Talk Radio, You're on the Air

Sunday, October 29, 2006



Change, change and more change

“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.”
--- Ben Franklin

Now that we’re navigating through the middle aught years it is difficult to imagine the changes which have transpired. Cable news television came of age with some sensational trials. Cell phones and computers have become commonplace. There’s hardly anyone in America who cannot access the Internet if they wish.

Yet, to repeat my Granddad’s assertion that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

There has been no end of issues which need to be dealt with. The most painful topic we discussed is reserved for the final chapter of this book. It is the priest sex scandal. My exposure to it began in 1970.

Some of the longest running topics for discussion were also the most intense, made more so by 24/7 coverage of the events. (24/7, now there’s an expression we didn’t use only a few years ago, yet it seems to have been around forever.)

The first of the sensational crimes which jumps to mind is the OJ murders. OJ Simpson was accused of murdering his wife and her friend.

Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman were found murdered outside Brown’s condominium. It was a gruesome and bloody scene. Shortly after the murders the Hall of Fame football star was arrested and charged with the murders.

During the next two and a half years Simpson was found not guilty by a criminal jury but a civil jury liable for the wrongful death of Ronald Goldman, battery against Ronald Goldman, and battery against Nicole Brown.

Hot talk continued to and even after the civil trial. He’s occasionally the butt of comments about his remarks about how he will spend the rest of his life searching for their killer.

The final indignity of the Simpson saga came after the civil jury ordered him to pay $33 million to the family of Goldman.

By the time the jury ordered the payment Simpson was broke. He had spent his millions for his “Dream Team” of lawyers. While he has a lucrative pension from the National Football League it cannot be used to satisfy a civil judgment. So Simpson has been able to continue his lavish lifestyle and the settlement goes unsatisfied.

So much for justice.

The Scott Peterson trial occupied much attention and energy in the last few years. From Christmas time 2003 until his conviction and sentencing a year later Peterson had his defenders who annoyed those who thought he was guilty from the start. Peterson was regularly compared with “Chucky” Stuart, famous for murdering his pregnant wife in 1990.

The Stewart case combined all the emotions one subject could. Pretty young white woman murdered in cold blood. The original suspect was black. Husband shot in the ensuing struggle with his wife’s murderer. Baby initially survived his mother’s death.

The reality was not what it appeared to be. It was not until Stuart jumped to his death from a tall bridge. Then the whole truth came out.

The story we were given was on October 23, 1989, Charles Stuart, a furrier and his wife, Carol, a lawyer, got into their car after attending childbirth classes at a Boston hospital. When they got into their car a “black man” is alleged to have shot Carol fatally and wounded Charles. He called the police on his carphone.
Stuart explained the man then ran away. He described his alleged assailant as a slender black man.

Carol Stuart’s baby boy Christopher was born by Cesarean section on arrival in the emergency room. Doctors said she died shortly after the birth. The boy lived only seventeen days. The father discontinued life support for Christopher when doctors said he was suffering seizures and could never recover because of oxygen deprivation.

In the meantime, Charles Stuart remained hospitalized for a few days while the police conducted a dragnet for Carol’s killer. They arrested a black man named Willie Bennett.

The police enthusiastic pursuit for the Stuart killer led police to stopping many black men without probable cause. Later Bennett, a man with a minor criminal past was selected by Stuart from a lineup.

The case against Bennett came to an abrupt close when Stuart's brother, Matthew, identified Charles Stuart as the killer. Stuart had been involved in an affair, and was having financial difficulties.

An article was published in the Boston Globe alleging that a $480,000 check was issued to Charles Stuart in payment for a life insurance policy on his wife, but this was later found to be false, as no such check was ever found. On January 4, 1990, he jumped to his death from the Tobin Bridge.

It was reported he had received a check for nearly a half million dollars from an insurance company. That was proven to be wrong after his death. No such check ever turned up.

The Stuart brother who fingered Charles was actually an accessory after the fact and conspirator before the murder. It was planned he would retrieve the weapon from Charles and dispose of it. It was thrown into a body of water.

The racial wounds inflicted by Stuart opened another round of racial strife in Boston. At that time the city was just getting over the wounds created by mandatory busing for integration in Boston public schools.

It is interesting to note Boston public schools became as racially imbalanced due to “white flight” during the early days of busing and they were before the Federal Court order of Judge W. Arthur Garrity.

It is interesting the greatest support for forced bussing came from people who were not a part of the Boston school system. Garrity himself lived in toney Wellesley.

When I started in Boston on June 9, 1983 the nerves of people were still raw from the terrible years of the implementation of busing in the mid-1970s. The Stuart investigation nearly divided the city again.


The Gulf War in 1991 changed the way we “see” war. During the Vietnam War we had news film bombard us on the six o’clock with blood and gore and tons statistics of body counts. CNN changed all that.

We witnessed our planes bombard the enemy “hunkered down” in the desert along the Kuwait/Iraq border. We had live coverage from Baghdad and all over Israel and Saudi Arabia. We were treated by live action in watching Patriot Missiles shooting down Scud Missiles aimed at population centers in Israel and military compounds in Saudi Arabia.

We would later watch as American troops landed at night in Somalia. I always felt a touch of humor in the fact the cameras had landed before the soldiers and was there waiting for them to arrive.

We had live coverage from Afghanistan when our troops supported the Northern Alliance in running the Taliban and Al Qaida from the country.

We imbedded reporters and cameramen with the troops invading Iraq. They were there for all the major battles and we saw, via camera cell phones, the action as it occurred. The taking of Baghdad is also committed to history on video tape.

Who will ever forget the taking of Saddam Hussein’s palaces and his statues toppled and dragged through the streets.

Wars will never be the same again.


One of the things brought home by the coverage in Iraq is the dedication and patriotism of the young generation which is carrying this fight to the terrorists and insurgents.

Prior to 9/11, the younger generation was generally viewed as over-sexed, un motivated and drug infested wanting nothing more than to listen to rap.

With what we now know about their work in Iraq they have performed above and beyond anything anyone would have predicted.

When we went in to Afghanistan we had many callers express fear our troops would not be up to the challenge. These callers were of different generations, not only the old and more skeptical citizens. Even many of the generation carrying the fight had its doubts.

There is no doubt today.

At the beginning some politicians attempted to play a racial card on the war being conducted by minorities on the front lines.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. The ratios of minorities and whites on the front lines nearly parallels American society in general. The same is true of geographic representation.

Today’s soldiers are incredibly more lethal than their prior brethren. The technology and equipment make them more mobile, better informed on the whereabouts of the enemy and more external support than any fighting force in history.

The soldier of today needs the ability to absorb more information and utilize weapons capable of incredible destruction.

By 2006 Afghanistan and Iraq have held elections and chosen a constitution. Both are in the process of developing a federal army and mixed police force.

While Afghanistan needs to deal with the abject poverty of its rural citizens where the land is ill equipped to grow conventional crops. Poppies are the only money crop at this time. This is one challenge the government will need to deal with if long term stability is to be achieved.

In Iraq the problems are quite different. Because of the tremendous national wealth in oil, greed becomes part of the equation. Add to that the historic distrust between the Sunni Moslems who ran the country and the majority Shiite population, much work needs to be done.

Iran is also a major player in events in Iraq as well. Not only is Iran heading to become a nuclear power, it is the main source of financing and supplying the “insurgents” in Iraq.

Opinion form those on the left and right is Iran may be our biggest headache in the near future. Many fully expect war with Iran is inevitable.


Since I started in talk the greatest challenge has been and continues to be Red China. Twenty five years ago the walls of separation were begin to collapse since many an American business set up operations there. China went from a backwater nation barely emerging into the 20th (now 21st) Century.

There is hardly no household in America which cannot find a majority of its consumer items are now made in China. Even American Legion baseballs are made there. TVs, phones, sneakers, clothing of all types, and soon, automobiles.

An automotive engineer friend familiar with Chinese automobiles, says they will change the face of the automobile markets around the world. He says they are technologically advanced and will be “priced to sell”.

NAFTA had a negative effect on American jobs. He said the Chinese cars will have an even greater impact.

One of our listeners who originally hails from the South reminded our listeners recently that Wall-Mart had made its original reputation as a retail giant was “Made in the USA”. One can hardly find anything “Made in the USA” in Wall-Mart today.


Violent crime on our major cities’ streets has gone up and down over the last twenty-five years. Mostly up.

The liberal left makes all to be a question of rich versus poor. What I don’t understand is why was crime not a major problem during the Great Depression.

The same who make this a rich-poor discussion are also the first to attempt to create more laws concerning guns as if gun laws would reduce crime. The more crime rates climb the more they try to regulate gun ownership.

Whether it is banning “Saturday Night Specials” to “Assault Weapons”, their answer is always the same. Hunters don’t need them.

Spirited discussions always occur when the attempt to regulate crime out of society by banning more guns. The fact remains, the more the regulations fail the more the regulators regulate.


It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it. --G. K. Chesterton

I debated to whether to place this subject under the heading of the Iraq War. It seems better suited under a general question on religion and religious tolerance.

In the Fall of 2005 a Danish newspaper did a series of cartoons concerning Mohammed and poking editorial fun at, for example, the notion a suicide bomber will have seventy-two virgins awaiting him in heaven. Others tweaked Islam for some of the wild behavior of what has been called a small minority.

The silence from the greater Moslem community regarding some very reprehensible behavior has caused many non Moslems to question whether the slaughter of many, even other Moslems around the world is really the actions of a small number of persons. The question has been raised whether those who don’t commit such crimes but remain silent, might it be fair to conclude the majority really does agree with the actions?

Whatever the answer, the silence is deafening.

When a small collection of cartoons move hundreds of thousands to take to the streets to riot, burn, pillage, and kill, there is a strain within the religion which says it is acceptable to kill in the name of Allah, no matter how minor the infringement might be to Mohammad.

If Moslems cannot show self respect, why should anyone else respect their religion? Is the average Moslem so insecure about his beliefs, upon hearing outsiders calls it into question, his confidence in his beliefs is shaken?


The biggest factors affecting talk radio now are the advent of computers, cable network news, and cell phones.

The first computer we had was a Texas Instruments integrated unit we wound up using to play games with. Twenty-five years later I still don’t understand how these things work. My nine year old granddaughter helps me all she can but I am not a good student.

Now the cell phone is a different matter entirely. Especially the walkie talkie part of it. That’s cool.

As a good doctor friend told me the cell phone is a liberator. I feel the same now. It was not always that way though.

I began carrying a cell phone with me in the early 1990’s. I use it for safety and convenience. I also have had peace of mind when our daughters spent time on the road at some awful times of day and night, occasionally on desolate roads.

We began receiving cell phone calls on talk shows in the mid 1980’s. At first they seemed to be a curse as much as a blessing. The calls would often drop out or the voice quality was simply awful.

On the subject of phone sound quality, Mel Miller gave us a good example of what some callers consider maddening. If a caller didn’t sound good, Mel ordered they not be put on the air regardless of the content of the callers message.

He compared a poor sounding caller (or in some cases a terrible phone or phone connection) to a scratchy record. A music station will not play a poor sounding (scratchy) record regardless of the song and its popularity because research indicates a high tune out rate when such records are played.

Also, the length of songs was important. If a song it lasted more than three minutes he said a music director would not allow it to be played. The reason for not playing it is most listeners tire of the same sound after two minutes and will reach for the radio tuner and change stations by three minutes.

Mr. Miller quoted research indicating the poor sounding call or long call did the same.

Most people don’t sit by the radio as many did in the early years of radio when we listened to The Shadow, Lone Ranger or Gabriel Heater. We have busy lives and don’t have the time to do that. When we sit down to be entertained we go to the television, not the radio.

Many a caller has been angered when they were not put on the air. Everyone who calls believes what they have to say is important and interesting. The fact is that’s now always the case.

The Mel Miller rule with callers was to put the best caller waiting on hold on “next”. A good call screener always gets the listener focused on the topic he or she wants to discuss on air and to get them to “get to the point” as quickly as possible. Then the host must play his part in moving calls along.

The moving calls along is for two reasons:

Encourage more people to call because the wait on hold will not be too long.

Keep the listener engaged with a variety of callers.

There has always been a debate among programmers and hosts about whether to use an arbitrary time limit. I don’t subscribe to the arbitrary time limit for a number of reasons, the primary of which is we tend to then allow poor callers to go to the limt. That defeats the purpose of keeping callers interesting and moving along. If a host does not have the skills to keep shows interesting, his ratings will drop and he’ll be doing something else in short order.

Hall of Fame talk host Jerry Williams used to tell his audience we are in the advertising business. He is right. No advertisers, no show, No ratings, no advertisers.

We are sometimes accused by callers of “trying to get ratings”. Guilty as charged. No ratings means no listeners. What’s hard to understand about that?


Someone once asked what’s the best school to learn to be a talk host? I answered “become a salesman.”

Salesmen need certain skills.

Understand their product.

Develop the ability to motivate others.

Get others to see what they see.

Be a leader.

Care about how others are thinking.

One other thing a talk host must do. Never take himself seriously. There are thousands listening at all times. Everyone has some knowledge. Learn from the listeners and they’ll learn from you.

In these years of taking hundreds of thousands of calls, I’ve learned one thing. I don’t know it all. There’s some smart people in the audience, take advantage of what they can contribute to the program, whatever the topic.

People skills is what talk radio is all about.

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