Monday, March 05, 2007

"Penn Radio" is history

One of the most entertaining and outspoken hours on radio is no more.

Comedian, magician, author, television host and emmy award winner Penn Jillette announced on the air this past Friday that he was bringing his daily CBS Radio show to an end. Penn Radio, which was first launched in January of 2006, aired live from Las Vegas from 2-3PM ET and was heard on various CBS Radio-owned outlets, mostly ones carrying the company's "Free FM" format. Penn Radio especially took off thanks to the popularity of podcasting, as the show's length lent itself well to the format. One fan site even posted mp3 files of every single one of his shows.

There have been various rumors why he decided to leave radio, such as ongoing technical issues related to the show, CBS' desire to expand the show from its one-hour length, and the show's brevity being problematic in clearing affiliates (the show never expanded beyond its eight CBS-owned stations). However, the real reason is Jillette's highly demanding schedule, which includes ongoing TV (as host of NBC's game show Identity and Showtime's brilliant Penn & Teller: Bullshit!) and film projects (most notably "The Aristocrats," perhaps one of the raunchiest movies ever made).

And of course there's that magic act. Jillette and his sidekick Teller appear nightly at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where they have a multi-year performance deal. Nonetheless, neither Jillette nor his radio sidekick Michael Goudeau have completely shut the door on radio in the future.

All in all, Penn Radio was a highly entertaining hour. The show itself was a fast-paced mix of comedy, science, religion, entertainment and politics, via the "nut point of view" perspective of an outspoken libertarian athiest skeptic. He refers to Democrats and Republicans as the "bloods" and "crips." A fellow radio host offered a cash bounty on his life after he said rather tasteless things about Mother Theresa. On the show following Donald Rumsfeld's departure as Secretary of Defense, Jillette invited listeners to call in and tell their "swear-to-god true stories" (a.k.a. truly outlandish) about their experiences hanging out with him. He did likewise prior to the most recent "State of the Union" address. And for awhile he devoted one day a week to stories about interesting encounters with simians, as "Monkey Tuesday" became a popular feature.

Considering that he had no prior experience in hosting a radio show, Jillette proved to be a natural, thanks to his vast experience in magic, television, comedy and even traveling with the circus in his youth. And in one hour increments, he didn't overstay his welcome.

Granted, many reading this are probably wondering what the hell a liberal talk radio blog is doing with a story about Penn Jillette, a man many on the left probably loathe with the intensity of a thousand suns. Many have wondered why I even included a link to his show on this site. The truth is that sometimes we can learn quite a bit listening to people that we don't necessarily agree with. And I felt comfortable in the fact that Jillette really had no sacred cows, aside from the art of juggling. Not many people can effectively tear apart everything and anything, as the norm these days often seems to be pushing some kind of agenda. Regardless, for people who have a rather wicked sense of humor, an open mind and the ability to laugh at themselves, Penn Radio was a pretty entertaining and enlightening way to spend an hour. Even for a Catholic lefty such as myself.


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