just me and my radio. (And a recorder.)

And the result is this bandscan– an hour and twenty-minute crawl up the AM band recorded in my Brooklyn apartment as the year 2010 was sweeping over America. Right before midnight, I turned on my G5 and started crawling down from the top of the AM dial. A powerful Radio Disney outlet at 1560kHz is very close to my house, and that nearby fifty-thousand watt signal wrecks havoc at this end of the dial. So I opted to start this bandscan where their signal pollution yields to clarity– with a holiday greeting from the lovely and talented Alan Colmes on progressive talker WWRL.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 1
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And then, Radio Disney itself. Their transmitter (broadcasting at 1560kHz) is so close to me that I’ve heard their signal in on every possible band at some point, as well is in my home stereo and even on a pay phone down the street. On some of my radios, every frequency from 1530 to 1600kHz suffers from some form of Radio Disney intrusion.

Next up 1520, WWKB in Buffalo blasting in strong with a sleazy “get out of debt” commercial. Then a little “Auld Lang Syne” and a promo from “Federal News Radio” (WTOP 1500kHz in Washington D.C.). However, the magical odometer click itself is served Cantonese style at 1480kHz, WZRC. It’s quite exciting. Probably more so if you happen to be Chinese.

While I don’t know for sure, I suspect that this was probably a simulcast of the New Years festivities on the American Chinese-language TV network– SINO Television. While simulcasting obviously saves a lot of money, if you’re a serious radio listener you can usually tell the difference. There’s a lack of microphone intimacy, and the assumptions of visual cues make audio-only TV less interesting than real radio.

And then there’s a couple more ethnic notches on the NY AM dial– some pumping macho reverb from WNSW at 1430kHz and some kooky jubilance care of WKDM at 1380kHz. Whooooh!

And so ends all the “live” sounds of celebration captured in this bandscan.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 2
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“Thank you for inviting me into your prison cells.”

At first, I thought there was going to be a punch line. Or that there was something metaphoric going on I might have missed. But no, it was all real, just like prison. It’s some regularly scheduled religious inspiration for the incarcerated (with your host– a real "retired correction captain”). Although I typically I hear religious stuff at 1330kHz (WWRV) all the time, it’s usually a Spanish language scenario.

We pass by 1300kHz for a quick ID. I think it’s the ESPN Radio station in New Haven. And how about this Spanish language drama at 1280kHz? Wow. Give that guy a hankie. Man. Then a brief interlude with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles on WMTR, at 1250kHz in Morristown, New Jersey.

From 1250 we slide down to 1210– the Big Talker WPHT in Philadelphia, where they were replaying a Michael Smerconish program. He’s an odd bird, and the only right wing talk show host to support Obama in the last election. At least that’s what I’ve read on the internets. I don’t watch much of the talking head pundit shows on TV, but I gather he makes his appearances on a few of them too. And he has a shiny head.

Then on to some urban contemporary gospel from WLIB at 1190kHz. When Air America left the station to settle over at WWRL at 1600 they gave up a great signal for a pretty crappy one. That’s followed by some messy and overlapping signals. And then this clown…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 3
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As if there wasn’t already enough meanspirited blather emanating from this Clear Channel owned Fox News affiliate (WWVA at 1170 kHz in West Virginia), they also see fit to let this hateful son of a bitch run at the mouth on a transmitter that might reach a third of the U.S.

It seems that all the major religions (especially the powerful monotheistic ones that dominate our world) have a dark beating heart of intolerance and malevolence somewhere at their core that leads some twisted "believers" to spew forth the kind of filth that tumbles out of the mouth of this old geezer, rambling incoherently about “judgment” and “vengeance” and “punishments.”

The particular brand of stupidity at play here is uniquely American and Protestant flavored, which seems to the most popular type of religious mental illness you hear on the radio. If you’re interested in getting some good hate on for Obama (and all the Catholics and Muslims and almost everybody else), then you’ll probably find something to celebrate in this fulmination. Happy new year!

I let that guy carry on way too long before shuffling down dial to Bloomberg’s “business” station at 1130kHz. It’s a panel of experts on the human brain. Wow. The trouble is (again) that we’re obviously hearing some TV simulcast. And we’re supposed to be looking at some incredible computer generated images of the computing machinery of the brain. You see anything?

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 4
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Then, the bewitching baritone of Art Bell from WTAM, 1100kHz in Cleveland. Since he’s retired (four times!) you don’t hear him host his old “Coast to Coast” show much these days. But he does often show up a few times a year– especially for his annual “Ghost to Ghost” program (with call-in ghost stories) around Halloween and then for his annual prediction (for the next year) show. And being a bit of a legend these days and rarely on the air, you can hear some real affection and fan awe from the callers who are able to get through to talk to Bell.

I used to be entertained by Bell’s late night sideshow many years ago. His love of everything radio has always been kind of inspiring to me. But I gotta say, he does sound uncharacteristically low-key in the samples in this bandscan. I guess he’s been though plenty of changes over this last decade. But you do hear a lot of people calling in predictions that are pretty dire and cataclysmic. And that, is typical.

Then we slide down into the lap of snarling neocon Laura Ingraham, care of WBAL (at 1090 AM in Baltimore). Then it’s 1050kHz here in the city, a frequency with a colorful history that’s been the home for a number of call letters over the years. These days it’s just WEPN– another syndicated ESPN yawner on the AM dial. Sad. And then 1010 WINS, one of the oldest all-news stations in the country (and they continue the teletype sound effects in the background to drive the point home). And here you get one of the joys of MW DXing for some, the local traffic and weather forecast. The crowds are dissipating in Times Square. And in the sky, a wintry mix. Meanwhile there’s been a few fire fatalities over the holidays. And through some unexplained turn of events New York City “apparently” has found some extra money laying around. A surplus.

And in a broader sense, I suppose that’s one of the things that make New York so appealing. Somehow, somewhere, there’s some extra money laying round. In a place like Detroit, not so much.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 5
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Mike Gallagher (AKAThe Smellster”) is one of the least evolved human beings I’ve come across in the national media. A man who does not seem to actually think, but just react to things (in a predictable and ham-handed partisan manner). And when he’s not scripted well, his program can really go off the rails. Yet he kind of sounds like Rush (which may account for his radio career), and his show is powered by the same kind of boomy and barely educated bluster Rush practically invented. Also like Limbaugh, Gallagher seems to get his greatest insights and inspiration from watching professional football on television. I suppose it’s almost like going to college. The fact that this guy’s show has risen into the low end of the talk radio top ten (at #8!) says a lot about the audience for this format today.

And while I’m all in favor of heartfelt apologies, this tear-soaked confessional from some a highly-paid prima-donna athlete is just so much difficult listening. However, to Gallagher all these sniffy regrets amount to a “life changing moment.” Usually all I get from the Smellster are “station changing moments.”

Then I move up to a man speaking in a language I don’t understand on another local “ethnic” (and brokered) radio station– WPAT at 930kHz. And then at 900kHz it’s the “old time radio” programming I’ve been hearing late at night on CHML for years (They’re in Hamilton, Ontario). It sounds like we missed the setup for the joke here.

Then into the nasty IBOC sound (in-band-on-channel) sound that surrounds WCBS at 880kHz. It’s an envelope of nasty digital noise that bookends the analog signal of AM stations carrying “HD” programming. And it’s also why you don’t hear WLS in Chigago at 890kHz anywhere near the city. And not a chance of getting WWL at 870kHz in New Orleans (which reaches well into Canada for some). 1010 WINS and WOR do the same thing. DXers hate it. And in many major cities you hear it across the dial.

On WCBS you hear about the eminent retirement of Robert Morgenthau. At 90 years old, Morgenthau had been the District Attorney of Manhattan since 1975. Amazing.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 6
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I really don’t know a lot about the CJBC, except that it’s a CBC powerhouse that broadcasts in French at 860kHz. And it’s the only significant CBC station broadcasting to the U.S. It wasn’t always that way. Years ago, their English service reached a large swath of North America from 740kHz. But there was a move to consolidate all thier broadcasting to FM, and the far reaching AM frequency was abandoned by the CBC. CHWO (better known as "AM740") is a unique musical presence on the AM dial in these parts, but the loss of a major CBC on the AM band is still a damn shame. That said, I think I’ve been hearing interesting music late at night at 860 AM since I was a kid. And the music varies so much that I couldn’t even qualify what kind of music I’ve heard the most on that station. I don’t know what kind of pop music is at play in this sample. It’s old. A show tune?

Art Bell again. From WHAS Louisville this time (at 840kHz). Another kooky caller. I wonder if Bell ever succeeded in giving up the smokes. His voice has that same nicotine gravitas as Larry King (and a bunch of guys who ain’t around any more). At 820kHz we find the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. I’m not a fan, although he occasionally has good guests. It’s local. It’s NPR. Then the inevitable Art Bell once again, on 810kHz, WGY upstate in Schenectady.

CKLW (800kHz in Windsor) is a funny kind of talk station that you don’t hear really hear in the states. Or certainly not on a big transmitter like this. I’ve never heard a "political" show on CKLW (but lots of centigrade weather!) And listen to the promo for the nightly astrology show. “Life might feel like a struggle…” Lots of self-help and health shows in general on this station. In America, AM talk radio is about personalities agitating listeners with propaganda all day long. And while there is certainly political talk on Canadian radio, they seem to still be able to have radio stations and call-in shows that aren’t agenda driven or enslaved by the news cycle.

That said, I really can’t listen to “call the doctor” talk radio for very long. All those symptoms make my stomach hurt.

Nothing really comes in until I hit WABC here in the city at 770kHz. John Bachelor, who recently moved into a nightly slot on WABC since crazy blabbermouth Curtis Sliwa took his little red beret down to WABC’s relatively new competitor, 970 “The Apple,” where he’s their new morning-drive entertainer.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 7
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Now we’re at 760kHz. Detroit. (No IBOC from WABC, so the signal is still audible here.) There’s still a little crosstalk from WABC next door. It’s an ad for a drug rehab joint in the Detroit suburbs. The announcer says they can help “teens, college students, business people, CEOs, lawyers and health professionals” with their addictions.

I guess if you want to get a handle on the marketing of drug treatment services you could probably learn a little by decoding this list of less than socioeconomically diverse list of prospective "clients. Seems like they left the majority of common folk off this at list. Every style of addict mentioned here probably can afford their services, and some might have a willing (or desperate) parent who can come up with the dough.

Then it’s the ABC News. The world’s biggest pseudo-event of the season totally obscured any other feasible healdine that night. news focus for a few hours. Their reporter spends so much time “poetically” describing the panorama of litter and debris in the street in Times Square that it’s just a little weird. And sad for a major news outlet to lend so much weight and instant nostalgia to a run-of-the-mill clean-up scene at the end of a big party.

Then there’s three more quick headlines in ABC’s top of the hour news. And they’re all sports related. The last one is regarding the contract stalemate between Times-Warner and Fox, which was resolved a few days later. And the ABC take on this little media turf war was that if the se companies wouldn’t come to a peaceful resolution agreement don’t come to some agreement that a number of “Fox” football games might not air on Times-Warner cable the next weekend. Right before WJR cuts to local weather the football story is capped off with a sound bite from some media analyst. Although it wasn’t the intention, I think his words may capture some of the spirit and passion of our great nation as we enter 2010:

“There is no hue and cry louder and angrier than if you deprive the American viewer of football.”

I’ll bet that’s true. And ABC only has two minutes to encapsulate current affairs at the top of the hour, and this is what you get. No international issues. No war updates. And certainly no investigative reporting. There is no breaking news. Perhaps because the news is already broken. Tiger Woods? Still in trouble as far as I know.

At 750kHz you can hear WSB in Atlanta. But it’s not pleasant. Some nights this station comes in pretty clearly up here. But then again, often I come across a Neil Boortz rebroadcast on this station. This noise is more pleasant.

AM740 is a big bunch of noise as well, which is unusual. In 2008 this station changed hands, and changed call letters. No longer CHWO, it’s now CFZM. I don’t hear much beyond the overnight programming, and at that timeit’s still a MOR/nostalgia mix, only with more classic rock. But it’s still the only full-time music format blasting out a full (“clear channel”) fifty-thousand watt signal in this part of North America (WSB at 650 in Nashville is the only other one you’re likely to hear in this area). AM740 has actually been coming better than I’ve ever heard it this month. Like a local. But on New Year’s Eve the reception wasn’t so hot…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 8
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Let’s listen to the radio horrors of wading through that IBOC racket once again as I approach the “analog” version of New York’s WOR at 710. (Which denies us the chance to hear both CKAC in Montreal at 730kHz and WGN at 720 in Chicago.)

The local news is still underway on WOR with Pat Wallace. The news is a little more substantial than the trivial world synopsis offered by ABC. The Joey Reynolds show reconvenes after the news. As an intro (instead of playing one of his many “theme songs”) Joey plays some old comedy bit he recorded during his top-40 heyday in the 1960′s. Let’s just say some types of humor have a longer shelf life than others.

As I’ve written before, the Joey Reynolds show is kind of an anarchic affair. While there are some focused interviews, more often than not Joey gets a few folks behind the microphone and lets it rip without much of a game plan. When it’s not good it’s pretty bad. And in this particular clip it’s not so good for Joey as an unidentified guest (a local restaurateur who apparently knows Reynolds and his thrifty nature rather well) gets the better of the old "shock-talker."

However, the real roasting occurs when Reynolds makes a few cracks about Dick Clark’s brief appearances during his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” spectacular. As you probably know, Clark suffered a massive stroke a few years back and the once glib "eternal teenager" now speaks in a somewhat slurring and halting fashion these days. While trying to avoid sounding cruel, Reynolds makes a few lame jokes about Clark’s performance that night and then wishes that he just wouldn’t appear on TV at all. As you can hear, the guest (sporting a hardcore NYC accent) directly takes old Joey to task and doesn’t let up. You don’t often hear a radio host let a guest chew him up like this on the air. Instead of standing his ground, or taking on the animosity directly, Reynolds keeps running away, trying to change the subject. Odd.

If it wasn’t for the IBOC digital garbage on each side of WOR’s signal, powerhouse WLW in Cincinatti would almost certainly have been audible here. But not anymore. The first credible AM signal I came across is a messy read of a Bob Seger song at 690kHz. I don’t know what station this might be. Typically I get French talk radio from Montreal here. There’s an oldies station in West Virginia at this frequency, but I see they’re running at all of fourteen watts at night, And then at 620kHz– WSNR, kind of a sad brokered station hanging out there in the breeze. Here they’re broadcasting something in a language I do not know. Hebrew perhaps?

Nearing the very top we find the once mighty WMCA at 570kHz. Once a top 40 giant, then a pioneering talk radio station in New York, WMCA is now it’s a lowly Christian outlet with a lot of brokered hours up for grabs. This is some kind of religious self-help talk show, featuring a woman complaining about her sister making the rest of her family miserable in the name of Jesus.

    “There’s something wrong, isn’t there?”

The answer of course is “yes.” Her sister reminds me a little of a certain scary relative my family tries to avoid. And it seems like a good place to close as well– because more significantly, there was something wrong with 2009 too, wasn’t there?. After that one night a year ago, when it was new, it wasn’t much of a "happy year.” And it seems stupid has become the new smart. At least we have football. And Jesus.

But I think things are going to get better. I really do. But I’m not counting on 2010. At least not yet. It certainly didn’t start out so well.  Maybe by 2012 will bring some good luck for us. And from what I understand, a lot of people are looking forward to that year anyway.

Meanwhile, I hope to get back to you soon. And to get another post up where before so much time goes by next time.

I suspect if you’ve gotten this far, that you might just have more than a passing interest in radio. (And if you got this far by skimming over this post, maybe might wanna read this. Or at least look it over…) And in closing, there’s two things I’d like to mention. For one, the Winter SWL Fest is coming up soon in Kulpsville, PA (March 5 & 6), which is a completely unique and entertaining way to spend a weekend. I certainly recommend it. I had a lotta fun there last year.

Also, if your DXing habit fell by the wayside during the interminable solar minimum over the last couple years you might wanna dust off your old receiver and try scanning around again some time. The sunspots are back! And although I haven’t been able to do much serious monitoring lately, I have noticed my portables seem rather lively lately when I’ve taken the time to sample HF the bands, with improved reception across the board.

Meanwhile, thanks a bunch for listening. And good DX to you!

Trolling The American Id Between Four And Eight Megacycles

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

A few generations ago, another American president took office when our country was mired in another devastating financial disaster. Of course, I’m talking about Franklin Roosevelt, a president to whom Obama is occasionally compared (after JFK and Lincoln, I suppose). And following tradition, he addressed the nation announcing his vision for America. It was a bit of pep talk really. And although few who actually heard that rousing speech are still around today, we’ve all heard (or read) the declaration he delivered in this opening remarks:

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Always presented to me as the key phrase of a historic speech, those words themselves never rattled with great wisdom for me. It always seemed a little redundant, and too straightforward to offer much in the way of revelation. But then again I didn’t grow up during the Great Depression.

Now we’re living though the worst economic crisis since that time, and while our circumstances aren’t nearly as dire as the day Roosevelt moved into the White House, no one knows how much worse things may get. Or where we are headed as a nation. And as luck would have it, we seem to have brought in a decent and thoughtful man to help steer our country out of this new financial morass of our times. It seemed almost hopeful.

And then the fact that he happened to spend some formative years overseas in a Muslim country seemed fortuitous as well, following on the heels of an administration that incited so much hatred and animosity from Muslims around the world. Yet, for all the logic or serendipity that seemed inherent in the rise to power of Barack Obama, others see something else.

There is a bizarre streak of American humanity which is utterly convinced that Barack Obama is not an American citizen. And once you’re willing to chain your brain up to that premise, it’s an easy leap in logic to assume that this astute mulatto man must be an an evil foreign agent assigned to destroy our country. And there’s more. A lot of these less than enlightened Americans also are certain that Obama is a communist, the leader of the evil “new world order,” the devil or the Anti-Christ (are they the same thing? I’m still not sure), a fascist dictator, and perhaps gay or a Muslim, or worse– the most liberal politician alive. And they are scared. They are angry. And what should worry ALL of us, is that they seem to be beyond the reach of all logic or common sense.

And now I get it. FDR was right. As a country in crisis at a critical point in our history, the greatest thing we have to fear IS fear itself. And I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to really fear the fear. And I think the paragraph that surrounded his heralded declaration back in 1932 is even more illustrative of our current dilemma:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

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And this is EXACTLY what’s going on– now, in these critical days. In the face of across the board loses at the polls, the Republican party and their media agents have chosen to unleash an unheralded fear and smear campaign to brutalize the enemy (i.e., the actual elected government). Rush Limbaugh, the defacto (media) leader of the G.O.P., openly cheers for the failure of our government under Obama. And he’s just setting the tone for a massive ongoing effort– nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror is being instigated and encouraged via the many-headed hydra of the right-wing media machine. And it’s nonstop.

And it’s no secret around the world that Americans, in general, are some of the most ignorant people on the planet. Add to that, the anxiety that continues to grip our country since the September 11th attacks and the inconvenient collapse of our economic system, and there’s suddenly a buzzing and bristling bunch of screwed Americans who suddenly want to know what the hell is going on? (While they didn’t seem too concerned during eight years of mayhem and plunder under Bush.)

I suppose it’s only natural to look for BIG answers when you’ve got big problems. And two unrelated historical milestones (moving into a new millennium and electing a black president) seems to have driven some of the logic-deprived among us to apply grandiose meaning to current events and invoked lots of irrational suspicion regarding any proposed changes in governance or our economic system. The three horsemen of contemporary apocalyptic fear (religiosity, paranoia, and xenophobia) were already mounted and ready to ride before Obama’s election. And since that historic moment, a fourth has come forward. And I think he’s going to lead the charge. Perhaps you already know where this is going. (Let’s just say he used to wear a white sheet.)

Despite the fact that we miraculously elected a man with African heritage to our highest office, there’s a seething element of race hatred that’s still alive and well in this country that once enslaved people who looked like Barrack Obama. And although the dirty racist words and imagery are only used by the most extreme and extroverted of that crowd, for every one of them there’s hundreds more across the fruited plain who will never accept or respect that uppity brown man who gets on the television and has the nerve to act like he’s president.

And make no mistake about it, all this garbage about the invalidity of Obama’s birth certificate, and all the disenfranchised and hateful white people alleging Obama is something "other" and not like you and me– it’s all frosting and filagree on top of the word they dare not utter– nigger.

And whether or not the people who are behind all this incitement of hatred and fear mongering are actually racists themselves is beside the point. I mean, Karl Rove’s atheism never got in the way of manipulating fundamentalists to vote (and campaign) for Republicans. It’s not hard to see how it works. There’s no shortage of less-than informed Americans to run through manipulative focus group studies. Then with data in hard, you go forward with media weaponry you know will be effective– no matter how profane or irrational the entreaty might be. Lee Atwater was an expert at this kind of thing, and he didn’t seem to be an actual racist in his personal life. And when Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination began to founder, her operators started experimenting with the same kind of toolbox.

If you haven’t seen this clip online of Shepherd Smith of Fox News, you oughtta take a minute and ingest this artifact of contemporary culture. I don’t watch enough of Fox (mostly clips online…) to know much about the guy, but he seems to be emerging as some kind of reactionary conscience over there. (Like this outburst regarding our government’s involvement in torture, or his habit of making fun of his unbalanced Fox News cohort, Glenn Beck.)

But in this particular clip (from the day that white supremacist loon went ballistic at the Holocaust Museum in D.C.), Smith noting he’s frightened by the torrent of twisted and psychotic email that’s been filling the Fox News servers since Obama’s election. Mr. Smith and his guest agree– the realms of the internet provide a powerful clubhouse for all sorts of angry and misinformed people to feed into each other’s insanity, loading up with “hate not based in fact”. Although Smith seems shocked to discover some Fox viewers are “out there in a scary place." I’m sure others weren’t surprised at all.

And what he doesn’t say (and what he can’t say), is how much the network he works for is feeding these people tainted factoids and manipulative Republican propaganda. Even Charles Krauthammer came out this year to congratulate Fox News for creating an “alternate reality.” And he said that the relative consensus on current events we used to enjoy in our society was the result of a “liberal bias” in the media…which apparently existed for all time until Fox News came along to balance everything out. Which makes you wonder what a network like Fox News would have had to say during the great American labor struggles or the civil rights movement.

Of course his argument is bogus. But it doesn’t matter. There’s always Fox News, and NewsBusters, and the World Nut Daily out there to back him up. Once we had a marketplace of ideas where agendas and opinions and versions of events battled it out for the public’s allegiance, and at a certain point some semblance of common sense would win out, and as a nation we would decide that slavery was wrong, and women should vote, and minorities should have equal rights, and wars of choice like we had in Vietnam were immoral. Sure, not everybody agreed. But some form of consensus came to pass and differing sides moved on to other battles. But not anymore.

Today, the natural coalescence of public thought is easily thwarted the monied and manicured "alternate reality."While some semblance of consensus is battled out in (what is pejoratively called) the "mainstream media," a conservative flavored narrative flows freely beside it as a more simplistic consumer-friendly product.

And it’s not that corporate America or the Chamber of Commerce is necessarily invested in all that ignorant claptrap, but by putting that kind of manipulative language and cynically clever sophistry churned out by Karl Rove or Frank Luntz. And there’s not a lot of quality control on some of these mindless appeals to the lowest of the lowest common denominator. An example might be a headline I saw at the Drudge Report on a slow day in June– BEWARE THE OBAMA ‘EVIL EYE. Again, this was a headline on one of the most clicked pages on the web. Assorted photos of Obama’s "menacing glance were included with this short and shabby piece of original Drudge journalism (something you rarely see)." And while it’s easy to find almost any facial expression imaginable when you’re dealing with someone as photographed as a sitting President, but the shots Drudge put together merely showed Obama looking attentive or tired, or perhaps just appropriately sober. Take a look yourself. It’s ridiculous. And everybody knows, President Hairy-Eyeball went back to Texas months ago.

How did things get so ludicrous? You might wanna check out this confidential memo written by a corporate attorney named Lewis Powell (soon to be a Supreme Court Justice) back in 1971. It was a manifesto outlining how the business interests of America needed to get serious about shaping public opinion in their favor. It’s one of those little known documents that truly changed the world, and not in a good way.

And if you recall those days so long ago, they used to call the mechanisms of wealth and power in this country “the system.” And visionary people like Upton Sinclair, Rachel Carson and Ralph Nader successfully took on “the system” and helped protect millions from the deadly consequences of amoral profiteering and unregulated capitalism. Well, Lewis Powell saw these people as the enemy. And through his writing and counter-activism he helped create a broad public relations front in media and academia to defend and protect the raw capitalist ambitions of the system itself. But even the late Mr. Powell (who is often recalled for his perfect manners and genteel nature) might be shocked at the divisive and brutish behavior of the swarms of ignorant and politically agitated Americans who have been home-schooled by a sensational and partisan united front of right-wing media he arguably fathered.

In a recent column, Frank Rich discussed Shep Smith’s scary inbox and how the new wave of anti-Obama rhetoric is increasingly paranoid and irrational across the board. While some white voters wouldn’t support someone like Obama in any situation, the fact that they see him as the cause and architect of all the frightening generational changes that are happening all at once. He’s the new boogie man– the embiodiment of a new century they’re not ready to understand.

In closing, Rich linked to this video featuring Jon Voight at a Republican fundraiser, where he called Obama a false prophet, and said the Republicans have to get back in power so they can “free this nation from this Obama oppression.” Which on the face of it seems like just so much mean-spirited red meat for the conservatives on hand, but in reality words like “false prophet” resonate profoundly in religio-paranoid circles. (And a lot of them have guns…) Plus– saying Obama is the cause of whatever “oppression” people might be feeling in the middle of a financial disaster that was coming on long before Obama came to power isn’t just disingenuous– it’s toxic. (And did you hear about his evil eye?)

And conversely, this column from a Fox website might be as good of an illustration as any of how much self-serving bullshit can be crammed into a short editorial. I don’t even know where I ran across this piece, which reads like a ten-year old’s attempt at a persuasive essay. The author of this gem is a guy named Noel Sheppard, who routinely churns out rightist grist for the unintentionally comical “NewsBusters” site (which often reads like a lampoon of a conservative news portal). But his point is this– if the electorate wasn’t scared off by all the guilt-by-association tactics used by douche bags like Sean Hannity (i.e., using Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright and Tony Rezko as scarecrows), then the press must have hypnotized us into electing Obama. How else could it have happened? I mean, McCain had so much more charisma

Sheppard’s weak thesis somehow merited over four-thousand comments before they shut the floodgates. And if you have the stomach for it, you can go read a few. But I wouldn’t recommend it. I hate to think of all the time I’ve wasted looking at all the ignorance and vitriol on display in the comments addendum to online articles and opinion pieces. Especially if I happen to follow a link from the ultimate right-wing portal behind this new Age of Unreasoning– The Drudge Report.

Anyway, I could spend all day linking to all the spewing spigots of ignorance and intolerance on the web. But I won’t and I can’t. But I will say this, when we went and hooked ourselves all together with all these computers and cell phones and hand-held whatchamacallits there was a general feeling that being able to share so much “information” was going to make us smarter or wiser. But “information” is neutral, it’s just patterns of data. It can be good or bad or right or wrong. Or persuasive, if you have a particular mindset you wanna spread around.

And all we’ve done is make it possible to share “data” between ourselves like never before. We’re not creating more truth. And just as old “information” industries like newspapers, magazines and the film and music business see all this data sharing as a devastating profit killer so far, there’s no assurance that setting all this information free has made us any smarter either.

Like the flood waters after Katrina, some of the information that floods the American mind is a toxic soup. Awash in carefully targeted misinformation and logic-free passion screeds, there is a pandemic of fear and ignorance sweeping this country. And all this unjustified terror is poisoning American political discourse and is most certainly paralyzing “needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Thanks to the craven manipulation by people who should know better, the new American ignoranti are marching backward– into our racist past, into a new McCarthyism, and eventually all the way back to that Christian apocalypse continually predicted since the first century. And when these folks fire up their PC in search of information, you can bet they’re not looking for verifiable facts, reasoned journalism, or opposing views. No no no. That’s stuff the devil uses to fool ya.

And it gets worse. Since Obama’s election there’s been a huge surge in sales of guns and ammunition in this country. Prices are up and ammo is getting scarce. People are stocking up. For what? Good question. Meanwhile, the Obama administration really hasn’t made any moves or statements indicating any coming new gun control regulations. However, there’s lots and lots and lots of “information” out there telling folks that “Obama is coming to take their guns.” So, are you scared yet?

After talking about so much trouble in our midst, there’s an urge to come to conclusions– to predict or to warn of some assassination or apocalypse. Or perhaps to offer some road to widespread common sense in all this madness. But I don’t have a good answer to plug into such an equation. When you have human beings as your adversary, there’s always the last resort call for decency, or that chance of some recognition by the losing side that their goals or motivations may have been flawed. The system fights dirty. And empathy that makes us human is our fatal disadvantage.

When the Supreme Court granted corporations the rights of human beings and equated the money they spend as free speech (with the same Lewis Powell writing the majority opinion)– it set loose the hellhounds of capitalism in this country, allowing amoral ambition and soulless motivations to run rampant in the marketplace. And then Ronald Reagan came along to make it all official. And the legacy of Powell and Reagan (and more contemporary operators like Grover Norquist) is a Republican media machine that works on behalf of the large corporate financial concerns. Period.

And the Democratic party? Some of them are better than others. I generally trust Robert Kennedy Jr, who believes that the constant influx of big business money has completely compromised our political process, and says: "the Republicans are 95 percent corrupt and the Democrats are 75 percent corrupt." Sounds about right. It certainly helps to explain the inadequacies of the House and Senate under Pelosi and Reid. And while the nature of the Republicans is to stick to "the plan," the Democratic party is bigger, more varied, and unlike the Republicans they have to deal with the tough stuff– like consensus, ordinary constituents, and the most difficult of all– reality. The Republicans are in favor of God and lower taxes.

And if that sounds like a sinister plot, I suppose it is. And while you could make a case that this powerful triumvirate of transnational capitalists, the Republican party and assorted dark masters of media had a good ride, from the Gipper to the attack on Iraq. (Making Clinton’s Presidency about a sex scandal was even somewhat of a victory, and he was half-Republican anyway.) And now we’re left with a broken economy and two endless military occupations, and the Republican Party unpopular and out of power across the board. Yet, despite so many recent political losses their alternate reality media machine seems to be cranking even harder into the American psyche. It might seem counterintuitive, but winning isn’t everything. It’s all about not losing (money).

And I don’t think you can blame it all on Rupert Murdoch or Rush Limbaugh or any of those guys. And if you look at the movie "Network," Paddy Chayefsky was incredibly prescient in almost predicting what would become the Fox Network and Fox News (although Glenn Beck is far less appealing version of Howard Beale). But I don’t think the Ned Beatty character in that film really exists. My personal idea for this incredible conspiracy of fear and unreason is that there is no evil leader behind it all. I think we’re through the looking glass now and a simple mathematics created to serve the short-term profit margin of the entrenched financial status quo is in charge now. And the right wing noise machine is running on autopilot. The reason there’s no leadership on the right is because they don’t need it (or can’t have it). The politics, policy and all the Republican party products are generated by a big simple algorithm. And all their major candidates need to do is step up and put it on like a nice blue business suit. (Remember how McCain "transformed" during the last election?)

While they’re getting the white and right crowd energized by these tactics, they’re not winning over the rest of us. Big money had an eight year free reign over our government and economy, and it didn’t work out so well. They’ve spent their wad, and run out of ideas, leadership, and vision, and all seem to do right is make a mess, while the media machine does all the heaving lifting. All the links on the Drudge Report and everything that comes out of Sean Hannity’s mouth is the result of this crude media mathematics. And there is no real rumination behind the on-air musings of Bill O’Reilly or Michael Savage, and no innate desire to leave a legacy of a life dedicated to the greater good of mankind. No, it’s much simpler than that. When the other side is ahead in the polls, you operate like Limbaugh during the Democratic nomination process. You cause trouble. "Operation Chaos."

Perhaps by this point you’re wondering what does all this have to do with radio? Well, for as long as I remember, in between the sane programming coming in from around the world on shortwave there’s always been mad preachers and nutjobs from America exporting fear to the planet. And now that kind of diseased discourse has spread far beyond shortwave. Especially on the web. And Glenn Beck and his eyeballs have brought paranoid lunacy into the mainstream like never before. But shortwave has more charm. And you don’t have to look at their faces.

So for a week in June I went back to the source, scanning the back alleys of radio with my antique Zenith Trans-Oceanic. It’s an H500 from the early fifties, and it still works pretty good– at least on the band setting between four and eight megacycles. (We call ‘em megahertz these days.) And more significantly it overcomes a bit of the RF noise of my Brooklyn digs. I guess it was my steampunk adventure of the summer– drinking hot tea and tuning in the apocalypse with a big gilded vacuum tube device.

It’s a fun radio to use, but it’s not so good for bandscanning. There’s no digital frequency readout (for logging and ID purposes). And the dial itself needs to be calibrated. And besides, I wasn’t DXing. For the first time, I was intentionally looking for as much stupid as I could find. Because of other obligations most of my roaming occurred after nine or ten at night. But I don’t think there was any time when I couldn’t find someone, somewhere saying something ridiculous. For this post I scooped up some of the more flavorful froth I found from the 60 and 49 meter bands. And I invite you to join me for some urgent and uneasy listening. You just might unlearn something.        

WHRI – Trunews with Rick Wiles & guest Roy Moore 4:15
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In this clip, former judge Roy Moore is chatting on the phone with Rick Wiles of Trunews. Which is not just the “end times newscast,” but also the “only nightly newscast reporting the countdown to the second coming of Jesus Christ.” And Wiles says that Obama has been put in office for one purpose– “to start a civil war in this country,” just to give a flavor of the thoughtful rhetoric on this program.

Ever wonder if America just might be better off without all that “separation of church and state” business? And public school teachers reading the bible to our children, and religious police would enforce public morality? (like in… Saudi Arabia?) Then you might wanna head over to Alabama and get behind Roy Moore’s 2010 campaign for Governor.

Perhaps you recall when Moore was the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court a few years ago. Because there was a big stink when he refused to remove an ostentatious display of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. Not surprisingly, his stubborn religiosity cost him his high court gig, but it gained him a lot of brownie points with fundamentalists across the country, and served as the launching point for his new political career. And in his state he’s effectively established a splinter sect of religious conservatives who are working on taking over the Republican Party there.

At first, Wiles gets Moore lathered up with talk about Obama’s socialist agenda, but Moore quickly diverts the conversation into more religious territory– decrying Obama’s recognition of Gay Pride Month. Perhaps if Moore is elected he could counter this move by observing a month of gay shame in Alabama.

“It’s a travesty,” Moore says when Wiles tells him there was actually a “gay party” in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. While it doesn’t seem likely that all of our tax dollars that have gone toward death, torture and destruction would bother Moore all that much (he doesn’t like Muslims much anyway), the idea that American money has gone toward letting a few gay service people blow off steam is too much for him to bear.

Only God can right these matters,” Moore says, seeming to stop himself from finishing where that thought might have been going. I’ll leave it to you to ponder how that might play out if Moore and his ilk could play out their theocratic fantasies in real life.

(Probably WWRB) – The Prognostications of a Yahweh Cult Couple 29:59
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I suspect this broadcast originates from one of the two giant brokered shortwave monsters in Tennessee– WWRB or WWCR. It’s "Mark" and a female co-host I assume to be his wife. I guess you could call them radio missionaries working on behalf of the big sky guy– Yahweh. There doesn’t seem to be any production to the program itself. It’s just your basic phone call to the transmitter. Mark has a handful of notes and news stories to share, and when gets lost in his "documents" he hands the phone to the wife, letting her riff on the wornders of Yahweh until he has paperwork in order.

This clip starts out with Mark reading a letter from a concerned soldier from Kentucky regarding how the army is actively taking detailed inventory of all the personal firearms belonging to soldiers and officers on base. Hmmm. Could this have something to do with the internal Department of Homeland Security report on the threat of right-wing extremism that became public last April?

I don’t know about you, but I kind of like the idea of the government keeping better track of heavy-duty home weaponry these days. The recent murder of an arbortion doctor as well the bloody incident at the Holocaust Museum added more validity to the warnings of Janet Napolitano and the DHS report she presented on the dangers of the deep and dark entrenched right-wing element in America.

And Mark has more bad news. Apparently, the world elites (including Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and the Rockefellers) are meeting on yachts and planning to kill off most of the rest of the people in the world. And I gues this may happen quite soon. Before the rapture. Massive depopulation theories have been popular on shortwave since I can remember– almost as common as the world government-new world order paranoia. And I guess it all feeds into the same colorful narrative, as the last hurrah of the evil forces on Earth before the messiah comes down and takes the faithful up to heaven for a big shindig– while the rest of us spend eternity as human barbeque. Burn baby burn.

Next up, some rather animated fire and brimstone style conspiracy radio.

WWRB – The Beast Preacher  1:38
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This guy’s worked up. And his sermon almost plays out like an exorcism, as he proclaims the names of all the evil he can think of– OLD Satan, and the anti-Christ of course– and THE BEAST, and then he goes down a list– the serpent, the old dragon, the devil, the son of perdition, Lucifer, the Destroyer, and more. Not only is the reception bad here, but he’s a loud and boisterous guy and it’s hard to understand all the prognosticating going on. But what he does do is move onto another important list. This time he proclaims the names of the embodiment of the “the beast” on earth. Specifically the one world government problem– the “one-worldism, the United Nations, the new world order, the Knights Templar, and the Priory of Sion (who apparently are even more powerful than the Illuminati), and all the sons of Cain. It sounds like the devil has quite a social calender.

He ends his rowdy lecture with a spirited sign-off worthy of a Latin American football announcer. All in all it’s a testosterone-soaked overview of most (if not all) of the paranoia conspiracies that have haunted the followers of Jesus for hundreds of years. And then when it all ends with a telephone disconnect and an automated recording (just like the Yahweh cultists radio show) it even seems a little stranger, that this big voice being broadcast on an international radio transmitter was just another guy yelling into a telephone.

And the fact that this program cuts off in the same sloppy manner as the Yahweh believers program tells me that they were probably broadcasting on WWRB as well. And it seems that this big international radio outlet doesn’t pay for an actual human board operator in the evening hours. From these recordings it appears their programming runs through some sloppy automation interface that doesn’t compensate for incoming programming on the telephone ending a few seconds early. I guess everybody’s cutting back these days.

Of course, if you listen to shortwave radio you’ve already heard all this heebie-jeebie hullabaloo before. All this rapture preparation and mark of the beast anxiety didn’t just hit the airwaves when Obama was elected. It’s a bizarre sickness in the very fabric of our culture. And while it infects so much discourse and entertainment all around us, only on shortwave you can hear (and almost smell) the mythical doom visions in their unrefined state. And while we didn’t invent crazy religious thought, the United States of America has been a breeding ground for it for a mighty long time. Much in the same way Australia later became a dumping ground for unwanted criminals for the British Empire, the new world was a dumping ground for all sorts of wild-eyed religious fanatics from Western Europe. And their legacy lives on.

A 2002 Time Magazine poll found that almost sixty-percent of Americans believe “the events in Revelation are going to come true.” And an AP poll in 2007 determined that one in four of us believed that Jesus was going to return to earth that very year. You get the idea. We is crazy. At least a lot of us are. And even among people who might not consider themselves overtly religious, there’s still plenty of superstition and irrationality to go around. After all, when it comes to apocalyptic sensationalism and pornographic arousal of the conspiracy gland, why should the religiously-ill have all the fun?

WWCR – The Alex Jones Show – with special guest David Icke
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Here you have a couple of the most successful secular scaremongers in the world in a bizarre radio pow-wow. It’s one-time rivals Alex Jones and David Icke, rolling around in the mud of some middle-ground they’ve cleared between their divergent paranoid theories. These apocalyptic showmen mine the concepts of science fiction TV and movies instead of using the King James Version for narrative support. And a few years ago these two giant fear-purveyors realized that there were just too many more books and DVDs to sell if they could put their differences behind them and create some viable consumer crossover business by joint media appearances, like this one.

For those who don’t know the history of these two professional paranoids, let me offer a little background. David Icke (pronounced like “Ike,” not “icky.) was a BBC sports announcer and then a spokesmen for the UK Green Party when he realized he was “the son of god.” and from that time forward he’s taken himself quite seriously and has created a whole cottage industry based on his own magnificence and need to enlighten us all. While he seems to have abandoned all the son of god business, his claim to fame eventually came through exposing the evil cabal of shape-shifting reptile people who rule our world (like the Queen of England, Henry Kissinger and Bob Hope). Alex Jones on the other hand, is a big loud Texas talk radio host who got his start on Austin cable access TV. I"ve written about Jones before (which you can read here), and hardly feel the need to promote a guy who’s one of the most ambitious self-promoters I’ve ever seen. When it comes to secular "new world order" conspiracy, Alex Jones is probably at the top of the heap these days. And at first he considered David Icke’s presence in the paranoia panorama as a big problem. His concern over letting blood guzzling reptilians into the conspiracy cannon led Jones to call Icke a conman and an opportunist, and his theories the "turd in the punch bowl” for all the seekers of hidden truths.

In an odd turnabout, in this clip Icke kicks into some rambling discussion about the inherent weakness of our “reptilian brain.” And he’s NOT talking about scaly skin blood suckers, but the brain stem and all that squishy stuff around it that makes up the vestigial remnants of our pre-mammalian legacy. In light of Icke’s long-standing fixation on reptilian villains, Jones steps in to let his listeners know–“this is not debatable. ” Icke is talking about real brain science this time, not scaly-skinned Republicans. And Icke responds with a quick hint of nervous laughter before carrying on with his neurological mumbo-jumbo. And so the ambitious Mr. Jones has kept the “turd” out of his punch bowl once again.

But here’s the funny thing. Protestant Armageddonists are even more bizarre. Instead of tending to their own souls, they seem more obsessed with the “sins” of other people– total strangers who don’t necessarily have the same religious beliefs. And many long for the day when America will become the theocratic state they believe it should have been all along. The dream of Roy Moore and his ilk is to indoctrinate our children in the public schools. And let’s face it, the only reason these people can keep riding that same sick pony around the American stage is because too many people let religiously infected people get a hold of their children at an early age. As their irrational belief beliefs are passed down generations it’s not just child abuse– it’s a viral infection that continues to stunt our spiritual growth as a nation.

However, the post-religious doom prophets don’t worry about everyone’s sins. They realize all that perverse religion turns a lot of people off. So, instead of putting a modern spin on ancient myths, they put an ancient spin on contemporary economics and politics. If you figure out we’re under the thumb of powerful people, they’ll tell you it all stems from bizarre rituals, or exotic bloodlines or visitors from outer space. Whether their conspiracy theories are more ridiculous than the burning bush or the impending return of Jesus doesn’t much matter. Dressing up the machinations of big money and the world power mafia in the garb of the Illuminati or jumbo lizard suits just turns your righteous anger into comic angst. Because you’ve invested into a load of crap.

If you’re willing to wade into the online swamps that surround showmen like Icke or Jones you can read how all these earnest believers create a burgeoning support group together to brace themselves against the coming cosmic doom they both predict. in their narratives, a seductive mix of fact and fantasy is always at play. Legitimate concerns about transnational corporations and governmental regimes twisting the truth, stealing our money and taking away our rights are all shuffled into fantastic all-encompassing conspiracies. And If I happened to be full of money and the devil, I’d pay clowns like Alex Jones or David Icke to exaggerate my crimes and mythologize my powers. Not only do the bad guys get all the best roles in the extravagant sci-fi narratives they fashion around themselves, but they also magically discredit every legitimate concern that gets sucked up into their conspiracy narrative. Call it disinfortainment.

I say this while hoping not to attribute any more power or pedigree to the postmodern carnival provided by David Icke or Alex Jones. They’re more like parasites than movers or shakers in all this insanity. And when they talk about corporate bias in mainstream news and our government relieving us of rights and choices we once enjoyed, it’s got to be seductive to people who are half-aware of what’s going on. And if it’s already in your makeup to believe in miracles and people rising from the dead, then how much of a stretch is it to imagine Dick Cheney (or Barack Obama) as a blood sucking reptile, or to obsess over what Republicans really do in the woods around the bonfires of Bohemian Grove.

And none of these samples of American sickness on shortwave radio are in and of themselves worthy of any great significance. But it’s all symptomatic of something strange going on. In a country founded in the Age Of Enlightenment by thoughtful and brave men who wanted to improve on the European models of government for the greater good of our people, there’s always been a counter-story. To get the United States off the ground, we relied on enslaved Africans for many decades. And then the mindset that helped people accept and embrace that kind of inhumanity didn’t go away. It evolved into an ugly legacy of lingering bigotry and hatred. And it’s easy to qualify the bizarre fundamentalism and the mindless racism as artifacts of the American South, but all this irrationality is much more widespread than that. (I’m resisting the urge to quote Pogo.)

While the Republican Party is in more serious disarray than ever, the big brutish media operation that brought them to power seems to be set on automatic, creating at least enough havoc to justify its cost. And lots of nameless unreasoning is indeed sweeping the nation. And when Icke sticks to the script he used on the air with Jones, that our lower "reptilian" mind is being manipulated by the man, he’s stumbling onto some truth there.

As far as shortwave radio these days, I guess the tables have tuned. Once a tool that brought us the rest of the world is fast becoming more relevant as a way to tune inward, into the lower brain of our very republic. And plenty of people get in touch with their creator that way. And even Tim McVeigh found inspiration and guidance through listening to his shortwave.

And when you’re out stocking up on ammo, you might wanna pick up some extra batteries for that radio. After all, a lot of folks are hoping for bad news.

The Strange Radio World Of Alan Colmes

Saturday, November 10th, 2007
There’s something about the dark of night that changes talk radio. Once the schoolmarms and businessmen have turned to the tube or hit the hay, the freaks are free to play.

While the audience is markedly smaller, the listeners and callers are typically more relaxed and open after the sun sets. Their guard is down. And let’s be honest, more people are intoxicated at the end of their day. For a playful and creative talk host, the evening audience is full of entertainment opportunity. But that doesn’t mean talk radio at night is necessarily good. Nighttime talk radio can also be a backwater where second-rate hosts hold their own, where has-been hosts are put out to graze, and where some weirdo talkers thrive.

There’s one talk host I’ve been listening to lately that practically fits every genre of nighttime talk radio I’ve just described– Alan Colmes. Better known as Sean Hannity’s half-hearted liberal foil over at Fox News TV, Colmes has actually had quite a talk radio career around New York City and nationally. But as far as being on the air in New York, Colmes has had an intermittent presence here, jumping from station to station with gaps in between. Colmes is best known in New York talk radio history for putting two stations to bed– doing the very last farewell program on both WNBC (in 1988) and WEVD (in 2001).

Since WEVD went dark, Colmes eventually reappeared here (in his latest radio incarnation as a Fox News Radio national talk host) on WWRL and then disappeared again when the station became the Air America flagship. Then in the overhaul of both the Air America network schedule and the WWRL line-up, Colmes reestablished his presence in the nation's biggest radio market once again. (And in eclipsing the Jon Elliot show that Air America runs on the network during that time, Colmes saves the city from a giant nightly yawning spell.) So, for the first time I've found myself actually paying attention to The Alan Colmes Show. And much to my surprise, I almost like it. Or at least I keep listening.

Back when hosts I liked much more (Lionel and Mike Malloy) had that after 10pm slot, I didn’t pay much attention to Colmes or his program. I don’t remember many radio fireworks in my brief interludes with his show over the years, and maybe it’s been revamped, but the Alan Colmes show I’m hearing lately is often a fast paced circus of a talk show with unexpected bursts of strangeness. And the source of the weirdness isn't so much Colmes himself, but the people who take the time to call in to his show.

It’s Colmes’ unique position in the broadening left/right schism in political media that generates a bizarre caller base for the show. Although he's carried on some "progressive talk" stations like WWRL, his program also can be found on the schedule of a number of  stations that carry the run-of-the-mill right-wing talkers as well. So Colmes automatically gets more pro-Bush hate calls than any official Air America program, much like Lionel's show did when he was on at night on WOR’s network. But unlike Lionel, who’s prankster spirit and lawyer skills would make for some compelling cat and mouse conversation when right-wingers would get on his case (and Lionel was never the mouse), Colmes simply argues calmly and logically with the morons until they either give up or the call ends in some twisted (or childish) draw.

And more than any talk show I’ve heard since Bob Lassiter, Colmes attracts a lot of raw hate from the phone lines. A lot of it comes from his roll as the liberal punching bag on “Hannity and Colmes” every night. As the radio show follows his TV program, Hannity fans and other psychopaths who get all worked up watching Alan espouse non-Republican ideas on Fox News can pick up the phone and let him have it when his show comes on an hour later. In fact, his show has been structured to infuse the raw energy from all that animosity out there right into the show from the first few seconds it comes on the air.

He calls it “First Word.” With a burst of generic rock guitar, Colmes welcomes you to the show and starts punching up callers that have been waiting for him to get on the air. It moves pretty fast. If the call doesn't quickly offer some friction or entertainment value Colmes quickly moves to the next one in line. It’s a weird way to start a show, and more often than not the adrenalin is really flowing by the time he hits his first commercial break. And what’s kind of amazing, if not a little strange, is how unflappable Alan Colmes can be in the face of overt hostility. Sure, he’ll argue point for point and even raise his voice a bit, but he never seems to get truly angered or shaken. A bit scolding or indignant sometimes. Yes, he’s much tougher on callers than he ever his with Sean Hannity on TV, but never resorts to epithets and he rarely goes for the jugular.

Here’s a couple of hostile calls from October 18th. (And I apologize for the bleed-over from Radio Disney that you hear beneath these calls. It's the way most of the radios in my house receive WWRL.) This first fella sounds like he’s at least four or five beers into his evening. It’s Dan in Chicago. Sometimes, ignorance can go so deep that it becomes profound.

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What’s really sad to me about this call is its heartbreaking authenticity. I’d so much rather think that sloth-like thinking and mindless animosity like this was really just a put-on or a prank. But no. It’s a real person. A real American. And the next one’s worse.

Jimmy in North Carolina is more direct. The call is a threat. Nothing more. It’s one of the most unfriendly calls I’ve ever heard on talk radio. It’s funny how some wacky right wingers wish or hope “the terrorists” will dutifully attack their people and groups they don’t happen to like. Here Jimmy openly wishes “the terrorists” would attack the “Emmy” or “Grammy” ceremonies, to kill a large number of those “liberal socialist Hollywood” types, who are bringing this nation to its knees.

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It’s just sad by the end. While Colmes knows how to attract and unfold bizarre telephone scenarios, he rarely finishes them off with an appreciable payoff. Instead of destroying lame callers, or poetically dumping them at the right moment, Colmes can keep arguing when there's no point, or get into a conversational slap fight that goes nowhere. He rarely goes in for the kill. And there never seems to be a punch line.

Here’s a more cryptic (but not substantially more intelligent) hate call to Alan. It’s James from upstate New York on November 7th. Like Jimmy, James also expresses his personal preferences as far as what misdeeds “the terrorists” should put on their agenda. “I regret that George Bush has been 100% successfully in saving the lives of people like you,” he tells Colmes. Such curious patriotism. Colmes actually kind of comes out on top at the end of this call.

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Here’s a harebrained caller from Massachusetts– “Tonto.” He kicks off the interchange declaring his simultaneous respect and dislike for Colmes. And he doesn’t care for his “character” on TV either. Apparently he thinks Colmes is a bit player in some drama, like Fred Thompson or something.

Tonto is a classic type of caller you hear on talk radio these days. Everything that’s in his head that passes for a worldview has been spoon-fed into his head by right wing talk radio and Fox News. When a guy like this calls up Rush or Sean, every thing goes pretty smoothly. But even the minor rebuttal you get from an easy going moderate host like Colmes shuts down every argument or theory the guy can come up with. All he's really able to do is get worked up and bandy cliches. But he has no follow-up. His political thoughts are like false fronts of buildings on a movie set or something.

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The other side of Colmes legacy– as the liberal TV pundit cable conservatives love to hate, is that he’s also the most prominent (or only) left-leaning talking head some folks come across in their media diet. So, not only does Colmes phone lines attract ripe republican hate, but he also draws in lost progressives and disconnected Democrats looking for common ground, or just a shoulder to cry on.

Listen to poor Ken in Indianapolis. He’s kind of just woken up to how across-the-board wicked the Bush administration really is, and he desperately wants to do SOMETHING to make a difference. On the other hand, he’s so paranoid he thinks that just by making the call to Colmes show may have tipped off the some evil Bush goons to come cart him away in dark of the night. (And it probably doesn't help that he lives in Indianapolis…)

No, Ken hasn’t thought through all his desperation and anxiety. He's all over the map during this call. But his fears are actually based on grim present realities– not bizarre schizophrenic fantasies. In other times and under other circumstances, I'd consider Ken's plight to be rather laughable. Or at least pathetic. But here and now, I find someone climbing on a soapbox and hopelessly rambling this way to be profoundly sad. And the sadness isn’t just for him, but for all the people like him, and Americans in general.

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And what’s weird to me about this call isn’t the martyrdom on display, or the or despair you hear in Ken’s voice. It’s Colmes approach to the call. Instead of agreeing with, or challenging, Ken’s paranoia, Alan plays psychotherapist with the guy, asking him to fully express his feelings instead of addressing the issues at hand.

In the end, I can’t decide if Colmes is actually missing some brain matter or is just a profoundly forgiving guy. He’s the polar opposite of a talk radio hothead like Mike Malloy. Somehow his outrage over the sad state of current events never turns personal, and he never seems to get angry. It’s a temperament that has served him well on Fox News. But the other night when I heard him chatting cordially on the radio with Lynne Cheney, I just had to turn it off (shudder). Somewhere along the line my outrage does become personal, and I confess that I don’t really understand what makes a guy like Alan Colmes tick.

While Colmes is sharp, articulate, and even-handed to a fault, he’s certainly not my favorite talk host out there. But one of the reasons I listen to political talk radio (left, right or center) is to hear the callers. And sometimes it’s not the point the caller wants to make, or even the interaction with the host, it’s the spirit of the calls themselves, and what it reveals about the American Zeitgeist. And from the flavor of common thought I hear coming out of the Alan Colmes show is often disturbing.

No, it’s not scientific to come to any conclusions about our culture by sorting through moments in talk radio, but I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone paying attention that we live in a country filled with ignorant and angry and desperate people. And more than any time I remember, people of almost any political persuasion harbor a desire to commit some act, or join some cause, to make a some change in the world. And for better or worse, some of the really intense and despairing folks out in the heartland choose calling Alan Colmes as their way to challenge the madness of our times. Why? I'm not sure. But it makes for some radio that is often as tragic as it is compelling.

New War’s Eve

Monday, January 2nd, 2006

Shock_and_awe The beginning of each new year often invokes feelings of anticipation in a human being, and occasionally warrants one to brace for changes to come. Remember six years ago when the Gregorian odometer lined up three big zeros in a row? Many of us in the city bought up canned goods and bottled water in fear of that dreaded Y2K bug. But thankfully the Giuliani administration welded up all the manhole covers in Midtown and everything turned out all right. Kinda like how the invasion of Iraq has prevented any further terrorist attacks here in New York. I guess it’s similar to burying pennies in the garden to get rid of warts. You don’t know exactly how it works, but somehow it does.

But seriously, as the dead pile up in Iraq and you might scratch your head here in 2006 wondering how we somehow attacked and occupied a defenseless country. And in less than three years our country has been responsible for the death, wounding and maiming of thousands of people AND has fired up a civil war over there with no end in sight– ALL based on false intelligence. It might be interesting to look at a different kind of eve– The EVE of the Iraq war as heard on right wing talk radio.

Conflict Almost three years ago on St. Patrick’s Day 2003, there was a different kind of celebration going in America. Instead of a yearning to gulp some bubbly and kiss somebody, a lot of Americans were all pumped up to kiss a regime goodbye. And they were thirsty for blood. Iraqi blood.

The Bush Administration convinced enough of us that Saddam Hussein had huge stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction,” possibly nukes, and the time had come to go to war against him to save ourselves. There was an epidemic of war fever in the U.S. of A. By March 17, 2003 thousands of American and British troops were ready at the Iraq Border, and Bush was about to give a speech that evening that everybody knew was going to be a “final warning” for the Iraqi government. Thankfully, the evil French weren’t going to get in our way this time.

That day there was a blood lust in conservative talk radio that’s still shocking to me. Let’s listen to how it sounded that afternoon in New York City…

01 – WABC Rush Limbaugh – President Cowboy 03-17-03  14:30

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Rush is confident and enthusiastic about the coming bloodshed. He doesn’t see the war lasting much longer than a few days. Certainly not weeks. After all, America NEVER loses. In reality, all those anti-war types are only hoping for defeat, right? What’s even more embarrassing is Limbaugh shamelessly making Bush into a matinee cowboy hero.

02 – WMCA Jay Sekulow – Modern Blitzkrieg  03-17-03  2:02

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By the way, this is a "Christian" talk show relishing all the death to come. Get ready for the new blitzkrieg! And will weather get in the way of our glory?

03 – WOR Bill O’Reilly – Alright, It’s On  03-17-03  11:08

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Bill O’Reilly, a cocky and powerful political pundit, and just the biggest and most ignorant asshole in American media today. Yet from what I understand, his boycott of France has put their economy into a devastating unending depression. Pretty impressive. Anyway, here you have O’Reilly beating the war drums awful hard. And once the war starts, YOU had better be in favor of all the mayhem or you’ll not only be a bad American but big bad Bill is going to come after you with his TV & radio guns ablazing. The funny part is when O’Reilly says if Bush invades Iraq and finds no WMD’s and the Iraqis resent our invasion he’ll never trust the Bush Administration again. Me neither.

04 – WABC Sean Hannity – Saddam Threatening Global War 03-17-03  10:39

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The right wing’s ultimate talkbot, Sean Hannity is salivating pretty heavily on this day. The “moment of truth” is upon us. Within five minutes Hannity has made the case that Hussein will level the world with nuclear weapons– unless if we stop him!

05 – WOR Bob Grant – Some Things Come Before Peace 03-17-03  5:28

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Congressman Vito Fossella of Staten Island is planning a big pro-war rally for the weekend. Here he talks to the throbbingly war-ready Bob Grant. After all, there’s some things that come before peace and security. And what are those things again?

05 – WOR Tom Marr – God Is On Our Side 03-17-03  1:30

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Stan calls up to tell us how anti-war demonstrators are “abysmally ignorant of history.” Then, as Marr stares longingly at the TV set in the studio waiting on President Bush to step up and unleash the dogs of war, he reminds us all that the cloud being above is still America’s biggest fan.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)