I do not condone Rush Limbaugh’s word choice and characterizations of Sandra Fluke. No woman deserves to be called a “slut” or ” prostitute” or any other derogatory phrase. I do not condone ex-WDAE morning guy Dan Sileo’s characterization of three African American NFL players as “monkeys.” Howard Cosell was fired nearly 30 years ago for pretty much the same thing. I also heard the “n” word un-bleeped on a syndicated show last week, which I do not condone.
So here are my questions…And answers.
Why is this happening? How is this happening? Who is to blame? Who is responsible? How does this impact radio? How should radio deal with it?
Talk radio is a tight rope walk. We ask talent to spend three hours a day entertaining, informing, dishing big opinions and driving conversations. We want hosts to “cut through the clutter,” “be passionate,” and “take risks,” while simultaneously protecting our company brands. This is hard to do and mistakes will happen. This is why companies provide a net in the form of board operators and producers. Talent need to rely on and respect these roles more — and the people in these positions need to speak up and take action when a talent crosses the line. Here is an idea; use the dump button…or tell the host they’ve gone too far. If you sit there and laugh with them like it’s a 1960s fraternity house, the content will likely degenerate. This isn’t the producer and board operators fault, but it is their responsibility along with the host.
What frustrates me is that radio is getting beat up as a dying industry everywhere I look and these outdated, racist, sexist, and irresponsible comments reinforce those claims and further suggest the medium is irrelevant and obsolete. The reality is radio has been and can continue to be a remarkable platform for lively debate and conversation about important issues and help to provide understanding. At its best talk radio is informative, entertaining, compelling, thought provoking, in-the-moment, interesting, fun and relevant. As an industry we provide the sound track to people’s life, we start conversations, we tell stories of triumph and tragedy to better understand the human condition, we care for and take care of our communities, and we create an invisible, powerful, connective tissue through the lives of our listeners which creates an amazing bond that has helped stations across the country in the past year alone raise millions and millions of dollars for good causes.
That being said, we are in a business that requires an understanding that things will get said that shouldn’t be said. Mistakes happen. This is talk radio. We will provoke at times and upset groups of people. As a PD it is my job to be calm in the middle of the storm. Programming decisions should never be made in the middle of a fire storm. It is our job (my job) to listen to the people complaining, listen to the actual audio of what was said, and then formulate my response. If lines were crossed –apologies should be made (as insincere as you may think he was, at least Rush did this). And then after everyone takes a deep breath, ask yourself a couple of questions; is this show representative of the kind of show you want on your station? Does it attract the audience you are targeting? Is the host chronically crossing the line ( your line, the FCC’s line, the community standards)? and if so, is the reward ( ratings and revenue) worth the risk? We are in the radio business and we need to make business decisions.
Finally, radio needs a shot in the arm and not another punch to the gut. Somehow, someway everyone who believes as strongly in this medium as I do needs to be actively promoting its awesomeness. 90+% of everyone (a totally made up stat) listens to radio. They are already believers in the medium, let’s remind them of it. Tell your friends why you love radio (#iloveradio) and I will do the same. Together we can rekindle people’s passion for absolutely free, wireless, instant information and entertainment available nationwide at the touch of a button…that is still legal to access while driving.