Sunday, December 31, 2006

Top 10 gripes about liberal/progressive talk

One of the complaints received here at LTR is that we're not critical enough of the liberal talk format. With the abundance of smarmy attack blogs out there written that try to be funny, yet come off more as whiny, crude, or just plain lame, we decided to take a different overall approach with this thing. And yes, LTR can be critical of the likes of Air America and others, and there certainly is quite a bit to nit-pick about. Sure, the vultures will likely post excerpts of this article in yet more weak attempts to slam liberal talk ("See, even this guy says..."). Uhhh, not so fast. LTR personally believes in being honest and straight-forward, rather than coming off as some sort of "Baghdad Bob". After all, this blog is primarily a meeting of the like-minded, and unlike the other side, we can tackle a little constructive criticism. Consider it 'tough love'.

1. Ed Schultz needs to relax and drop the big radio voice

Big Eddie is a favorite here at LTR, and we understand why he constantly switches topics to non-political stuff like sports, fishing and grilling. After all, the ability to not overkill a topic and to enable it go down smoother makes a show stronger and more sincere. Schultz is a Joe Sixpack-kinda guy. But along with years behind a microphone comes the development of what we call 'the radio voice'. Whether Big Eddie really talks the way he does on the radio in real life is unknown, but hearing him on TV shows or while phoning in to his show on off days, he sounds much more genuine and down-to-earth than his normal bombastic on-air delivery would suggest. Schultz has been around radio for a quarter century, and much of it was doing sports broadcasts. Of course, we all know sports guys like to kick it up a notch, but many listeners gripe that he comes off sounding like a left-leaning version of El Rushbo.

2. Stephanie Miller's show occasionally suffers from overkill

Hey, don't get me wrong. Momma is brilliant, and her show is wildly entertaining. But too much of a good thing is definitely possible. Sidekick Jim Ward is very, very talented, but at times, the voice impersonations can get a little grating and drag on way too long. Okay, we've heard the Dennis Hastert jokes about bratwurst. Too many times. There is such a thing as killing a good joke.

3. Thom Hartmann's theme music/imaging really sucks

Okay, there, I said it. While Hartmann is one of the most intelligent and interesting hosts on the air, and I've probably learned more listening to him than from any other talk show host, his show production sounds like it was done by Ed Wood Studios. The theme music sounds like it's from a bad Blood, Sweat and Tears tribute band, and the voice guy, who sounds like Harry Shearer on thorazine, is pretty cheesy and mumbly, while committing the biggest crime a voice guy can commit - nobody can understand him! Hartmann's show is probably AAR's fastest-growing program, and he deserves production elements (known in the industry as 'imaging') that reflect that. Of course, there are probably many that feel the show's imaging is reflective of Hartmann's simple style. Just one listener's opinion here, but it kinda sounds lame.

4. Randi Rhodes needs to lighten up

Randi Rhodes is a very funny person. And occasionally, she'll prove that on air. Unfortunately, she tends to be more angry than funny. To the point that obvious jokes will slide right by her. And that's too bad. It takes a person with strong tolerance sometimes to sit through a one hour vicious tirade about, say, the Iraq War. Yes, it's a travesty and morally reprehensible, but talk about beating a dead horse! And she does this at the expense of airing callers, who she blows off anyway. Ed Schultz is effective at juggling topics, going off politics to talk about things like sports and barbequeing, and is very consistent in the way he handles callers. Rhodes, on the other hand, sounds like she's going to tear apart the studio at any point. Don't get me wrong - Randi is great, and her show has consistently been one of the best on Air America. But the formatting of her show (or lack thereof) shows that the network really needs to bring in an effective radio person to help keep the show on track. Otherwise, it's really tough for listeners to keep up Randi's thought processes. With a little fine tuning, Rhodes' show could be one of the best in the whole format.

5. Same with Mike Malloy

We know, we know. Mike is Mike, like it or not. And that's why we listen. But his show is not for the weak-hearted. And there is a place for a show such as his, which is perhaps the angriest show in the whole liberal talk format. However, Malloy's at his best when he's taking phone calls. Malloy's show is a perfect fit for the nighttime hours, and is one of the most intimate and personal three hours on the airwaves. Not to mention that his following is one of the most dedicated of all talk show hosts. Hearing callers on the Mike Malloy show gives a kind of community feel to the show, and reassures us that we are not alone. Quite frankly, I'd like to be reminded of that even more.

6. Air America needs to be more about radio and less about the bully pulpit

When the creators of Air America initially announced their intentions of starting up a liberal talk network, I held out hope for one important thing: That it not be merely a propaganda engine. Unfortunately, that's what it seemed to become at times. Some of the powers-that-be at the upstart network made a huge error when they saw AAR as an opinion maker, or a way to influence elections. While I agree with their point of view, it is not an effective way to create a successful radio operation. First and foremost, it has to be about entertainment value. Let's face it, most talk radio out there is basically just entertainment. And while we may loathe someone like Rush Limbaugh, we must admit that he understood this important quality. When radio shows simply become mouthpieces for political parties (as we have seen conservotalk shows, including Limbaugh's, become), it makes for very boring, insulting radio. Luckily, some hosts, such as Schultz, Miller, KTLK's Cary Harrison and others realize this. Even Hartmann, who has turned informative and intellectual programming into an entertaining and captivating three hours, understands this. It's not all about having a big megaphone. It's knowing how to effectively use it.

7. Air America needs to polish their programming

Air America's on-air staff, all Al Franken jokes aside, could easily be referred to as the modern-day "Not Ready For Prime Time Players". They made the right decision to hire good, experienced radio personnel such as Randi Rhodes and Rachel Maddow. And even new host Jon Elliot is not too bad (though he's saddled with the stigma of being the guy who replaced Malloy). But some of their shows are in need of some work. The Young Turks, at times, sound like cable access programming. Sam Seder, though a listener favorite, too often sounds a bit sloppy on the air without a sidekick. And a whole staff of writers and producers can't turn a low-key Al Franken into an effective radio entertainer like Phil Hendrie. Let's be brutally honest, Air America needs to hone their on-air product. It's in dire need of some serious zip. Established operations such as Jones Radio Networks have been successful with creating shows that engage and entertain. Even Clear Channel has been effective with their local programming (take a listen to Stacy Taylor, Jay Marvin, Jim Defede or Cary Harrison for proof). AAR's on-air product can at times sound a bit crude, and this reflects badly on many of their shows. The hosts also need to create their own identities, apart from the AAR structure, as their shows occasionally become more about the internal politics of their employer than the politics of this country. When the fill-in hosts over the holidays (including Marc Maron, Stacy Taylor and Lee Rayburn) start sounding better than the people they're subbing for, that certainly says alot.

8. Air America needs to stop charging for their podcasts

Rush can get away with this, since his dittoheads will cough up the money for anything he's selling. I guess Sean Hannity can as well, since there's a sucker born every minute. Bill O'Reilly? Hell no, he can't even attract radio listeners. But for a struggling network like Air America, which could most certainly use some strong promotion, charging money for their top-tier podcast content is not the best idea in the world. Sure, the bandwidth can cost some money, but podcasting is all a part of effectively promoting the on-air product. Most talk shows nowadays make available podcasts of their shows, and Clear Channel and CBS especially have been very aggressive on this front. Mike Malloy's show has grown over the years due to aggressive audio archiving. Ben Burch has been archiving a healthy selection of liberal talk shows for several years at White Rose Society. Non-commercial outlets such as NPR, PRI and Pacifica have been effectively utilizing podcasts for quite some time. Even Stephanie Miller has recently gotten out of the pay plan, now offering podcasts of her shows to the unpaying masses. Sorry, but AAR is not at the point yet where they should be charging listeners to hear or sample the shows, especially since a lot of the free stuff out there is in many ways superior to much of their own content. I'm not being cheap here (okay, maybe I am), but free podcasts, even snippets such as the ones Ed Schultz offers, are not a bad way to get the product into peoples' ears. Especially with podcasting becoming such an integral part of talk radio.

9. Air America needs a new webmaster

Old news on the front page. Outdated schedules. A list of affiliates that includes stations that no longer carry them. And is Peter Werbe still even on Air America? Granted, not all people really grasp the concept of HTML programming, but coming from someone who taught himself the basics and designed and updated this entire blog, this is a travesty. AAR doesn't deserve all the scorn for this, in fact, the websites for some of their individual affiliates are far more embarassing. But really, does AAR still need a front page announcement declaring the arrival of The Young Turks, THREE months after the fact?

10. Al Franken is really, really, really boring

There. I said it. I'll be brutally honest with all of you. Al Franken, while being a rather funny guy, is a bit of a bore. Allegedly, AAR employs a generous staff of writers to help prop up the show. Guess what? It ain't working. Sure, Al can really turn it on in front of a crowd, and at times he can be quite good. But more often than not, it sounds like he could really care less about doing a radio show. It's too tough to relate to him. And while we're on that topic, it's high time for Al to determine where he wants to take his show, if he plans on taking it anywhere. The rumors and stories about his political aspirations, not to mention interests in other areas of the entertainment world, are very distracting, and are hurting the show terribly. So much that some affiliates have either dropped it or timeshifted it out of prime hours. Even Schultz moved his show to compete with him. Franken needs to make up his mind once and for all, since this foot-dragging is only going to hurt the show in the long run. My personal hope is that he finally decides to leave on a high note and cede his shift to the much-superior Thom Hartmann, a dedicated radio host in it for the long haul. How's that for brutal honesty?

3 comments:

Liberator_Rev said...

I've been listening to AAR regularly and to Stephanie and Big Eddie and I agree with nine of the ten points. I rarely find Al boring.

In general I think it's an occupational hazard for radio personalities to get too full of themselves and to act as though their own views are ALWAYS superior to every body elses. I like Randi, for example, but when takes calls she tends to correct or improve on just about everybody who calls. Stephanie on the other hand is often self-deprecating and gives callers credit for making worthwhile contributions to the conversation.
Ray Dubuque, creator of
http://LiberalsLikeChrist.Orgsese44

Communications guru said...

I recently discovered your blog, and I enjoy it very much. I agree with some of your list, some I don’t and some I could care less. I really like Stephanie Miller’s show, so I disagree with you there.

I agree 100 percent with you on Rrandi Rhodes. Initially, when AAR went on the air she was pretty good, but lately I don’t like listening to her for long periods.

Al Franken’s show was much, much better with Katherine Lanpher. There were regular comedy bits that you looked forward to, but now it is getting a little boring. I think he has the talent to make it very good again, but the question is does he want to. He has always worked well with a partner, and the chemistry between him and Lanpher was excellent. I miss the “oy, oy, oy Show.”

Keep up the good work.

PRismylifeline said...

I appreciate your pointed, constructive critiques here, and hope the talkers are listening.

You're right that Randi sometimes rants too much - though I still maintain great admiration for her drive and integrity. And when she decides to be funny, she can be a scream. Randi, My Goddess, make me laugh again some more!

I'm also a Mike Malloy fanatic, even tho you're right here, sometimes he gets too wound up. But usually there's plenty for him to be pissed about. It's essential that Mike be on the progressive radio scene, and it's no accident that it caused a listener earthquake when AAR dumped him. Stupidest progressive radio move move of the year.

Stephanie Miller is my great discovery of 2006 -- and here I don't share your view. "Over the top" is where she starts from, and her sidekicks are some kind of weird geniuses. With Stephanie at one end of my day, and Mike at the other, there's a kind of dynamic balance that adds a lot.

I rarely listen to Big Ed, for one thing because I hate football and don't hunt. But I'm glad he's there.

And as fro Al Franken, it's a sad story. His show blazed the way, and was terrific with Katherine, but by last summer it was sounding more and more like NPR-light. I quit NPR for progressive radio, and am not interested in going back.

Fortunately, I found a good alternative: Thom hartmann. Maybe his bumpers need updating and all, but his talk is excellent, and if/when Franken leaves, he's the natural successor in my book. Assumong AAR is still around then. And even if not, Thom will be.


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